January 21, 2010

Gender bending in online virtual worlds

The blogger and online gamer Dale Innis added some very interesting comments to my recent "Autogynephilia on a Napkin" post.

There are whole universes out there where men can become women by a touch of a button: In online gaming (massively multiplayer online games/MMOs like World of Warcraft) and virtual worlds like Second Life.

He says:

"One interesting thing about this is that even many men who identify as men in the real world, and have no history of any sort of gender unhappiness, still often play as women.

Whether this is because they're desires to be female are just very very mild (and were therefore not even noticed until they got to an environment where it was easy), or because they are moved by a different set of causes than people who are TG in whatever sense in real life, strikes me as a very interesting question."

Yes it is! Unless there is any practical reason for for a man to become a woman online (gaming advantages or the like), there must be something else that drives a man to select a female identity or avatar. Even if that "drive" turns out to be mere "curiosity", that curiosity is in and for itself interesting.

In World of Warcraft Dale has heard the "if I have to stare at someone's bottom 10 hours a day, I'd rather it be a hot chick" argument more than once. Sure! But you are looking at your own virtual female bottom.

This goes beyond games and virtual worlds. I have noticed that people joke about online gender bendings all the time: "The sexy 18 year old college girl you chatted with last night might be a 50 year old fat and bald man."

The jokes do not necessary prove that a lot of people switch genders online, but the fact that people are telling them proves that many are able to imagine the scenario. That tells me that genderbender fantasies are much more common than people tend to believe.

The problem is that so few are willing to admit that they would do such a thing, even to a researcher, which means that underreporting will be a huge problem.

Dale says:

"I know from personal experience that males playing as females in both Second Life and World of Warcraft is pretty common. Females playing as males (again just from personal experience) also happens in both, but seems more common in WoW than in SL, maybe (pure speculation) because WoW is the more traditional-male-flavored environment (battle, as opposed to shopping and decorating and socializing).

It would definitely be interesting to get some hard data! I don't think the stigma attached to virtual gender crossing is all that large (at least not among the people I hang out with?), but it's certainly non-zero, which would tend to corrupt the data."

In another comment Kaseido recommend using Second Life for trying out a female identity.

S/he says:

"There are a lot of us, and some fairly active groups - but the culture of 'don't ask, don't tell'about RL [Real Life] is pretty supportive of us, in most places.

For me, and a number of friends, and a lot of us in general, it's a chance to really live our female selves, and to explore what we're really attracted to in safety.

The SL [Second Life] Flickr groups can give a good sense of what it's like, and anyone from here who does come in, please feel free to drop me an IM - Kaseido Quandry in SL."

Tom Boellstorff writes about Second Life sex changes in Coming of age in second life: an anthropologist explores the virtually human.

He tells about one man who appears as a woman in Second Life that he did not want to show his female avatar to his wife. He told Boellstorff:

"I'm kind of worried she'll be jealous. My avatar is one part an expression of myself, one part expression of my desire. Half my idea of of myself, half my idea of the woman."

Sounds like an autogynephiliac to me!

Boellstorff also tells the story about the person who posed as a male crossdresser in Second Life, while being a woman in real life! It seems that when the hard material facts of real life disappears, wo/man's true nature appears.

Some more reading:

Gender and Emotions in Virtual Worlds
Flip the Switch – Gender Mechanics in Second Life
Gender Bending in Role-playing Games


Since this blog post was written I have stopped using the terms "autogynephilia" and "autoandrophilia" to describe people. The reason for this is that the terms implicitly communicates an explanation for why some people get aroused by imagining themselves as the opposite sex . This explanation, that this is some kind of autoerotic paraphilia,  is both wrong and stigmatizing. Instead I use the neutral term "crossdreamers".

Click here for a discussion of the dark side of the autogynephilia theory.


  1. Honestly, I like playing as female characters online. I feel very uncomfortable and constrained trying to play as men and I tend to prefer the social aspects of such games anyway. So the guys will go out and grind away and I will support the group as kind of a motherly figure and it feels so good :) Besides, I love to chat for hours :)

  2. I think some play as female characters to give themselves a challenge (like finishing a game without cheating giving them a better ending). I know I used to play as chun-li in street fighter not necessarily because I like being female, but because she could bounce around like a cat, very nimble, which of course was the complete opposite of the male characters who seemed to all just have brute force punches.

    Second life is an interesting world to explore. You can be anyone, and you choose what you want to reveal. I myself have enjoyed playing as a male character, and using clothing/body scripts to instantaneously morph myself into a girl character, complete with very feminine attire.

  3. Perhaps my most...amusing...experience with genderbending in an MMO was on World of Warcraft.

    You see, I play a Male Orc with the Engineering profession. Which means I could build machines to teleport myself, but engineering isn't exactly safe...there's always a catch...

    For example, frequently I would survive the teleport...only to discover that my character had temporarily become a Female Gnome...

    Such things are honestly a relief to find, because it means that someone, somewhere...has a sense of humor...and that it includes genderbent.

    And if history teaches us anything, people do not fear that which is funny.

    (except clowns for some reason)


  4. You are right. We need more transgender humor!


  5. I like playing as a female character in mmorpgs. I like the idea of being cute and feminine. I'm not gay or bisexual, nor do I get some sort of sexual thrill out of it. It's just fun to be a girl, if only cosmetically.

    I think this is why most male players play female avatars, whether they admit it or not.

  6. To rosepuddle,
    I do like the idea of being cute and feminine as well and play these games online posing as female. However, I wouldnt say I am not bisexual.
    Infact, I am straight in that I am predominantly attracted to fermale beauty adn I am quite sexual with girls.
    However, I also get a huge turn-on on imagining myself as a feminine object being prowled by a perv man. I have
    had these fantasies ever since teenage began and they have never gone away. Sometimes I felt as if I was indeed
    more gay than straight when these fantasies occupied most of my day dreams. At other times, when I am around women,
    I dont get them and I then begin to feel more manly. I guess I have a man as well as a frivolous girl inside me.

  7. At 1st Thank you so much for this Blog. This is what i was missing :o)

    I am since 2007 in Second Life with my Female Avatar "Kajal Singh". What was beginning as a Experiment and with curiosity, is now becoming a part of my own. Its not just Fun, it makes my Soul relaxing. like i am at home.

    Sometimes i was thinking about my Real Life and how much female i like to bring into it. Actually i didnt does it, but i am daily think about it.

    I enjoy me Female Virtual Life and i never wanna miss it.

  8. I just did a similar post about this myself. About playing computer games as a female character. You commented that some people do it because they like looking at the beautiful woman rather than the actual man, but then you said they are looking at "their own" bottom etc. But really it's no different than watching a movie with a woman main character. Why do you think there are so many action movies with females as the main fighting character? Not because the men watching the movies want to be female, but because they like seeing the beauty. I think it's the same thing for most men playing women in games.

    However, for myself, I'm still trying to figure out if that is all it is, or if I like pretending to be a woman for a while in the game. As a past crossdresser it's hard for me to know.

  9. @Thorin

    "Why do you think there are so many action movies with females as the main fighting character? Not because the men watching the movies want to be female, but because they like seeing the beauty."

    I think that might perfectly well be the case for the majority of male bodied persons who take on a female avatar.

    But I have enough transgender M2F friends who take part in Second Life and play such games to know that for them it is also a way of expressing their female self.

    In many ways it has become an alternative to crossdressing and writing TG stories and captions.

  10. For some maybe its to much work to go all out femme in RL so one magic click online does the trick and then spend lot of time online because of it. How long will it be until they develop virtual reality were men can actually feel the female character they are playing?

    And what about girls that love playing Super Mario games do they want become men?

  11. @Kristjan

    I haven't actually seen any reports on to what extent female to male crossdreamers make use of Second Life or online games to test out the masculine side of their identity. Maybe we could ask around in one of the "girlfag" forums.

    What I do know is that some of them dress up for so-called cosplay conventions, where they play the role of their favorite male manga character. This is an amazing world, indeed!


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