You’re cruising along when you run into a pretty woman/hobbit lass/elfmaid. It seems that you’re both on the same quest chain, and you invite her to join a fellowship. She accepts. You converse via the fellowship chat, and she seems like a very nice woman/hobbit/elf. Not only that, but she seems to be a very competent player and heals/tanks/kills with startling efficiency. After wrapping up the quest chain, she says she has to bail, but tells you to add her to your friend list and look her up if you want to group up again sometime.
A few nights later, you run into the same woman/hobbit lass/elfmaid. She is with a couple of her kinmates and she invites you to join their fellowship. You accept. After a quest or two, one of the fellowship members posts in the chat, “We’re about to run GS. Want to come with?”
Since you really don’t have anything better to do and it never hurts to have Moria tokens, you say, “Sure.”
The four of you PUG the other two members and hit instance join. While the captain is casting the group buffs and the minstrel is setting their tale, your friend—the pretty woman/hobbit lass/elfmaid—lights up the voice chat, and you hear in a dark brown—and decidedly male—voice, “I just want to check and make sure everyone’s headphones are working. If you can hear me, blink once.”
Dude Looks Like a Lady
If you believe everything you hear or read on the interweb (because it is never wrong, of course), the stereotypical MMO player generally fits into the following demographic: male, 25-40, morbidly obese, unemployed, lives in his parents’ basement, subsists off of stale Dorito’s and Mountain Dew, and has never touched a girl, much less kissed one. I’m sure that there are some people who fall into that description, but the fact of the matter is that MMO gamers come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. The only thing they have in common is that they have access to the internet.
I guess I need to back up for a second: LOTRO is the first MMO I’ve played. I have friends who play WoW, Star Wars: Galaxies, Everquest and the like, but I was never into MMOs. You see, I have a psychological aversion to paying a monthly fee to play a video game. Yet I was somehow suckered into signing up for the LOTRO 10 day free trial and running around with some guys I used to work with. They have since stopped playing, abandoning me to the wilds of Middle-Earth, but that’s another free therapy article for a later time.
At first I was surprised by the diversity of the people I’ve encountered playing LOTRO. I think it’s safe to say that the majority of LOTRO players are male, but I’ve run into many couples who play together—sometimes with their children—and more women than I had expected. While the players are generally male, I think there is far more gender balance among the character population, which means that there are a bunch of guys playing female toons.
So what makes a player choose to to roll a character who is a different gender than they are in real life?
In LOTRO, since there is no female dwarf option, if a female player wants to play a dwarf, she has no choice as far as her character’s gender goes. But there are a gazillion women, hobbit lasses and elfmaidens cavorting about from Erid Luin to Dunland, and I know for a fact that a good chunk of those are being controlled by male players.
For purposes of full disclosure, the majority of my toons are female, although of my four level 65+ toons, two are male and two are female. Also for the record, in real life, I am male, over 35 but not yet 40, slightly overwieight (damn my wife’s fabulous cooking and Krispy Kreme!), gainfully employed, and I only hang out in the basement because my wife gets tired of listening to me yelling at the TV during football season and berating hunters for “accidentally” pulling targets that we’re not ready to kill.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but these are the reasons why I play female toons.
It’s All About the Avatar’s Ass
I just shrugged, because I really don’t care, and I also figure that the first time I get on the voice chat, it will solve any mysteries about my gender as a player.
My rationale is simply this: If I’m going to invest hundreds, or even thousands, of hours playing a game and staring at an avatar’s rear end, it may as well be hawt.
Every other explanation I can come up with is simply rationalisation, but it all boils down to my avatar’s tush.
Seriously, the next time you log on to your “main” character(s), type “/played” into your chat line. I’m a pretty casual player, but I’ve got 4 toons who are level 65+ and each one has three to five weeks of play time on them. That means I’ve probably got 500-800 hours of game time in per character. And that doesn’t include my lowbies I’m leveling up, storage mules and crafting alts. Last week, in our kin chat, we were comparing /played time and there was one guy who had logged three months on his toon. Everyone else was averaging around a month to six weeks on their main. Now think of the people you run around with in-game: Which of them do you think has invested the most time into playing LOTRO? (It may even be you!)
Do you think that person wants to stare at an avatar that’s not nice to look at? Do you want to stare at an avatar that’s not nice to look at? I don’t.
It did not surprise me that there are a large number of female toons out there roaming Middle Earth. In fact, given that the playable (free people) races in LOTRO are human or mostly human-looking and the avatars are more realistic looking than say WoW or EQ’s, I kind of suspected there would be more female toons than male toons. After all, if you believe in the image of the above-mentioned stereotypical gamer, it also explains why comic book women look like this, this and this, and why this will make a nerd boy think he’s died and gone to Heaven. (All images are safe for work, but may not be suitable for children who like to ask question or your significant other’s temper).
I don’t mean this in a juvenile way, but if we accept that there are more male players in LOTRO than female players, it stands to reason that guys want to play a toon they find attractive, and some guys will roll a female toon just because she’s easy on the eyes. If this is the case, do female players have an interest in rolling hunky male toons because they find them attractive? Please leave a comment below if you have an insight into this.
The entire point of D&D, Star Frontiers, Rifts, Shadowrun, Macho Women With Guns, GURPS et al is to spend some time pretending to be something you’re not. Maybe it’s a Zentraedi-busting Veritech fighter jock. Or maybe you’re a fireball-throwing magic-user who can melt anything that gets in your way. Or perhaps you always wanted to be a cyborg that packs enough firepower to level a city block just by sneezing. Or maybe you just want to be able to recite the words, “In the name of Robert of the House Baratheon, first of his name, King of the Andals and the First Men . . .”
MMOs offer that same basic experience, only combat doesn’t take two hours for five turns, there are no power-hungry DMs who just want to kill the party and no rules-lawyering co-players who quibble over all the minutiae. MMOs are generally set in fantasy realms because that’s what players want. Which also explains why there are no wildly-successful video games based on The Office or Ally McBeal. Jedi, barbarians, hobbits, night-elf Mohawks, comic book super-heroes, Master Chiefs, zombie-hunters; whatever the setting, a computer game inserts the player into a character that they are not and a setting that is fantastical and completely different from their reality.
So why not cross gender lines when you generate a new toon?
When I would roll a D&D character, sometimes I would choose to play a female because a couple of the guys who used to DM for us really didn’t know a lot about girls (we were 14, give me a break!). So I could flirt and tease and do all sorts of things in-character and the DM would let me do it (mostly because he/we didn’t know any better; sorry to rat you out, Jason!). I literally got away with (role-playing) murder because my character had boobs.
For those who are in to the role-playing aspect of LOTRO, playing an opposite gender toon may be a way to interact in the fantasy world in a different way than you’re used to. I’m not big into the role-playing side of LOTRO, but for those who are, please leave a comment below and let me know whether you play opposite gender toons and how this influences your RP experience.
My lovely bride laughs at me every time she passes through the computer room and sees me playing one of my female toons because often they have a different outfit on from the last time she saw me playing. Whenever I look into the shared wardrobe, I am reminded of the absurd amount of time, energy and fake money I have invested in outfits. I have one mule toon that has a vault full of unbound cosmetic items that I just can’t bear to part with.
When I go shopping for my own clothes, I will try one one pair of khakis and then buy three more of the same size and style, with a little variation in colour. When I was teaching high school, my students used to keep track of how many different combinations of the same five pairs of khakis and ten polo shirts I would go through before I would wear a duplicate outfit. I have exactly four pairs of shoes: a pair of loafers I wear to work, a pair of tennis shoes, a pair of Tevas and a pair of steel-toe metatarsal boots. That’s it; There are literally more virtual shoes in my LOTRO wardrobe than I have real shoes in my real wardrobe.
I really can’t explain it, but for some reason, I want my avatars to look good. And I don’t mean simply hawt, and not just the female toons. I realise that character appearance is largely a matter of personal preference, but I think it just so happens that many of the cosmetic outfits look better on the female avatars than the male avatars.
During all of the festivals, I check out the newest cosmetics and bust my toons’ collective rear ends to accumulate enough tokens to get a full set of the cosmetics that I like. Some of it looks good on both the male and female toons (the snow-dusted set from the Yule Festival being my favourite), but for the most part, I think the various cosmetics look best on the female avatars. And when the metallic anniversary tokens were dropping during the anniversary festivals, I ran out to GV every time I got 5 ancient gold tokens until I got the short-sleeved elven dress out of the gift box. I even have an outfit I swap into when my character is farming. You can stop laughing now. Seriously . . . stop laughing at me.
Yes, it seems silly to invest so much energy into dressing an avatar when I don’t spend near that much energy dressing myself, but that’s what I do. My buddy from work plays WoW and he told me that they don’t have any sort of cosmetic system2, but thought it would be something fun in PvE only zones.
A Double Standard?
I know that I refer to toons as to their gender, not their player’s. So I will talk about Vraeden needing to complete her class quests, or that she just got a badass songbook that has five major legacies on it and one minor, and I will say that Voontak got his Prized Angmar’s Free Peoples Steed and how he is now a Master Westfold Tailor. I also expect other players to refer to my female characters as her/she, although if they’re talking about me, they should use the male pronouns.
This may be where it is wholly appropriate to divorce the name of a toon from the name of a player. Many of my kinmates and in-game friends refer to me as “Vraeden”, because for a long time she was my “main” character and even when I’d alt, they’d still call me “Vraeden” (or “Vrae”) on the in-game chat or on Vent/Teamspeak, regardless of what toon I happened to be playing. This is due, in part, to the fact that I don’t give out my real name to other players, even to my kinmates and in-game friends. The only people who call me by my real name are the handful of players I know in real life3. How you play is your business, and I think in some kins, the members know each other by their real names, and in others they don’t and call each other their in-game names4.
I also try to treat players all the same, regardless of their gender or their toon’s gender. I would like to think that when I encounter a toon, I accept them at face value in the way they present themselves. If they’re a hobbit lass or male elf or dwarf, more power to them.
Maybe it’s because I don’t log on to an MMO to flirt or get dates, but I’ve got better things to do than try to impress toons whom I think may be a different gender than me. After all, if I group up with you, the only thing I want out of you is to heal/tank/kill and help me complete quests so I can collect tokens/symbols/bling. That’s not to say I mind encountering female players5, but if we’re in Sammanth Gul and you’re a tank who can’t hold aggro or a healer who dials the Meter O’Suckitude all the way up to 11 (as opposed to simply being lousy), you could be Jessica Alba or Lucy Pinder and if you’re the reason why we’ve wiped six times in a row, I will still boot you out of my group if a more competent option comes along.
The guy I sit next to at work has a simpler philosophy about player/character gender: He assumes that every player is a guy unless he hears a female voice over his headphones. I can’t say that’s a bad approach, and it certainly keeps him out of trouble, but that just seems to me to be a mite bit stereotypical (see above).
I guess the people qualified to answer the question of a double standard would be the female players. If you’ve played male toons and female toons, do other people you encounter randomly—who don’t know your gender as a player—treat your toons differently based on their in-game appearance? I am very interested to hear your answers.
One issue I (unfortunately) have to bring up is when male players intentionally try to portray themselves as female players. I don’t think this happens very often, but I’m sure it does. With voice chat, it’s pretty easy to distinguish the gender of a player the second they say something, but the fact of the matter is, when you interact with another toon, you don’t know who is actually sitting on the other keyboard6. I don’t know why a male player would want to portray himself as a female, unless he was trying to get other male players to simply give his female toon stuff. I guess he might get his rocks off by making another player think that he’s a girl, but who’s to say that both aren’t male players trying to be something that they’re not?7.
How do you guard against stuff like this? First of all, don’t log on to an MMO looking for love. I’m sure there are some instances where people hook up through the game, but frankly, I don’t see the point. Or you could just do what my buddy does and assume that all players are guys until you hear their voice over your headphones.
There has only been one instance when a guy hit on one of my female toons. I had just started up a lowbie and neither of us had the voice chat turned on. We were around the ruins at Dol Ringwest and he started sending me tells asking for my real name and where I lived. I told him that I didn’t give that info out in-game. At that point, a couple of goblins spawned right next to where he was standing. He wasn’t expecting a kind of Spanish Inquisition because he was flirting with me. They attacked him, and I let him die instead of healing him. I never got another tell from the guy again. Aside from that time, I can’t ever remember an instance when another player seriously mistook me for being a female player while I was playing one of my female toons8.
More Than Just a Pretty Toon
Maybe this is a credit to the LOTRO player base, but it seems to me that players generally treat each other with a great amount of dignity and respect as far as gender goes, even in PUGs or raids, and are more concerned with another player’s competence than their in-game appearance or who the player is that’s controlling the raid’s healer9. And although there is certainly an element of juvenile behaviour and trolling (especially in GLFF) for the most part, I think the player base of LOTRO is generally more mature and less into childish antics than in other games10.
So that’s why I play female toons. And I don’t think I’m the only one. I go back to my basic MMO philosophy of “play what you want to play, the way you want to play it” and if you like playing guy toons, girl toons, or dwarves, that’s your business.
As always, all comments or other insights are welcome in the comments below.
- I paid money for these when I was a lowbie and hadn’t advanced the epic story enough to earn the campaign marks necessary to barter for them at the skirmish vendor. ↩
- This probably has a lot to do with the PvP system in the game. After all, out in the Moors, cosmetic outfits are disabled so that the creeps can get a good look at what you’re wearing before they decide to 1v1 you. I’m sure they don’t care when they’re zerging loners, but if they see someone dressed up in the most badass raid armour, they may think twice before trying to take you out solo. ↩
- I also make it a point to never ask someone for their real name, even if I consider them to be a close, personal in-game friend. Sometimes, they’ll let it drop or tell me outright, or it’s part of their character’s name, but I think people play MMOs to escape reality (see above) and to an extent, adopt a persona that they project to the virtual world, and if they aren’t going to volunteer their real name, it’s only polite to go along with that when you interact with them. ↩
- As a side note, I think it’s always a good idea to refer to people as a “common” name in kinchat or when you’re in Vent/TS/Mumble, especially when it comes to altoholics. After all, if you can have up to 17 toons per server, then it might get confusing when you encounter the one guy in your kin who makes up 10 percent of the membership. ↩
- I especially enjoy listening to female players from Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland and Canada; I’m sure Goldenstar can relate. ↩
- Unless you know them in real life. ↩
- If you haven’t seen the movie Surrogates, in one of the opening scenes, a male controller is making out with a “woman” who turns out to be controlled by fat, overweight man (see stereotype above). ↩
- And I laughed my rear end off when he bought it. Yeah, that was mean. So sue me. ↩
- Of course, that’s not to say that each of your toons shouldn’t look fabulous. ↩
- I don’t know about other servers, but GLFF on Elendilmir can get downright nasty some times. Which is why I usually stay out of the channel unless I need to PUG the last three spots for Turtle or Gatecrasher. ↩