I did a strange thing the other night, perhaps a first for me (I cannot recall): I swapped the gender of my main character.
This happened in Final Fantasy XIV, where I used a fantasia potion to redo my character’s physical appearance (including, if desired, gender and race). First of all, major props to FFXIV for even having such an option, because it’s simply not present in most MMOs. I went in an changed Syp Tsunami from a cheeky lass to a taller, more taciturn guy with a close-cropped scalp and beard. Then poof, I went through digital sex change in about five minutes, disappearing from the game as a female and reappearing as a male.
So why? Why did I do this?
Well, one of my ongoing personal challenges is to examine any ruts or routines I fall into out of comfort and tradition and ask myself if maybe it’s time to try something different. For years in MMOs, I’ve almost exclusively played female characters. Oh, I had a somewhat flimsy list of reasons for it — the physical customization options were better, the body frame smaller (and filling up less screen real estate), it’s cool to see heroines kick butt, and so on — but the truth is that I just got into a pattern of doing it and stopped thinking about it after a while.
But lately it’s started to bother me that this is what I always do. I don’t really roleplay, as you well know, so it’s not like I’m trying to live out fantasies of being a 20-something female in a fictional universe. I’m not attracted to my characters or using them as tantalizing eye candy. And I shouldn’t really have a preference one way or the other for in-game gender other than female characters always seem to me to look better than their male counterparts.
I don’t really judge what others play in-game — it’s a game, for pete’s sake, and if you want to be a girl, a guy, an androgynous avatar, a zombie, or an ogre, more power to you. But it’s started to feel weird for me to play women exclusively, as if I’m advertising that this is part of my online personality, because it’s not. Sometimes I wonder if it weirds others out to know me as a real guy first and then see me skipping around the game as a girl.
Maybe it’s that I haven’t hid the fact that I’m a guy in real life that makes it feel a little strange not to match that up with my in-game avatar. Like it’s a small measure of honesty instead of deceit. Maybe I just got into a rut and haven’t even considered guy characters for so many years that I’ve developed a blind spot to it.
I actually deeply regret that I rolled up a female character for my second Secret World character for the playthrough. I already have one and would love a guy character now because of the different costumes available. But that ship has sailed and I’ve invested too many hours in this character to erase her.
So here we are, me with my new FFXIV guy. To address the change in-universe, I’m thinking that maybe he’s a cousin or brother or the original Syp who’s taking over the family business of saving the world. In any case, going forward I’m exploring the game as a guy playing a guy, and that’s both slightly exciting and slightly weird for me.