Gender Tourism and “dating” in Runescape

The MMORG Runescape by Jagex is a game I spent a lot of my early teenage years playing.  Set in the medieval world of Gielinor, it relies heavily on fantasy elements, letting you go on quests, choosing your fight style and leveling up how you would like to, and basically have free reign.  In early adolescence I loved this sense of having an entire world under my fingers, and my best friend and I would even pull “all-nighters” playing the game. The thing I had found interesting was that my best friend, a guy, had a female character.  He was in essence, “gender touring”.

Online you are anonymous.  Unlike anywhere else, you are able to put on any identity you choose, and to present yourself in this way with nobody the wiser.  This on one hand brings a positive societal change of not having to live up to any societal norms, and to be free of almost all constraints.  On the negative side, this also means that there is plenty room to abuse this power, and to manipulate in order to further yourself in whatever way you desire.  Plenty of people on Runescape adopted a different gender and/or race (for their avatar) in order to explore a realm that never would have been possible in real life.  Also with most players being in their preteen or adolescent years, the freedom to put on a different role to discover who you are is a healthy and positive form of gender tourism that the game provides. Unfortunately, there is also a negative side.  Sometimes this power is abused in the form of manipulation of players, and sadly this can even be taken to the degree of a middle aged child predator using an anonymous persona to gratify the worst of desires.  When I asked my friend why he had a female avatar when he was male himself, his answer was a blunt and matter a fact, “Because if I pretend to be a girl guys will give me free stuff”.

This slightly negative yet humorous truth actually provides more insight than may be first noticed.  In the game Runescape there is a chat capability, as well as the option of giving things you found on the street or in a castle, or won by completing a quest to another player. With most players being in their early adolescence, male, and not generally romantically inept, many players try their lines and ask a girl out on runescape, where if they are turned down it is anonymous.  The females also predominantly in early adolescence often accept this come on, excited to try out the role of a girlfriend without the pressures that come with a real life relationship.  With limited actions an almost formulaic approach comes to Runescape “dating”. You would stay together exploring worlds, the boy often trying out his role of manhood by “keeping you safe” and slaying the monsters.  The boyfriend would then give you gifts, and if you wished for him to help you with a quest he would because he was so “thoughtful”.  Forgetting how unrealistic and unfair this would be for the male if this were a real life relationship, this is still the pattern that seems to often occur within the game. It follows many traditional roles of male and female, and sometimes players will forget that this is not reality ending in a negative psychological state. The problem with the anonymous element to this world that makes each of the players feel safe and free to explore is that you do not truly know who the person who you are with is, and sometimes they can be playing you.  I admit to allowing a few players  to be my “boyfriend” so that I could get those last few items I needed for a quest (they were just so darn hard to get!), and through my friends gender deception he became the one of the richest and highest levels in the game.

Through online gender role playing you are able to be selfish to get items or to level up, to put on personas to explore what role you would like to play in society (though you may never become a mage, you may learn that you love an element of that character and that it was deep inside you all along), and to try on the role of suitor and girlfriend.  Though sometimes unhealthy, MORG’s will always allow you to become a tourist in whatever role you desire, for better or worse.

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1 Comment

  1. Great entry. I think gender role-playing might be more common in MMO games than on other online networks these days. The game’s magic circle makes the play more acceptable; you’re not lying about your gender identity, you’re just playing a role. The visible avatar helps as well, I think; the sight of your character makes the difference visible in a way that’s harder to come across legitimately in a purely text-based form.
    If anyone is interested in pursuing the topic, the Bonnie Nardi book I mentioned in class, “My Life as a Night Elf Priest,” is available for free online, and has a chapter on gender in WoW–although as a result of her focus and age difference, her experience is rather different than dare2dream14’s.
    –MH


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