Role-Playing as Girls
MMORPG: Many Men Online Role-Playing as Girls.
I’ll admit, I’m one of those guys. One of those dorky guys who builds and plays female characters in various video and computer role-playing games. This isn’t to say that all of my characters are ladies, but a good percentage are. Four out of my seven Lord of the Rings Online characters are women. Three of five of my Guild Wars 2 characters are. About half of my Knights of the Old Republic 1 & 2 characters are. Admittedly, most of my Neverwinter Nights 2 characters are ladies. (In my defense, do you have any idea how hard it is to make male characters that aren’t stupid looking in NWN2 without them all looking alike? With the exception of the dwarves, it just isn’t worth the effort.) I’d have to look, but I’d guess that my ratios for Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights 1, Titan’s Quest, and other games are similar to LotRO or GW2.
Guys like me take a lot of shit for our willingness to roll and play fem characters. The fact that so many of these games are willing to pander to the pocket-mining demographic by designing impractically revealing women’s armor and allowing players to strip their characters down to their underwear really only gives these critics more ammunition. (One big shout-out I’ll give to both Neverwinter Nights 2 and Lord of the Rings Online is that neither does this. Unequipped characters wear conservative under-tunics and none of the armor features exposed midriffs or cleavage.) I seriously hate this kind of cheesecakey pandering. Not that I lack interest in cleavage, I just find it kind of insulting that they’d think any reasonably competent warrior woman would want gaps in her armor just above her heart and entrails. (I’ll probably discuss this pet peeve further in a future post.)
I guess the most obvious reason I tend to build and play lady characters is aesthetics: I just find women more interesting to look at than men. After all, most of these games are third-person POV, and I’d much rather follow a gal’s backside around than a dude’s. And, honestly, I just like the look of smart, self-sufficient women in commando’s armor or a ranger’s cloak or a rogue’s cowl or a Jedi’s robes. I feel like smart game designers have figured out that women’s armor can be both protective and sexy—that chain and scale mail can be delightfully form fitting and that leather and plate armor can feature appropriately feminine curvature. As far as science-fantasy RPGs go, I’ve been similarly impressed with women’s armor in the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series and with the Mass Effect games. In both series, our heroines’ armor manages to look protective and practical, yet feminine at the same time.
I think, too, that women hero archetypes are fun both to play upon and play against. In Dragon Age: Origins I had as much fun playing the quintessential skinny, bow-toting elf maiden as I did playing a skinny elf maiden with heavy armor and greatsword. (That, and I found the elf dudes to be a little on the derpy-looking side in that game.) And while my champion from Lord of the Rings Online typically wore a suit of battered dwarf armor, it was amusing a couple times to put her in an elf gown and pick fights with swamp trolls. My favorite party build from NWN2: Storm of Zehir was six bat-shit-crazy Dark Elf maidens. My Drow fighter with the bastard sword took one level of sorceress (for the Dragon Disciple prestige class), and to go against the grain, I gave her a bunny rabbit for her familiar. I just don’t think the sentiment would have been as funny had I instead used some tough-guy Drow soldier instead.
Indeed, one factor that defines the role-playing game genre as a whole is story-telling. From the epic saga to the basic dungeon crawler, every game tells a story. Thus each player becomes the character or characters in the story. The classic figure of the handsome knight in gleaming armor on a quest to save his kingdom has certainly earned it’s right to be a classic, but what of the beautiful knight in gleaming armor on a quest to save her kingdom? I think I’d rather tell her story. I’ve beaten the main story for Dragon Age: Origins on four of my characters, but only one of them was male. The stories of the exiled sorceress, the noblewoman seeking to avenge the murder of her parents, and the elf-maiden on the run after killing the lord who raped her friend: all were more interesting stories to me than were the dwarven thug escaping his former employers or the pretty-boy forest elf trying to remove an evil curse.
From a literary standpoint, I think that adventure games in general owe a certain amount of debt to figures like JRR Tolkien and Gary Gygax. First to Tolkien for giving us a character like Eowyn, a skilled shield-maiden not afraid to disobey orders by donning men’s armor and riding into battle to protect her people. And to Gary and the other Dungeons & Dragons writers for creating a world where women adventurers are in every way equal to their male counterparts. Certainly, there have been plenty of women figures throughout history and literature who’ve demonstrated a woman’s ability to fight in battle beside the men, but I feel it was the works of writers like Tolkien and Gygax and Arneson and others of their respective generations that really encouraged contemporary and modern adventure writers to include strong, smart, independent heroines in their stories. Playing women fighters in video and computer role-playing games is my way of creating my own strong, smart, independent heroines.
All images are screen shots taken directly from game play.
Image 1: Guild Wars 2. Song: “Pistol-Packin’ Mama,” by Bing Crosby
Image 2: Lord of the Rings Online. Song: “The Highwayman,” by The Highwaymen
Image 3: Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir. Song: “Star of the County-Down,” traditional Irish
Image 4: Mass Effect 2. Song: “Scalliwag,” by Gallic Storm
Image 5: Lord of the Rings Online. Song: “Immigrant Song,” by Led Zeppelin
Image 6: Dragon Age: Origins. Song: “Sir Eglamore,” by Kate Rusby
Image 7: Guild Wars 2. Song: “Party Rock Anthem,” by Lmfao
Image 8: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2. Song: “What a Way to Go,” by Ray Kennedy