Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Duff: Confessions of a gender-switch gamer

Duff: Confessions – and Explanations – of a gender-switch gamer

My name is Michael Duff, and I am a gender-switch gamer.

That means although I am a man, I frequently create (and play) video game characters who are female.

I can imagine an army of amateur psychologists now, nodding their heads sagely as they smirk. “He’s a guy who likes to pretend he’s a chick, and we all know what that means.”

But it’s not quite that simple. Most male gamers have “crossed the digital divide” once or twice, for a variety of reasons. The stock answer is to blame it on aesthetics, in a way that reinforces the masculinity of the gamer. Most video game characters are viewed from the back, so men naturally prefer looking at female backsides while they play.

This is a great answer, because it throws the insinuation back on the questioner. “So you really like looking at male buttocks all day? Maybe you’re the one with the problem!”

Although the majority of game players are male (84 percent according to one World of Warcraft survey) the character distribution is much more even. So for whatever reason, a lot of men are out there playing female characters.

I can’t answer for all of them, but I’ll tell you why I do it.

The first thing to realize is that I don’t think of my character as me. My character isn’t really a stand-in for Michael Duff. I don’t picture myself doing all these cool things as I play. It’s more like a story I’m watching, the same way you’d watch a movie or a play. I think of my character as an actor in need of direction. I watch her about her the same way you’d watch Luke Skywalker or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

My character isn’t a costume I wear; it’s more like a car I drive. And just like a car, I want my character to look cool, move fast and run over anything that gets in my way. I pick out equipment and fine tune all kinds of settings to make my character perform better.

So when you ask me why I prefer female characters, it’s kind of like asking why do you drive a Corvette instead of a Jeep?

On one level it’s a pure aesthetic choice, and on another level, I like watching female heroes kill stuff. Probably the same reason Joss Wedon writes “Buffy.” You don’t have to be female to appreciate female heroes, just like you don’t have to be male to enjoy “Star Wars.”

I don’t have any deep psychological reason for choosing female avatars, but I’ve certainly learned a lot. All the stereotypes are true. Male players treat you better when you’re wearing a female face. I’ve had random strangers whistle at me, flirt with me, invite me to groups and give me free stuff, just because I was playing a female. I still get very uncomfortable when this happens. Usually I just say, “Sorry, I’m a guy.”

I’ve been hit on while playing a male, too, but this is much less common.

World of Warcraft has been widely criticized for the way it presents female avatars – with exaggerated body types and revealing clothes. As you climb up in levels you realize the more powerful the armor is, the more skin it is likely to show when you put it on.

I always thought people who complained about this stuff were nitpicking, until it happened to me. The first time I took my female warlock to Outland, I got some outstanding quest rewards that were much better than my previous equipment. I put on my new magic pants and looked like I was adventuring in a piece of sexy lingerie. My regal, dignified warlock character was walking around with her hips exposed, attracting whistles and catcalls from all across the zone.

It got so bad I actually sacrificed some attack power and put on a weaker pair of pants, just so I could cover myself.

I’ve always been a quiet supporter of women’s rights, but I didn’t really understand the issue until I put myself in a woman’s shoes. The game experience has made me more careful about how I talk to women online and made me more conscious of women’s issues in real life.

Don’t believe me? Roll up a female blood elf and walk around Orgrimmar for a while. You’ll see what I mean.

Written by Michael B. Duff

November 16, 2007 at 13:48

Posted in Columns

2 Responses

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  1. Enjoyed reading your blog. So now that you’ve been in women’s shoes as a “gender-switch gamer”, how has your real-self Michael Duff grown from being a “quiet supporter of women’s rights” to a gutsy fighter of misogyny? See my articles in the Summer 2009 edition of On the Issues Magazine. –Linda

    Linda Stein

    July 28, 2009 at 23:17

  2. your man card is now revoked.


    September 29, 2009 at 09:15

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