In RPGs or any video game with a customizable avatar, I’ve usually gravitated toward choosing female characters. As a hetero cis male, I’ve never quite understood this tendency, and I’ve often felt a little self-conscious about it. (“No, hey, wait, don’t load that save game! Let’s just start a fresh one, okay, yeah. [ahem]”) Does this mean something about my gender identity I don’t understand? Do I need to learn to walk in heels? I already have enough foot problems in sneakers.
Only recently did it finally make sense to me: I play female avatars because they aren’t my avatars. By that I mean I don’t play as video game characters; I play along with video game characters. I guess I missed the whole “role playing” part of role playing games, because it’s just not how I relate to them.
Any time I’m rolling a character, I’ve always felt uncomfortable picking one with my name and appearance (and not just because I’m goofy looking). It feels a bit like hiring a new employee and on their first day saying, “Welcome aboard! Here are my clothes for you to wear, and from now on you will answer to my name. Now hold still while I do a bit of reconstructive surgery.” They aren’t me; it’s weird to try to make them be me.
I’m rolling not an avatar but a companion. I’m creating a partner that I’m cooperating with to get through this game. I want to keep them safe, not out of self preservation, but to protect my new friend. We’re working toward shared goals. In this way, solo gaming feels less solo. It’s like a buddy movie, but with more murder and theft.
That explains why my characters don’t resemble me, but why are they female? That’s for reasons more unique to me. I’m just more comfortable around women. I grew up with sisters, a single mother, nieces, and many other self-sufficient, strong, kind women. Conversely, I was nerdy, sensitive, indoorsy, artsy and never into the sportsball (is that what they call it?), so my bro relations were stunted. And the vast majority of my childhood tormenters were guys, which didn’t help build positive associations. I’m not a man-hating man, and most of my friends have been male, but given the choice of hanging out with a random male stranger or a random female stranger, I would choose the latter. No universal declarations here about either gender. This is just the context that influences my preferences.
And frankly, strong female characters are just more interesting. Cocky meathead trigger-happy dudes are vanilla. Standard. Default. We’ve heard that story already. Let’s see something else.
So when given the choice between a male or female video game character, the latter is just easier for me to get behind …and slightly above in third-person camera mode.