What does your character mean to you?
Not all players will ask themselves this question of course, but it nevertheless subconsciously affects us all in the sense that our attitude towards our virtual avatars influences how we create them.
Is your character part of your identity, so you tend to use easily recognizable names and designs across different games and platforms? Or do you emphasize the creative aspect? Is lore conformation important to you? Maybe you just want to look at something pretty while playing? How much time do you want to invest? There’s quite a lot of things that go into it without us necessarily noticing.
I bring this up because of a tweet that showed up on my feed a few days ago:
A couple of months ago, actively playing a male character was still unimaginable for me. I started getting into RPGs in the early 2000s and for the longest time I played female characters exclusively. This level of identification was very, very important for me in order to be able to immerse myself.
Looking back I think it was mostly driven by insecurity and low self-esteem, things that have improved drastically for me over time. But back then, when I discovered these fascinating games that left the design of the protagonist entirely up to the player, I took the opportunity to create someone that I myself would have loved to be. That was teenage-me’s approach; I distracted myself from my perceived flaws by writing them out of existence in a video game. That’s not to say that this has completely ceased to be a factor today, but it definitely isn’t as defining as it used to be anymore.
The first male character I created was Reodhaer, the annoying Rohirrim barfly of Rohan (LOTRO), but he was more of a joke than anything. I never actually took him out for an RP walk, let alone level him seriously. Playing him simply didn’t feel good, probably because I didn’t really identify with him.
Fast forward a couple of years, Bigby the Draken (WildStar) came to be – mostly because I didn’t like the very humanoid features of female Draken. Poor guy didn’t see much of the world either, even though I absolutely adored this little fella.
These were my first two failed attempts at playing characters
that are the opposite whose gender doesn’t match mine.
Their whole get-up with the fancy Bosmer robes, the piercings and what not struck a chord with me. I will probably never play him but holy shit I want this to be in my character selection, I thought and proceeded to recreate them. There was no profound inspiration, no real concept, no goal other than the pleasure of looking at something I found pretty. What I didn’t expect was the many ideas that started to spring up in the process, and suddenly Eluvenel turned into something that very much resembled what I would call a fully-fledged original character.
Thus, the ice was broken. He was later joined by Vuren, Inun and the others, re-balancing the gender ratio to a rough 50/50.
So, what do male characters mean to me? Quite a lot of things, actually: intriguing novelty, the ability to create a much broader varitey of characters, defying common stereotypes, exploration, therapy. It is hard to describe, but ever since I started to tear down these very narrow mental boundaries I am a happier person. Or maybe it’s the other way round. In short, I’m a woman who never disagreed with what was assigned to her at birth, but who likes to take a break from reality every once in a while.