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!