- As it's one of my favorite podcasts, I was frustrated this week when the crew from Shut Up, We're Talking took on the topic of avatars as tokens (initially expressed by Tobold and refuted by Raph Koster) that arose from the Shake Your Bunny-Maker achievement in World of Warcraft. The goal of the achievement was to find female characters of level 18 or greater and bestow upon them a set of bunny ears. While many people found this to be a humorous bit of pop culture snark, a small group took such offense to the overtly sexualized theme that they were essentially driven from the game for a week.
- My frustration though, with both Tobold's initial post and with the SUWT crew was the outright dismissal of that minority position. Further frustrating was the conclusion reached on the podcast that putting some psychological barrier between player and avatar was a sign of maturity. I can't fathom the hubris involved in assuming that the position advocated from a personal level is not only immediately valid, but also the superior to any other argument without even examining the counter.
- For some people, the purpose of a role playing game or virtual world is to inhabit that world in a way most games do not allow for. Not everyone acts this way, but it is not invalid to do so. As Raph Koster points out, it is very human react to an avatar in an automatic way. Yes, over time one learns to look beyond the superficial. But one must also understand that avatars are projections of self into the game space, each chosen for specific reason and with specific intentions. Some might choose an avatar solely for game purposes, for personal aesthetics, or entirely haphazardly. But some do so to express themselves in ways they can only do so in a virtual world. Losing control of that avatar, even in such a minor way as sprouting bunny ears, has very real implications for these people.
- I have said this time and again on this blog and elsewhere. I have a propensity toward playing female characters in games. Of course it is easy to fall back on the old standard "If I'm going to stare at a character's backside for hours on end, it might as well be one I find pleasant." But it would be foolish of me to not admit that might I also feel protective of these virtual women that I guide through their lives. Or that I'm expressing a femininity in the game that I cannot in the real would. Or, conversely, that maybe playing a female character allows me to psychologically distance myself from my avatar so that I do not become personally invested. Maybe it is a combination of these or more.
- These are the kind of things that should be examined and taken into account when dealing with a population as large and varied as game players. Dismissing points of view as immature because they differ from yours is counterproductive and potentially dangerous.
© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.