So, All These Male Gamers Who Choose to Play With Female Avatars...

It seems to be a common trend: Male gamers often like to assume the role of a female in video games. ...but why?

From a behavioral and psychological perspective, I've always found this to be a fascinating occurrence.

I first started to notice it many years ago, back when MMORPGs like EverQuest were just beginning to get a foothold in the world of gaming. Several of my friends always opted to play as females, especially female magic users. When I asked why, I never got a direct answer. Usually, they'd just shrug and say, "I dunno."

As MMOs and the freedom of character customization has become common in gaming today, the phenomenon has continued. In fact, I think it's becoming even more prevalent: Males playing as female avatars. Interestingly enough, I'm not quite sure the reverse is true; i.e., I don't know if as many female gamers are playing as male characters.

Either way, it's interesting, isn't it?

What, can't get a girl in real life?

That's a poor retort and these days, it's not anywhere near as realistic as it once was. However, as insulting as it is - and I would never say this to someone - I wonder if it doesn't have a kernel of truth...

In my experience, it is true that men who play as females in video games aren't exactly the biggest "ladies men" in the world. In fact, I daresay that the less luck they have with the fairer sex in reality, the more likely they are to choose a female character in a game. This goes double if they can select a scantily clad mage of some sort. It seems these guys don't want to play as brawny female warriors (perhaps for obvious reasons) and hence, it all makes sense.

And, perhaps on an even darker level, it gives these men a chance to control a woman. In real life, they feel as if they're at a woman's mercy, that they can't make a connection. Therefore, as part of their entertainment and relaxation, they turn the tables and give themselves a chance to fully control a sexy, powerful female.

See, I knew my psychology degree would come in handy someday.

Man, these people can be awfully touchy about it...

The more you ask a guy gamer why he plays as a female character, the more pissed he gets. Have you noticed this? It makes me think I'm onto something; that it has its roots in a deeper psychological quandary. Many don't even want to admit they're playing as a female and if they do, they come up with some bizarre reason: "Oh, my girlfriend wanted to see what a woman magic user looks like in the game." I've heard that one before, too. My response: ""

For the record, I really don't care that men do this. It's fantasy so do whatever you want. You're not hurting anyone. That being said, if there are deeper issues behind this, perhaps it's worth looking into from a scientific and research standpoint. I'd also like to know why it seems that women are more likely to simply play as a female character. Women selecting male avatars doesn't appear to be anywhere near as common, does it?

Again, this is entertainment. Do whatever you want. My questions are merely curious; they're not designed to be offensive. I often wonder about the reasons behind such phenomena, so I tend to ask questions.

Is that wrong?

Published May. 6th 2014
  • Malian_8063
    I will almost always play a female character given the option. For me it just feels more natural in a way, and to be honest, I really do have no idea why, but if I had to really look, I think it might be because the male characters almost always seem to be huge, gritty, musclebound guys, which is just... not me.

    As for skimpy armor, it honestly really bugs me as it would just be useless and I am a stickler for realism or at the very least, some semblance of practicality and logicality when it comes to design for, well, almost everything, and much of this armor has little (oftentimes none) of any of those things and just ends up looking ridiculous.
  • Gender Identity
    Why do I choose to play as a female avatar? Subconsciously there could be many reasons; as for what I can personally parse (for the short version see the TL;DR at the end):

    I enjoy being able to express my effeminate side more freely (I also consider myself very effeminate IRL but I've been conditioned to be more masculine since I am physically a male -> Leading to sometimes awkward social interactions and the feeling of being 'restrained' to accommodate social norms in life)

    I'm physically attracted to the female body and enjoy imagining the beauty I see on screen as being full of life and vigor. It's not about wanting to control a 'real' woman so much as it is enjoyable to control a female avatar; As a more sexually submissive personality in real life it could be that I enjoy the control specifically because it's 'not real' (there's so many facets to an individual!).

    Having played both male and female avatars in MMOs and enjoying social interaction but not having a friend circle that is particularly prone to chatting I find being a female character provides a better outlet as there is a bit more attention and emphasis directed towards them in the MMO realm (inherent bias from other players viewing you as female is my assumption here); plus it is more socially accepted to be a "chatty" female instead of coming off as 'creepy'. Seemingly it makes it easier for me personally to make online friends.

    People often offer help and expect or encourage learning more (Inherently more tolerance of female mistakes in gaming? Men's socialization to never ask for help?) when they encounter female avatars as I believe there is a natural bias that many women are not as familiar or knowledgeable about the game (if we look at sheer numbers and some data presented here it's easy to understand where the natural acceptance of less prepared females may come from -> a greater majority are introduced by others/focus more on socializing etc based on this data)

    If you want to go all Psychology on me we can tie some of this to allowing myself to go through extreme amounts of emotional abuse in my last long term (5+ years) relationship; feel free to connect the dots however you'd like.

    TL; DR
    -Explore more effeminate traits (chattiness/emotion)
    -Enjoy women's physical attributes more/Enjoy having 'simulated control'
    -Like the attention (On the flip side not all attention is desire-able)
    -More tolerance/acceptance for mistakes (on the flip side may be viewed as less competent)
  • Masterjc
    I agree. My opinion is Guys like to choose female characters in games because of the reason that they view themselves as females in real life
  • Si_W Crack on.
  • Wen Huma
    I'm kinda disappointed in this article. Not offended, disappointed. What you state here may be true on some level and possibly for some people, but I know that in my experience it goes well beyond the sexual implications. Say that, for example, I do have a girlfriend and still like to have most of my avatars in games as females… in Dark souls, I have five different female avatars and only one of them is a prominent magic user, the others spear/sword users. And they're not even all conventionally attractive (I made one of them to look like my gf, but that's about it). I'm simply fascinated by role playing as a female and, wondering about why that may be, I stumbled across this and other articles that don't go really beyond the sexual fantasy issue and, since you claim to have a psychology degree, I cannot bring myself to be anything but disappointed, because apparently nobody is trying to look too deep into this question.
  • Uelrindru_4459
    I will say this article is pretty offensive and doesn't really present evidence for it's claims at all. I've been a gamer for more than 20 years and for me playing female characters started in WoW. Me and a friend both got the game and I got it installed and patched a few hours before my friend said they would be able to play. I had already made a human mage which I thought was going to be my character and didn't want to level that character and have an advantage over my friend so I made a hunter. I picked night elf because I like elves and they could be hunters. The female night elves looked cool and the males looked like they took some kind of steroids that only affected their shoulders and arms so I choose female. Turns out I loved playing hunters, was really good at it and when my friend logged in a half hour later and we found out we would have to be level 10 to get to each other anyway I stuck with the character.
    That said I go with female characters on a regular basis when I have a choice but I definately take into account what I'll look like with different gear before making a gender choice in games and how useful the character class is trumps all for me.
    I certainly didn't like telling people that I play females when I first started because there is a stigma of it somehow meaning you are confused about your gender identity. Now I don't care, I'm secure in my sexuality and how I express it and I couldn't care less about what other people think of me.
    If you would like to watch a reasoned look at why some gamers play female avatars go check out PBS Game/show and see a much better look at why some men play women pixel and check the annotation for a video that gives a deeper view into it.
  • Kitten Mother
    I play male and female characters but mostly female though I 'am' female. My hubby plays mostly male characters but sometimes makes female ones and will spend a whole lot of time in these say, in WoW, .....just gathering stuff for outfits. Not really skimpy or sexy ones either. Long flowing robes and nice shirts as well as things for them to hold like lanterns and books. Females in games have a bit more characterization choices going on then men do. Ever looked at all the different types of clothing of different sizes, patterns, colors, and shapes? Not to mention a lot of times males in games are shown as really heavily muscled and my hubby and I don't care for that.
  • Relentless_5140
    I play male and female characters. In most games I have the option to have multiple characters. so I scout the game and look for the best look i can find for that gender class and race. certainly certain looks are more appealing with the combination of race, gender and class. Therefore playing as a female character for me would be because of that gender race and class it was the most appealing. Keep it versatile. I think people who play as both male and female are less bias and less sexist. For some people they may have a different reason for playing as a female character or as a male character but in all actuality, I think people just do it for their own idea's of customization without any other psychological explanations other than they are an option and why use only 1 gender when you have so many races- classes to chose from.
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    I've been playing MMO's for... 15 years now? Something like that. Anyway, the first 10 years of that, I played male characters always. Then after a decade of that I realized something. It's a bit more appealing to look at a girl for a decade than a guy. I simply play female characters more often because you're right, they are more visually pleasing. My girlfriend seems to have a problem with it, but I just don't see the problem.

    Also, in the context of WoW. You just got your ass kicked by a little goblin girl. How do you feel now?!
  • Lex_7374
    Playing as female character allows me to express the feminine aspects of my personality and experience life as a female vicariously without actually having to endure the social stigma or make the commitment of being an out of the closet transgendered person. I can only speak for myself, but that's why I *personally* do it.

    As for why men who get touchy about it... again... I can only speak for myself but... I think it is again because of the perceived stigma in our society of a man having any feminine characteristics. As in all other aspects of life, society and the media promote extreme ideals of gender and sexuality. Depending on where one lives, the consequences for failing to conform to those ideals can range from anything to mild psychological torment to out right physical violence. The rational course of action is therefore to protect oneself.
  • Capt. Eliza Creststeel
    When playing MMOs I have met and known a handful of female players who were playing male characters. I know this because of our connections outside the game. They said it felt freeing because they didn't have guys hitting on them in chats, etc. Which I can understand. It's funny how we look at avatars and presume so much about that person.

    Someone may have mentioned this before but in non-MMO games where you have a limited selection - the female character is often the most balanced.

    I remember back when Gauntlet came out. The Amazon wasn't slow like the warrior. She was stronger than the Wizard, etc. And Tyris in Golden Axe was the best character to play. The dwarf guy was slow and her magic was cooler than the other guy. So, sometimes there's a practical reason not a psychological one.
  • Cortalia
    Agreed. In the original PSO, The HuNewearl was able to use Tier 3 magic, and all spells to a higher level than others of the Hunter Class and had a magic (technical points) regen. The HuCaseal had the best accuracy and evasion of the class while the Humar and HuCasts (males) prominently focused on raw power and defense.

    However for me the sheer adaptability of the the HuNewearl couldn't be beat. Long range magic AoE bombardments, buffs, debuffs then moving in for the kill with a blade.

    In FFXI, the Mithra (which is female only) offers higher dexterity and agility making them naturally better at melee and evasion tanking classes, Its not as crazy as it used to be but back in my prime of FFXI Mithra's were some of the most reliable damage dealers out there, since you often fought monsters way above your current level their enhanced accuracy allowed them to do steady dependable damage while strength dependent races (typically male characters) like the Elvann and Galka would miss half the time. As a Hume Female which for the most part is stacked in the middle of every stat, I typically had a harder time keeping up with Mithras than Galka's on the damage front.

    However in contradiction more and more games have begun to follow a more "gender neutral" role when it comes to character stats, more and more males and female characters have the same stats and it all falls into the personal preference category .
  • Xs_5474
    I'm waiting for the other part of this where all guys who roll male chars are homosexuals, who need to control big strong men.

    You say you just want to be a buff tough guy, I know what you really meant was that you wanted to have fantasy gay anal sex and then go on your quests.

    But seriously, I would like to know what your cheap degree has to say about the other end of the spectrum.

    Quality writing, 0/10
  • Capt. Eliza Creststeel
    - troll level 5. That includes a +1 for the use of gay anal sex in a sentence.
  • Si_W
    I always play as a female character where I can, couldn't really tell you why - it's just preference. All of my current Titanfall loadouts are female.

    Never been a massive fan of huge brawny male characters, which always seemed to be the default, so maybe it's against that - but I don't know or care.
  • -_9503
    This is a pretty one sided article if you can call it an article. I can make a female character if I choose with no reason behind it, you know why? Because America; that's why.
  • zoLo567
    Senior Intern
    My picking female characters these days comes from old school fighters like Tekken. I was always more comfortable with the move sets of the female fighters than I was the male fighters. Picking the female character kind of came out of that habit. I will make a male character (I chose a male Shepherd in Mass Effect), but I usually go for a woman out of the habit that I got from fighters
  • Shadowphoenix82
    Asking the question is not wrong, no. I'm not fond of the likely hood that people will hop on board your theory of virtual dominance without deeper consideration, but that is a very valid theory. I personally find watching a female overcome tough odds more impressive than a man doing so, especially when the female is of a tinier frame or smaller constitution, because it defies the cookie-cutter stereotype of beefcake macho men busting down walls to save the day. I'm not a competitive male most times, and I am put off by arrogance and aggression. These things make me a more apt friend to young females than boyfriend, but it is a coinciding feature, not a cause and effect. I still have a solid social life, and I am single of my own choosing, believe it or not. Back to topic, I feel more comfortable with, more attracted to, and more impressed by women, so...I'd rather the character I watch on screen be a female.

    That being said, I specifically don't create female characters in MMOs because I consider it to be misleading. I may make my characters very fanciful and ornate with scars and tattoos and dyed hair and the like, but two things stay the same if I expect to encounter human players in the course of gameplay: my character will share my gender, and my skin tone.

    I also concur with the common scenarios OMGr8573 listed. Men play females because they're better to look at when you have to look at your character all the time, and they can be more socially advantageous. Girls play men because they can avoid social inquiry and just play as a teammate, as well as hold heavier, more desirable gear at higher quantity if the game stats are affected by gender.
  • Elijah Beahm
    Featured Columnist
    I'm afraid I'm going to have to upset this trend. I just do it because I prefer female protagonists. Most of my favorite characters in fiction are women, I prefer female voice actors, and most male characters in general are just as far from representing me as a female character would.

    Also, in an RPG, it adds replay value to try different genders, especially in games like KOTOR 2 where gender actually impacted parts of the story.
  • Landon Sommer
    Fallout was similar in this respect. You could play the exact same character male and female and get different stories and quests.
  • Thos_7852
    I play as a female character out of habit from Skyrim. I use normal clothing in Skyrim on my character, trying to make them look more normal or whatever when not in battle, and blokes are incredibly boring as the clothes really are just flat pieces of rag on them. From the perspective of 'I'm a straight guy with a girlfriend', the character looks more interesting. No I don't give the character revealing clothing, as I play as a battle mage, so I use thick iron armour and a hood as well as magic.
    Besides, I spend day after day as a male, so if I want to play as a strong, 'independent' (ignoring the fact that I'm in control) woman, then I will.

    Anyone with any gaming or internet experience at all knows that online, and especially in games, people will play as either gender either for the sake of it or because they're a bit creepy. Besides, my character in Elder Scrolls Online assumes the part of a character in a book series.
  • TheDeadlyMouse
    Most guys I've heard of that plays female character always state "If I'm gonna have to sit and stare at a character for hours on end, every day... it's gonna be a female character!" Plus a lot of the times female characters get help before anyone, money, items, help with quests, etc

    A lot of women plays males cause when playing a female they get bothered a lot by men. Play male and they don't have to worry about men sending them stupid and/or gross tells.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    "Plus a lot of the times female characters get help before anyone, money, items, help with quests, etc"

    That's an interesting explanation and one I've never heard before. I don't play MMOs so this is good to know. :)

    As for the last part, I think the majority of online gamers know that males often play as females, so I'm not sure playing as a female character is going to convince anyone that you're a woman.

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