Gender swapping on MUDs, a personal and social identity workshop
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Article by FireCat
Copyright 03/06/2001
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Submitted By FireCat, in public response to a research question posted upon a public newsgroup. Research posting (c) Flint Sue, unknown date

> Introduction: I'm a psychology undergraduate student at The University of Manchester.
> I am aware that the anonymity of the Internet offers infinite possibilities in the realm of
> personality and gender exploration. Research concerning gender swapping on MUDs
> has indicated that some members of this on-line community take this role reversal seriously,
> and have consequently gained insights into their self identity which would have otherwise
> remained dormant. Also, the impact of gender on social interactions is sometimes subtle
> in real life, but is obvious in MUDs.

> The question that I am researching is the impact which gender swapping has upon player's
> self-identity and their social awareness of male-female interactions. I would appreciate
> hearing from you (men and women) on the issues raised by the attached questionnaire,
> which should only take 5 minutes of your time.

> Please ensure that you are above the age of 18 before completing
> the questionnaire. Your responses will be anonymous and will remain
> completely confidential. You are under no obligation to divulge personal
> information if you do not wish to. You are also free to withdraw form the
> research at any time, even after your questionnaire has been posted.
> You will also be debriefed.

As a note to the University and any people holding positions within it, I am choosing of my own free will to make my reply public.

> Have you read the participant information sheet?

Yes.

> Have you received enough information about the study?

Yes.

> Do you understand you need not take part in the study
> and are free to withdraw?
> * at any time
> * without having to give a reason
> * and without any detriment to you?

Yes.

> Do you agree to take part in the study?

Hmm . . . no. :P But everyone can still read my reply :)

> 1A) Have you ever played a MUDs character of the
> opposite gender?

Yes.

> 1B) Have you played gender neutral character?

That depends, what is defined as 'gender neutral'? Is it someone who cannot be defined as either male nor female physically from birth, someone whose physical differences (while present at birth) have been removed or eliminated, someone who is neither male nor female according to the preset prejudiced views of masculinity and femininity (and, specifically, their lack of conformity with those views), or someone else?

> 2) Why do you gender swap?

Ahh . . . swap? That would indicate that I am one gender, and change it to another. But I don't. My characters have their own gender, and I see no reason to change theirs to match a certain type all the time, nor to only play those of one type. In playing a character of a different gender than my own, I do not (in any way) change my own, personal, as a player, gender. I daresay my characters have their own idea about what gender they have, and are not (themselves) swapping - they would disagree quite firmly with assertations that they are of another, and probably be thought (quite) insane by the majority of the rest of the population if they claimed they were really another gender.

> 2A) To investigate with your own identity?

That would be quite the difficult thing to pull off, as my characters have nothing of myself in them.

> 2B) To investigate what it is like to be the opposite
> gender?

Not only can I not imagine that as being possible unless you play a 'character' that is really nothing more than a gender, but it's quite impossible to do that in the first place, even if you ARE that gender, because there's nothing to go on - all you have is stereotypes of how (fe)males should be, and whether you are convincing in your portrayal of that gender or not, it only gives you the reaction of other people - nothing about what being that opposite gender is actually like. Even if you ARE that gender, who's to say what of your behavior and feelings are due to you being that gender, and not your upbringing, your personality? Who's to say any of it is?

Well, actually, a great deal of it IS upbringing - and stereotyping. Feminists argue that for generations, women have been pressed into certain roles and brought up to act in certain ways, to believe that no others exist. I won't even go into exactly how the extremist feminists will be affecting our upbringing in a few generations, insisting that we CAN'T behave in such-and-such a way because it's an artificial behavior imposed on us by society, and if we 'want' to do such, it's not real, it's only the evil tradition which is making us think that way, but not to worry, they'll free us, even if in our misguided desire to cling to the old ways we resist . . . we'll eventually thank them, and realize that when we said we had fully considered all matters and viewed everything fairly, we decided of our own free will to be that way, we were only deceiving ourselves . . . blah, blah, you'll be happy when you truly have 'freedom' from those trying to influence how you are. Which is not to say that feminists are the only ones who are stereotyped into molds - for generations, males have been forced by society (and perhaps testosterone) into becoming even more of a 'male' man. I don't see a huge cluster of masculinists around, though. Wonder why?

Anyway, if you can calculate how someone would turn out if they were brought up according to the stereotypical view of a (fe)male, taking into account other conditions during that time, and without letting those conditions corrupt the 'isolation of those factors caused exclusively by gender-based stereotyping' variable in the experiment, then you'd have a perfect specimen for finding out what 'being' EITHER gender was like - but only for that purpose. You could find out either with equal ease, but when it comes to playing a character, you'd find that your specimen was woefully one-dimensional, and totally unsuited for playing, very undeveloped. Frankly, most roleplayers would rather just play something with total environmental upbringing, not design a character that had only one trait (and I'm not speaking game mechanics here, I know how DC Heroes makes your energy attack very powerful if it's the only thing you have), sure some characters have a signature trait or something that they focus on, but it isn't the only part of them that exists. Most roleplayers wouldn't investigate what it's like to be the opposite gender in such a way, because it would just be so boring :)

You could include in your calculations a member of the opposite gender, to work on them with you; because, while objectively a clearer picture is often gained, it is almost always different to some extent from the way things are felt subjectively (for one thing, because it seems natural so much that it is not questioned, and the person assumes everyone knows it), and it would be impossible to determine what is subjective without knowing how the other subjective view appeared, objectively (difficult to see what was specifically related to your gender without seeing how it compared to similar views by the other gender that was also thought to be specifically related to theirs). Oh, and try to make sure the objective viewer is a gender-neutral person, because until the experiment can be completed and the 'isolated factors caused exclusively by gender-based stereotyping' can be removed, both male and female would be eliminated as candidates for taking that position in the experiment, since neither of them could guarantee true objectivity.

> 2C) To explore male-female relationships?

The question is imprecise; why would we want to be exploring them, anyway? If it's to see how males interact with females from their point of view (or vice versa), we should just ask them; but if it's to see how either gender interacts with each other, as friends, you'll have to try without me. Trying to see how a (wo)man would treat other (wo)men in a relationship of any kind, would fail because of the people that treat someone according to how well they are known, how good of a friend they are (and this would be because of WHO they are, as a person [thus excluding the specimen of 2B, who wasn't a person, just a personified gender], not WHAT they are, gender), and how that person behaves in general - for instance, if they always treat everyone the same way (and especially in contrast with general behaviors which are different).

> 2D) To draw attention to your MUDs character?

I pity the MUD in which it is possible to do so ONLY on the basis of gender. Mind you, based on the situation, race or class could draw attention to yourself - depending on negative public sentiment at the time, and I see no reason why gender should be excluded from that list. But it should be possible, given the situation, to draw attention to your character through selection of ANY variable, or combination thereof - though to differing degrees, for instance, it might raise a few eyebrows for a race with little to no magic-using ability to speak of to be a mage, but it doesn't make any sense, without some special situation, for female characters to be barred from becoming, say, a fighter. Without any of those situations, including the background of other characters (yes, that hero who is here because drow assassins killed his parents WILL react with hostility to your drow character [at first], no matter how nice they are), you should be drawing attention to your character only through your history (which shapes your interactions), and how well you roleplay the character.

> 2E) It is more advantageous on MUDs to be the opposite
> gender?

I'm a roleplayer, not a powergamer. If I wanted to take the advantageous route, I'd min-max my character and to hell with the gender (unless it gave a bonus/penalty to my prime requisite, in which case I'd utilize it, but not see the gender as anything more than something to be selected/avoided for the bonuses/penalties it might give me, and see its importance as directly proportionate to whatever mechanical advantage it could give me compared to other variables).

> 2F) Other?

I play character with various genders, because, for each character, it is the gender they happen to have. I'd adopted the method of rolling randomly for a character's gender at the beginning of a game, or before choosing it, if their gender hasn't already become obvious from the history and personality that I am deciding/feeling.

> Please elaborate on the option(s) you have chosen.

*scrolls up for a moment* Oy.

> 3) Do you take your MUDs character seriously?
> Please explain the reasons for your answer.

Yes. I treat them all with no less levity and respect than I would accord any real person, and in most cases with a lot more. I have NO respect, for instance, for the view 'It's just a game.'; while the world itself may be, my characters have development enough to be a real person, and their lack of physical form in this world is far from convincing proof to ANYone who doesn't subscribe to the 'it's not real unless I can see/hear/feel it' theory.

> 4) Prior to playing a character of the opposite gender,
> how did you perceive this role? Please explain.

In a complex manner; no differently, and yet completely differently. I did not perceive the role of playing the character any differently according to the gender, nor did I even see there being a 'role' of playing a character based solely on their gender. However, I did, in preparing to play the character, perceive it as completely different from my previous characters; I knew it would be someone new, and I approached just as I would any new character, and have continued to do so ever since - with great eagerness, and the issue of gender never entered the equation alone, it was just one part of an (near-)infinite package.

> 5) After gender swapping did your perception of the
> opposite gender change? Please explain the reasons
> for your answer.

No. Aside from the previously stated fact that I don't 'swap', I tend to make a lot less judgements than many people. A lot less than most gamers, even.

> 6) Is your MUDs character more feminine/masculine
> than your real life persona? Please explain.

No. I don't make such judgements; see 14B, and keep in mind the last part of question 8. I do not (and have never) consider(ed) myself either feminine or masculine, and do not make such judgements. Besides, (just) as (with) my characters, my identity is not tied to my gender, or a sense of femininity/masculinity, and any parts of the persona you might attribute to the one or other, I could clearly see to be tied in with all the rest, integral but not separable.

> 7) Has a MUDding experience helped you in a real life
> situation?
> If yes, please explain how and why.

Real life? What's that?

When you can define what is meant by 'real life situation' and 'MUDding experience', I will attempt to answer it; for now, I do not know if you mean not gaming, not using the computer, and what 'situation' extends to.

My knowledge of how my computer works, and how to use Resedit in certain ways, has come from taking my corrupted connection documents and trying to hack them back to the point where they worked again (lazy me, I finally just looked up the MUD address again), so it has helped me in the real life situation of how to get the computer to work again.

> 8) Do you feel your MUDs character is a reflection
> of your real life self?
> Please explain

No, but vice versa. My characters are all separate individuals in their own right, and many people deliberately play characters who are (radically) different from themselves - psychologists often try to attribute this to 'an unconscious desire to release their suppressed, darker side', but such actions are flawed in (at least) two ways; the character played is not always darker (in any way), and there's a difference between suppressing something which is there, and playing something which you are not.

Remember, the character is not the same as the player, which means they are not limited to whatever is within the player, and the player can play that which they are not, without it having to be there in the first place. None of my characters are a reflection of my real life self, because they all existed before I made the link to them, and as for psychologists exclaiming with glee 'Aha! But you must have identified with the character in order to connect with it!', I declare bullshit. I can totally disagree with a character's views. I can personally hate them. I can even fail to understand fully the character, at first, and this is where insights into the character become possible. Without the possibility for those insights, and for someone to become better at roleplaying, why would we do it? There wouldn't be anything new if all the characters were merely another facade over the real person. As for vice versa, while my characters are not a reflection of me, I have, over time, become, to some extent or another, a reflection of them.

> 9) Have your learnt something about your own real
> life personae through your MUDs character? Please
> explain

No. My characters have never encountered my real life personae (whatever that is; they have not encountered anything about me 'real life' wise, and if the matter were brought up, they would consider their own life to be the 'real' one, but until then they have no reason to even suspect the question exists), and as I said earlier, none of my characters are a reflection of my real life self, so examining those characters would grant me nothing but conclusions about them.

> 10) Do you find it easier in MUDs to express yourself,
> than in real life situations? Please explain the reasons
> for your answer.

No, for one simple reason - in the MUDs, I am not expressing myself - I am expressing my character, and I don't have any characters that I both LARP AND MUD with, to tell the difference. However, since I very rarely do go out of character, I suppose I will include my experiences with that. Be warned, I am very technical, since the differences I have noted are purely
technical. I have a condition which has among its effects 'mono channel'. Those of us with it cannot see and hear at the same time. When listening to somebody speak, visual input loses its meaning. We are unable to perceive a cat jumping on the lap while listening to a friend talk, or hear the teacher's voice talking to us whenever they grab our chin and force eye contact (ouch, tactile and visual input to concentrate on; it depends on which channel takes priority, for instance I myself am highly sensitive to sounds and would be horrible in a fistfight, because the moment someone spoke I would be distracted to listen). We often handle telephone conversations more easily than face-to-face meetings, because distracting visual input is eliminated. Similarly, we often handle computer communications more easily, because distracting audible input is eliminated

> 11) Are you attracted to the real time virtual
> interaction of your MUDs character? Please explain
> the reasons for your answer.

Please explain the relevancy of this particular question. I came back to this twice, and now I am at the end of the message and have come back a third time, but still cannot figure out how it fits in, to the rest of this study.

> 12) Has MUDding ever caused you any emotional pain?
> Please explain the reasons for your answer.

You may note that I don't actually answer the question. I believe it is more important to defend gaming, and that starts the moment someone, however innocently, inquires about the emotional 'impact' of gaming.

There are people who know so much about baseball they know and can recite all the stats for their favorite pitcher/batter, or for many of the people on the (many) teams they know, not just favorites; they often spend all their time with friends doing just that, and can spend a few hours in a row each day talking animatedly about baseball. This is considered perfectly normal.

But we, as gamers, only need to take a few minutes to mention a game we play, and all of a sudden we're obsessed.

In America, thousands of people every year watch football on the television, and will get emotionally involved in the game, to the point of waving their arms, yelling/screaming/bellowing at the top of their lungs, and even crying, lashing out and breaking things if a team loses or makes a bad play. They dress up in special clothing, paint their bodies, and do equally acceptable things.

Why is this all acceptable, but gamers are not supposed to have any emotional involvement whatsoever with the games they play?

If, when the folly of asking such questions with the intent of applying them to the particular psychological belief that getting emotionally involved with our games can be damaging, harmful to one's sanity, and dangerous to the people around them, or of allowing them to be (given the chance to be) applied to that belief later, you still want to ask that question, I'll answer it.

> 13) Have you ever played a gender neutral character?
> If so, why?

Yes, though not physically neutral, and because it matched their background history and how I was playing them.

> 14) Was this experience different from playing a character
> of the
> A) opposite gender?

What's the opposite of neutral? Both?

> B) same gender?

Neutral again? #13 and #14 both explicitly referred to a character, but the only ones mentioned were neutral; I am going to assume, for the sake of answering this question, that you mean real life gender.

> Please explain your answer.

Not significantly, because I base all aspects of a character's personality on who they are as a person, not any preconceived and misguided views of femininity and masculinity, and if parts of how they act happen to fall within one of those, too bad for the person making the assumptions. While it was different, I can attribute all of those differences to the fact that I was playing different characters, and will reiterate my argument for good roleplaying:

Roleplaying is one of the password-locks that you need to at least be familiar with the character to have a chance of breaking (reminds me of the If I Am Ever A Hero advice - give each of my sidekicks different ways to identify me, so that if one of them betrays me and a clone is switched for me, the others will quickly recognize what has happened). Also, good roleplaying is what lets you listen to seven people in the room, with identical stats, all say one sentence - and then pick out exactly who is who from that alone.

> 15) How did other players respond to your gender neutral
> character?
> Please explain.

I noted, of several thousand players, absolutely -no- response which might have happened differently; it simply never entered into anything.

> 16) Do you think the discussion of gender varies depending
> upon which kinds of MUDs you play? (i.e. lpMUDs [role
> playing], TinyMUD etcŠ) .
> Please explain your answer.

No, not as far as codebase goes. But I think it DOES matter depending upon what type of game you play, non-roleplaying or roleplaying. Codebase can't really be used because with any form of (what you type = what they see) communication channel, roleplaying can be developed and accomplished, whereas any codebase that was originally used for roleplaying might be turned into little more than a chat room, or if it had kill commands into a hack-and-slash game.

If the codebase doesn't have any form of (what you type = what they see),
it's little more than a (team, if the players gang up on the mobs) game of Quake, only without all the graphics. And frankly, if someone is choosing to run a MUD like that on their server instead of one of the other 'online multiplayer bloodbath' games, either they have extremely low bandwidth (and their machine can only handle text without insane lag) or they're pissed off with their lack of power in those games, and decide to run something where they get to be the most powerful person around, able to beat up everyone else with impunity.

Anyway, if it's just being used as a chat room, there are no 'characters' to play, and the issue of 'gender masking' becomes applicable. Besides, think of AOL's IM, or ICQ, or IRC, or one of those other services that provide people with a way to communicate in real time (or close to it), the only thing separating those from the chat rooms is that you need different types of software to use them. You need a client of some kind for logging in to the 'MUD', and have a much more limited selection of software to use for IM, or ICQ, or IRC, or others.

For the hack-and-slash MUD's, the same mindset which is applied to Quake, Diablo(2), etcetera, could be used; since most of those 'online multiplayer bloodbath' games also have a 'campaign' option where you play offline through a pre-prepared story, slaughtering stuff until you get to the next part (I'll have more on that in a later post), and the following is true especially in those offline conditions:

You're not being asked to base your decisions in making your character on any info about you as a real person. But in some games, there are certain alterations to your stats for each choice you make (race, class, gender), and the person has no reason not to take the option which would be most strategically advantageous to them (unless they want a challenge, in which case they may go after the opposite in one or more categories).

In other words, if there is no effect in the game mechanics, the players are likely to select such things as race, class, and gender upon the whim of the moment, which could turn out to be their own gender because they are used to filling it out on forms (I'd include race and class but I don't think people are normally required to fill out either on a form, unless you count class as occupation; still, most MUD classes are fighter/mage/thief/cleric, which doesn't closely match to any real life [unless you're in office] job), or just as easily something else if they happen to think of it first, or it is easier to click on (less movement for the hand on the mouse) or type in.

> 17) Do you have any other comments to make on gender
> swapping on MUDs?

I do, but they have either been made by me already, and much better than I could hope to reproduce here, or they have already been made by others with a whole package of points I never would have thought of, much better than I could ever hope to do. If anyone requests any of those articles I will be happy to provide links to them, or just the articles if they are not up anywhere anymore.

> Age:

Err . . . ah . . . *begins to sweat* what year is it?

> Real life gender:

Do you know, noone else has ever *actually* asked that before? Plenty of accusations, which I declined to comment upon, but noone ever thought to give me the chance to tell them (which, if they had asked, I *would* have).

> Can you briefly state your hobbies, athletic ability,
> fashion sense and political views:

I read (gaming books), use the computer (for MUDding), and . . . well . . . to be honest, those all fall under the category of 'gaming'. I have good athletic ability (LARPing), excellent fashion sense (by the standards of our LARP), and don't hold any political views that we would both know the name for. Other players of our games would be familiar with the jargon, though *whistles*. You probably meant 'real life' politics - I don't think there's a word for what I am, though you might want to consult someone who speaks Latin first. I don't involve myself much with 'real life' politics, or bother to notice them. However, to the extent I recognize certain political systems exist there as well as in various games, I simultaneously support and think are awful ALL the systems. Not a compromise, each of them individually for a total of ALL. For instance, Min Chan, my Chinese character, could be considered a communist - she isn't familiar with politics, and belongs to no political group, but she does chores in the community in exchange for food (I didn't buy much Life Support, but she can meditate just about anywhere and finds a new abandoned warehouse if she needs to), and given her upbringing in a sheltered, secluded monestary over in Canton, she would probably be horrified at the idea of democracy; those with less experience being given an equal say in things, why, how rowdy things would be with no discipline enforced . . . the chaos.

> Which of the following most resembles your status:
> Student | Employed | Unemployed | Other

Gamer.

Oh, and I'm a storyteller, though not to be confused with the kind that GM's White Wolf games.

> Which MUDs do you regularly participate in?
> Please indicate the kind.

Role-playing.

> How many MUD characters do you play?

Well, how many have I ever played, how many currently exist on an accessible server somewhere, or how many are currently active? And if so, what defines 'active'?

> Please state the character'(s) gender and description (optional).

By description, do you mean the physical, mental, spiritual, personality-wise, stat-wise, gender-wise, or just a general descriptive
sentence about them and their history?