• Dear Gaming As Women: RPG Character Choice

    by and  • July 4, 2012 • Dear GAW • 4 Comments

    Welcome to the first installment of our new feature: Dear Gaming As Women! We invite our readers to asks us anything – and we’ll do our best to offer informative, thought-provoking, and entertaining answers. Without further ado, here’s today’s letter:

    Dear Gaming As Women,

    As a life long gamer who always chooses the male protagonist when given the choice in a character selection screen, I am curious if this is the same for female gamers? If given the choice, do you select male or female characters and why?

    – James


    Vivian – Thanks for your question!

    So, first off, there are three types of video games with regard to the gender of the protagonist.

    First, you have the silent everyman protagonist.  This is a character, usually male but sometimes you have a choice of gender, who doesn’t say anything in the game beyond “Yes” and “No” in response to questions.  For these characters, it is nice to have a choice of gender, and if given one, I will always play a female character.  In fact, sometimes I imagine that the male character is actually female. I play most of the Zelda games imagining Link as a young girl, maybe 14, adventurous but kind of shy around people, and a little embarrassed that she is always mistaken for a boy : )  These are games where the protagonist is supposed to be you, and I started playing Zelda games when I very much resembled that description.

    Second, you have games where you are playing an actual character, with their own personality and background written in for you.  These are the toughest for me, because I play a lot of JRPGs.  Sometimes the female characters are so incredibly annoying and stereotyped, that I play with the male characters instead.  Then again, sometimes they are awesome, it really depends on the game :)  Often, there will be a really cool supporting character that I wish I had the option to play as the main character, such as Etna in the Disgaea games.  But in these cases, the gender is a part of the character.  I choose the characters I like best, regardless of their gender.

    Then third, you have games where you have many options to customize your character including gender, appearance, stats, and personality (through dialog options generally).  Some people use this opportunity to create themselves in the game, and some people create an entirely different character.  Because I have a lot of tabletop RPG experience, I generally create a new character every time I play.  This is also great for replayability :)  For games such as Dragon Age, where there are markedly different storylines and endings depending on what dialog choices you make, I like to create a bunch of characters, just as you would in a tabletop game.  Some are male and some are female, some are good and some are evil, they are basically all different.  But I suppose if I knew I was only playing through the game once, I would be more likely to choose a good-aligned female character, even if she differed from me in other ways.

    Jess – I’m a game researcher, so I play very differently when I’m playing for work and when I’m playing just for fun. When I play for fun, I almost always play games from Vivian’s third category, and I always play female characters. In these games, female and male PCs are usually treated the same way, for the very pragmatic reason that companies don’t want to record lots of extra NPC dialogue. I find this deeply refreshing. In much of the media I consume, I have to be a woman before I’m a person; if I want to be a person first, I have to imaginatively project myself into a man. Playing games where I get to be a woman, and be human, and be amazing, feeds my soul in a very deep way.

    When it comes to Vivian’s first two categories, I really dislike being forced to play a male character in my “fun play.” It’s not that I have a problem playing a guy per se; there are a lot of awesome male characters out there! It’s that having to play a guy reminds me of all the other times I’ve been asked to treat men’s experiences as the center of my imaginative world, which makes me angry and sad.

    Unfortunately, sometimes playing a female character is even worse. When I played Borderlands, for example, I couldn’t face playing the “sexy siren” Lilith; it was just too depressing a caricature for words. Instead, I played Mordecai and decided that the character was actually a woman who was passing as a man so she wouldn’t have to put up with the inevitable bullshit. It turned out to be a fun way to play, but I’d much rather have been given the opportunity to play a woman who was more than a stereotype – or even better, to have a choice of different ways to be a female character in the game.


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    I am a gamer, a lawyer, and a mom. Not necessarily in that order.



    Game scholar, game design educator, game designer, and most of all enthusiastic game player!


    4 Responses to Dear Gaming As Women: RPG Character Choice

    1. avatar
      July 4, 2012 at 16:31

      I used to play a male character most of the time. But some of the games In V’s #3 category changed that. Notably I played the whole Mass Effect as a femShep, and of the many characters I played Dragon Age with around half were female.

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    2. avatar
      July 4, 2012 at 17:48

      For Vivian’s second type, I completely agree with her. I choose the character because of their story, regardless of their gender. For most JRPGs I end up choosing a male character, but simply because I find them more likeable.

      Type 3 is what I have been playing the most lately. I usually play more than one character, but my “main”, the first character I build and the one I use the most, is usually female, unless the male character has an extra layer of awesome I cannot resist. For example of my roughly 15 WoW characters, only two are male (though WoW sort of falls into the first category, unless you RP, which I do ocasionally), or the first time I played Dragon Age I made a female dwarf.

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    3. avatar
      July 4, 2012 at 22:44

      In the first and second types of games I do not care. I simple play them for the good characters and/or mechanics.
      In the third type it is 50/50. My first Shepard was a male sentinel and my first gray warden was a female city elf.

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    4. avatar
      July 24, 2012 at 13:25


      For the first games type … I’m generally not fond of that kind of character. If I want to play the entire character in my head, I’ll not sit before the computer. But there I usually go with whatever has the mist interesting profile picture, looks, or the best stats.

      I’m pretty much out of JRPGs by now, to be honest, but I did and occasionally do choose my party based on sympathy. That can be female as well as male characters (Lightning/Snow/Fang, for instance). I don’t hugely discriminate based on gender there, though I do have a strong dislike of chibi characters or anthros. I deeply resent jrpgs which force you to use certain characters. Hope, THIS MEANS YOU.

      A subgroup are more action oriented games like Silent Hill or Resident Evil, which also feature pre-generated characters, often one female and one male. I go by sympathy there too, though some games have been broken by me by the protragonist choice (like Silent Hill 3).

      In customizable games, I usually play females if the voice acting is bearable (as in, not sounding like high on something all the time), on the reasoning that if I spend the entire game looking at someone’s behind, it can just as well be someone I like looking at. I still expect an equivalent degree of badass as with male characters though. Mass Effect’s Commander Shepherd is, save for a few minor issues (why no male strippers, huh?) a very good, even shing, example of this.

      As a final note, I have always played male and female characters. I generally don’t have issues identifying with either gendered heroes. It’s really more about the attitude of either. Being males doesn’t help Hope one bit.

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