Monday, September 13, 2010

Avatars (not the movie)

cc-licensed from flickr user Iscan
I played World of Warcraft fairly heavily for a couple of years, and while I had a few different characters of various races and genders, I eventually settled in on a female character.  At this time, I prefer not to reveal myself in that venue, so let's just call her "Amy".  I know, it's not a creative WoW-type name, but it'll do for this purpose.  One of the interesting things about playing Amy was that I became invested not just in my in-game character, but as my in-game player persona.  People would assume that I was female, perhaps because my chat style seemed feminine?  I don't know - I generally avoided directly stating my gender, in part because since this "life" in WoW was all mental and not physical anyway, I truly felt that I was a female playing the game, no matter the sex of my avatar.  But back to the perception of me as female - I found both male and female players who had no prior suggestion of my genetic sex, but who over a period of time when chats became less exclusively game-oriented and would touch on each others' real lives, I could see their perception of my change from a default of male or not really thinking about it, to talking to me as a female.  How is it different?  I'm not sure I can explain it.  More general chit-chat from the other female players, an ease in the conversation.  From guy players, a bit more playfulness, maybe some lightly joking flirting despite knowing that I am married IRL (in real life).  Even though I'm attracted only to gals, I have to say it was sort of sweet to be flirted with. I guess the desire to be liked, even in pretend, is universal.

So, how does one "type" femininely?  What was I doing that labeled me as female?  As I was pondering this, I set up an experiment and played one of my male characters for a while.  The same pattern emerged.  At first, people assumed that I was male or didn't explicitly make assumptions at all, but soon, as my male character's friends started chatting with me about random stuff and not just the game, they clearly began to make assumptions that I was female.  As a still-in-the-closet transsexual, I can't even begin to describe how wonderful that feels.  I mean, all I have ever wanted was to be accepted and assumed to be just a plain old ordinary girl.  When I stopped playing WoW, the strongest feeling of loss wasn't the fun of adventuring, it was no longer having a world to visit in which people saw me for who I am mentally, unbiased by how my body looks.  I still don't know what made my chatting seem feminine, but I like to think of it as confirmation that in every way but my stupid body, I am woman.  See me type, "roar!"   :-)

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