Why I don’t roll male characters in video games

In the distant past, I’m sure that I’ve written an essay or two defending and explaining why most all of my RPG and MMO characters tend to be female. But out of all of the reasons that I’ve listed in those articles, I don’t think I touched on one of the most important ones: I generally hate how male characters are portrayed in games.

I’ve made an effort. From time to time, I try to push myself to roll up a male character for variety’s sake if nothing else. I convince myself that there’s nothing wrong with it and that it’ll be good for me to experience the game from the same gender that I am. But a couple of exceptions aside, it rarely sticks. I don’t end up bonding with the male toons the same way that I do with the females, and I grow increasingly cautious about doing that again because I don’t want to waste time or money investing into a character that I will either abandon or pay to change.

What is it? Why are male characters so repugnant? Maybe “repugnant” is a really strong word here. I don’t recoil at them. But I don’t connect with them either. And when I think about it, it’s because video game designers don’t make guy character models that I can relate to.

You see, when I play The Sims 4, I can make male characters that I kind of like. I had this one guy, Trap, who was a “dude bro” with shaggy hair, an outdoorsy style, and a penchant for cooking and playing guitar. Not really me at all, but I warmed up to his goofy approach. Physically he was slightly taller and more fit than me, but nothing too extreme. He wasn’t obnoxious looking, wasn’t a pretty boy, and wasn’t someone who should be a villain in a weightlifting movie.

But I can’t make characters like Trap in most MMOs. Either I get guy characters who are too lithe and sleek in a way that Asian games like to make their men or over-muscled gung-ho stereotypes. The latter all have to look grizzled and buff like a level 90 lumberjack. And that’s not the type of person that I relate to. The body type of the over-muscled even feels threatening, in a way, like this character would beat me up if he met me in real life rather than became my friend.

To be honest, most of the female characters could beat me up too, but they seem more relatable, more nuanced.

I also find that armor on guy characters tends to get far more ridiculous. Female armor can be stupidly skimpy, but most of the time it’s well-proportioned and sensible. Male armor has to double as a costume for a heavy metal cover, so it’s about 75% larger than its female counterpart. It’s more aggressive and more showy. Again, that’s not me.

I kind of liked how SWTOR had a male option to be a rather skinny guy as one of the four male body models. That wasn’t too relatable for me, but it at least gave a different feel to a character made with that body type. Like you were more agile and wiry than hulking and strong.

Guy characters also have so many horrible face options that I’ve lost count. Again, they’re chunky. They have necks bigger than my thighs. They look eternally constipated. About the only fun I get with them is facial hair options, and now hipsters have taken a lot of the fun out of that.

Thinking through the MMOs that I’ve played over the years, very few of them — even the big-name ones — give me male characters that offer something other than “pretty boy” or “steroid freak” with their options. I know that I tend to consider male character options if the race in question is further away from a straight-up human, but even so, there’s always a very specific gender dimorphism at play that makes the female models look better all-around.

It’s not the end of the world for me. I’m very happy picking the characters I do, and there’s always honesty with people about who I am behind the avatar. I guess it’s a shame that MMOs haven’t gotten past a very limited selection of male types, but there’s always the possibility that will change one day!

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15 thoughts on “Why I don’t roll male characters in video games

  1. Braxwolf August 8, 2018 / 10:15 am

    It’s funny, when I played LOTRO, I never rolled a female character. I just wasn’t comfortable being represented that way in-game. Fast-forward six years and I practically have to force myself to create a male in ESO. I’m not sure why or even exactly when this mind shift happened. I used to think it was kind of weird to play opposite gender, now I don’t even give it a second thought, and even prefer the female models in most cases.

  2. bhagpuss August 8, 2018 / 11:12 am

    What about one of your favorite MMOs, The Secret World? You can make a non-standard male character there, can’t you? And Fallen Earth? By and large, though, I think that’s a broadly accurate overview when it comes to human and close-to-human racial options in most MMOs. There are exceptions but mostly the designers and artists seem to prefer a sportsman/pro-wrestler/superhero archetype (or if it’s an Eastern import something that wouldn’t look out of place in a boy band). Which does make sense to a degree. Most MMOs do use the “you are the one true hero” trope so it’s not that surprising they fall back on heroic stereoypes. Plus you have to be pretty buff even to stand upright in some of that armor…

    When it comes to non-human playable races though, I’m not so sure the argument holds. I can’t say I can see an awful lot of difference between male and female ratonga, kerra, or iksar in EQ2, for example. Or, I can see a difference but it definitely has nothing to do with any of the male attributes you listed. Similarly, male and female Asura and Charr in GW2 do look sufficiently different that you can tell them apart but you can have an incredibly weedy, geeky, feeble male Asura if you want to or a skinny runt-of-the-litte rmale charr. I think almost every MMO I’ve played that has animaloid races has been amenable to making non-macho males.

    I would guess I play about 70/30 female/male characters. The main reason, I think, is that I tend to prefer female protagonists in fiction so when I’m making a character I have those role models in mind. Why I prefer female protagonists is another question…

  3. Pasduil August 8, 2018 / 11:22 am

    Given the option I like to roll a variety of alts of different classes, races and sexes. But I do find in most MMOs plenty of the available options look rather ridiculous to me and I often tend to gravitate to the small number of choices that look more or less like a normal human being.

  4. Tyler F.M. Edwards August 8, 2018 / 12:28 pm

    My experience is very similar. I’m a nerdy guy who works at a desk all day. I don’t identify with the steroid-abusing man-bulls that are male avatars in most games, and I think this is a large part of the reason I play female characters more often. Especially given that I mostly play agility or intellect based glasses, where a more slender body type makes the most sense.

    In games that offer male avatars that are a bit more reasonable (TSW, SWTOR), I tend to be more likely to play as a dude.

  5. Yeebo August 8, 2018 / 12:38 pm

    Generally the look of either the male or female model for whatever race I’ve picked fits the idea I have for my character better, and so I go with that. Early on I would always play males to avoid confusion, but the days where you are assumed to match the sex of your avatar are thankfully long passed (at least in the games I hang out in).

    That said, I cannot bring myself to play male halflings in LoTRO. They don’t look happy and adventurous to me like most shorties in MMOs (and like the female LoTRO hobbit models), they look a bit pathetic and like they might keel over if you make them run too much.

  6. Chordian August 9, 2018 / 7:32 am

    One of my friends used to say that if he has to constantly look at the backside of a character, it might as well be a female one with a great ass.

  7. Syp August 9, 2018 / 11:34 am

    Yeah that’s a pretty standard line, but honestly, I think that after a while you don’t really “see” your character at all. It’s a fixed point on the screen while everything around it is in motion, so your eyes are usually drawn to the new input and not the familiar.

  8. Syp August 9, 2018 / 11:36 am

    Male Hobbits are not a good model, I agree. Not as endearing as I would have hoped from the books.

  9. Syp August 9, 2018 / 11:38 am

    It does matter game-by-game, so I didn’t want to paint with too broad of a brush, but in general, yeah, I’m with you.

  10. Syp August 9, 2018 / 11:39 am

    It’s often too tempting to make good-looking people without flaws, but I’ve started to gravitate to the thought that flaws and other extreme looks are actually kind of interesting. It’s one thing that I really do miss about City of Heroes, I would often go bizarre there.

  11. Syp August 9, 2018 / 11:40 am

    Secret World’s men have the strangest faces and facial expressions, I just can’t get past them. They all look like smarmy lounge lizards to me. The women aren’t too much better, but at least there is some improvement.

  12. Syp August 9, 2018 / 11:41 am

    I did like a brief stint as a ESO guy with an old-timey curly moustache.

  13. Braxwolf August 9, 2018 / 3:28 pm

    The ESO character creator does allow for a lot of variance in both genders

  14. DonV August 9, 2018 / 10:02 pm

    I generaly identify more with the male character as an extension of myself in the game world. However certain characters or roles feel like a female must, such as the last main character which was a dark aasimar monk, sprouting wings on a female chracter just feels right.

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