Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Listened Lately: Shut Up, We're Talking #47

  • 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.


  1. Good blog-post!

    As for "haphazardly" creating/choosing an avatar: I sometimes let the die decide what to roll (sex/class... and all). Sometimes. A friend of mine ALWAYS does.

  2. You will note, we even stated from the beginning that this topic was difficult.

    I stated that I wish that the perceptions would move beyond the stereotypes to begin with, due to the fact that we either go to the game to play, and not really impress anything upon another...and maybe we do, and even try to be something we cannot be in real life.

    You state "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"
    Does this person really have an attachment to say a "Green" humanoid with a pig snout? Then what is wrong with bunny ears on that avatar?
    Maybe the ears offend you, but someone else may not be offended (for example my wife said" Ooo..I would love some bunny ears to go along with my naked dancing in Ironforge")

    In so many words, the implication of such an offense is only implied if the person lets it bother them.

    Imagine the "Stick and Stones" quotation when taking this into context.

    No one is ever going to be happy with all aspects of these games, and as I just wrote yesterday on my blog...we pay 15 bucks for these games, and the warranties specifically state "We the company do not care how this game runs, and cannot guarantee a fix for anything"..
    So, as soon as you log in, you give up all rights to your avatars anyways.

    Maybe I should touch on that a little more in another post.

    Thanks for bringing this up.

  3. I really want to respond to this, but I feel I must listen to SUWT first.

    Concerning Tobold's explaination on Game Avatars I will say this, he was wrong to cast such a wide blanket of explaination since everyone is different and creates, plays and enjoys their personally crafted toons for different reasons and you can't just throw the word "Token" out there without considering other peoples opinions.

  4. @ Björn - I really prefer games that don't give me many options for character creation. The more sliders I get, the uglier the avatar I end up with.

    @ Openedge - Thanks for stopping by and for your own blogpost in reply. It was a great read. Since you didn't link it, I will do so right here. Good stuff!

    @ Oakstout - I was stunned by Tobold's post myself, especially from a blogger I respect so highly. Can't wait to hear your thought after you listen, even if it's just to call me a stupidhead who doesn't know what he's talking about.

  5. Like everything this topic is very subjective. Everyone views their gaming world differently. I have female toons, but because I envisioned those characters to be females in the world of Azeroth, not because I want to look at a cute ass all day. But some guys like to look at cute ass all day and some play females to milk the community for gifts like gold, by pretending to be girls in RL.

    If we take all this into consideration the truth is that the gaming community has just become desensitized by what gender a person plays in the game, especially with the invention of in game voice chat programs, which removes all the mystery to who might be playing character X.

    I'm sure some people got offended by the objectification of female characters in the game, but these people are probably new to the MMO community and haven't been around long enough to become numb to the whole gender aspect.

    People should just play the game and have fun. To turn it into a violation of politically correct behavior is just silly. We play to escape the real world not to bring it with us.

  6. @ Oakstout - You're right, I also wish the real world didn't intrude on the virtual world. But who is at fault of that here: Blizzard or the those who took offense? Thanks for coming back to post!

  7. My issue is, why did they take offense? Are they politically motivated to cause a ruckus or just honestly upset about the achievement.

    My wife always laughs at me when I get upset while playing a game, either because a friend annoyed me or someone inside the game has decided that particular moment to grief me. Either way, as she is often fond of reminding me...it is JUST A GAME and to be upset about it or what happens in there is just crazy.

    Remember we are talking about a game here. A virtual world where nothing inside it belongs to anyone except the game developers. To be upset about something that, really, doesn't even belong to us is just silly.

  8. Althought their reasons are open for debate, I find that it is better to assume genuine intention on the part of the other as opposed to some sort of true malice, snark, or insanity. Doing otherwise only short-circuits the possibility of discourse and understanding. That's part of the reason I don't talk politics or religion at all. The default position for most people is that they are an absolute authority and the other is automatically invalid. So, I say balance in all things, even on the internet.

    As for "It's just a game.": As fun as that is to say, it is just as dismissive as the opinions I was arguing with from the podcast. If there are other people involved, it is not just a game. The game is the medium, but the people and their actions are the issue. I absolutely advocate voting with one's wallet when you offended by a game or something else. That would be more useful than spamming the WoW forum with angry and defensive threads. But at the base, it is still valid to feel offended.

    Thanks so much for coming back, Oakstout. This is the most fun I've had on this blog since I launched it!