Electron Dance

Crossing The Floor

I’m not the kind of male that enjoys hanging out online with a testosterone-fetishised avatar. When I eventually get around to Mass Effect, I’m confident I’ll be dressing up as Ms. Shepherd rather than Mr. Shepherd.

When I used to indulge in Half-Life Deathmatch over a decade ago, I tired of the dull hazard suit guy I usually looked like. Don't know why, it's not as if I saw my own reflection. But anyway - most of the characters looked bad-ass and somehow bad-ass didn’t suit me. I was more humble-ass and dead-a-lot-ass.

I decided to try on the Gina model, the only female in the pack.

In the course of many deathmatches, I was seldom engaged in chat. Once I dropped onto a French server calling myself G’Kar and had someone relate in broken English that they liked Bab5, too.

But during the one night I cross-dressed as Gina, it happened that I felled another player sporting a blue robot model. I presumed it was a he.

He said, “Good shot.”


He asked if he could tag along with me, we could cover each other’s back. Sure. Sounded fun to play a little co-op for a change although I did suspect something was off. No one ever said “good shot” to me. No one ever asked me to team up.

The maps rolled on. Crossfire. Undertow. Datacore. Stalkyard. I fought side-by-side with my new blue friend through each and we racked up a few kills. I don’t remember if fighting co-op made much difference to my stats.

What I do remember, above everything, is what happened after my final death as Gina.

The blue robot shouted in chat: “You shot my girlfriend!

I quit the game, switched back to a macho avatar and changed my name. Blue robot had tagged along because my avatar was a girl and he'd assumed I was too. I wasn’t comfortable with robot guy doing that and trying to be "my friend". At some point, I’m sure I would've had to explain I possessed insertion apparatus.

This tale makes me think about Hey Baby, a game about how women see men see women. Trouble is, it's a game for the converted, not the heathen it lampoons. Hey Baby is a cathartic reaction to a diet of sexual harassment, not an attempt to change the world. It's cartoonish in its depictions of men and the violent response it empowers the female player with.

My Gina experience gave me a better appreciation for the unwanted attention women are saddled with than Hey Baby did. That overbearing friendliness. That irritating arrogance that calling me girlfriend would be okay.

Gus Mastrapa recently suggested that cross-dressing in games is something to be encouraged. He's not wrong. But men don’t need the directed experience of Hey Baby to understand what it’s like to be a woman. We have the internet. We can go out there right now, become a woman in any online multiplayer game and find out whether the world treats us any different.

We might even make a few new friends.

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  1. What I find disturbing, as well as a little sad, is the sheer desperation that makes someone want to follow a female avatar around just because of the possibility that it might be controlled by a woman. And the fact that this is *normal*… sigh. I wonder to what degree this isn’t so much the result of sexism as it is of segregation. Girls made of pixels are only that interesting if you don’t have much contact with girls made of flesh.

  2. Hey Jonas, nice to see you stop by.

    Yeah, that’s a good point. If I ever encounter blue robot again, maybe I should ask him. Most likely he’s married with seven children by now, wondering if I was better marriage material. I probably was, but we’ll never know for sure.

  3. sci fi and pc games!
    He was doomed from the start.

  4. Ha ha, yeah! Wait – what?

  5. Interesting thoughts. I’m pretty sure I can blame WoW for my constant in-game cross dressing. When I first loaded up the game back in ’04, I was really bothered by the super-steroid looking male avatar I had to choose from. After a brief stint as a troll (they aren’t crazy buff) I tried out a female night elf. It may have been my first real female avatar, but I got such a kick out of it that, I almost always “cross dress” these days if given the option.

    Also, I’m a little uncomfortable suddenly thinking of myself as a cross-dresser. :D

  6. I always cross-dress (AND IN THE GAME!). I try to make the least-likely female character I can (usually meaning tall/muscular/imposing/etc.) since it’s the kind of character I can hardly hope to control in any game with predetermined characters.

    Cat-calling’s always seemed bizarre to me, but then again I used to get into rather massive trouble for doing far less.

  7. Nice article. Having worked in Brighton I have been on the receiving end of many an amorous approach by guys who really don’t seem to understand that just because I serve alcohol behind a counter doesn’t mean I have to like you.

    When you turn people down on the basis of ‘I am not gay’ the response can be pretty unpleasant. The most ‘hilarious’ though was that one of my female co-workers used to cut her hair short and have quite a butch look. Some of the predatory comments she got from the our lesbian clientele was on par with anything I had heard.

  8. @Armand & @Sid: It’s good to hear that I’m not alone. We should hold some sort of party in Second Life and come as women. Yes. I am aware that SL is the capital of “cybersex” now =)

    @BC: It’s just nice to know you’re so handsome in real-life. I can of course vouch for this having met you in person last week. You’re fortunate I’m SUPER MARRIED.

  9. I don’t really play enough online games — never mind games that allow you to customise your character — to witness these very interesting if odd moments. Rochelle and Zoey are the only females I play as these days and I only choose them so that Armand and Steerpike will look after me.

  10. Gregg, if you just want to hug, ask them for a hug. Be honest. Be brave.

  11. I usually play as a woman on-line, but, that’s because I am RL. I don’t THINK I get a lot of undue attention for it, but, at least in City of Heroes, which has highly customizable avatars, some of the avatars seem to read as “man playing as a woman” and others read as “actual woman.” I’ve always found that interesting. It also somewhat depends on your word choices in chat, in some cases, if people believe you are a woman or not.

  12. And then I accidentally realize this was written last year and not… today. ;) Darn year-in-review link threw me off!

  13. No problem, I am nothing but attentive to necromancy and you’ve popped up on the sidebar too.

    I’d heard on and off that being a woman in a multiplayer game could be an uncomfortable experience. During the Gina incident, it didn’t occur to me that someone would just read straight through avatar to gender. It’s not like women had a lot of choices in the HL avatar set.

    What put me off public multiplayer in the end though was the inane, sweary shouting over in-game chat. I’m sure it’s a lot better now with everyone on headsets. I can’t work out if I’m typing that line with a straight face.

  14. This article wins for Best Homoerotic Tension in a Comments Section.

  15. That’s a good award to win. I am honoured.