This came to a head a few days ago when I was absentmindedly pursing the BioWare Facebook page. An image was posted that showed the gender breakdown of Inquisitors created:
Most people assumed this was based on the gender of the gamer and not the in game personas created. I, of course, commented that everyone, regardless of gender identification, were making male characters so they could romance Dorian, as any other way would be wrong. This got me thinking though, has my gender identification as a cisgendered (individuals' experiences of their own gender match the sex they were assigned at birth) woman influenced the creation of my game characters?
For me, when I play games with customisable protagonists I like to create characters that fit game settings. In Oblivion and Skyrim, I make scruffy looking characters. Characters who are missing an eye and are heavily scarred. Generally Nord's, both female and male. The dirty metre is always maxed! My women aren't any cleaner or prettier than the men. In Mass Effect, my Shepard is always a short haired woman who wears no makeup. She is a marine, a solider. Long hair is cumbersome and she has no time for makeup or any other general adornments other than a shower now and then. Both my female and male Shepards look similar, though I generally give the men firey red hair.
There have also been games that I have played exclusively as a women characters, Dragon's Dogma for instance. I made a cool female character with green dreads and a short pawn female with pink hair named Skittles. The game, while very fun, didn't have much character interaction and I felt no need to experience it for the fourth time (plus I had just gotten 100% of the achievements) as a man.
I as struck by what the first few guys had said, they were straight and liked to play as women because they liked looking at women. I don't identify as a straight person. Maybe this affects my characters? The more I thought about it the more the question of identity and choosing a game character moved into the universality of experience. I do not believe men and women are inherently different or at odds with one another. I do believe that people, both female and male, have varying experiences with their gender and sexual identification that cannot be classed as "female" or "male" specific events or traits.
I also believe that we as a society have allowed a gender normative narrative to influence how we treat each other based on genitals. Men can't cry or they are weak. Women all have a maternal instinct and should be mothers. Bodybuilding is good for men but not women. And the list goes on. I feel like this has moved into the realm of video games. Perceived as a male dominated past time and culture, women, though making up at least half of all gamers, have fight for their place or choose to avoid the community all together. This is also repeated in the misguided words of the boy I once dated.
In my opinion, there is a universality to the video game experience. You, as a person, shape the experience you want to have. This can be through experiencing different moralities in the game or creating your own story within, your own scenarios. The gender of your character could embody different traits you have within yourself, whether they have been mistakenly classified as "female" or "male". Don't let yourself be limited by the genitals you want or want to touch (ha!).