But there's one other factor. We often talk about guys who imitate girls as if they have a fetish, or they're giving up status to explore this new identity. But the truth is, girls are cooler. In fact, much like nerdy suburbanites who wish they were urban gangstas, some of us think girls are way cooler - and for reasons I can't put my finger on, it's awesome to watch them kick ass.
The archetypical male heroes, from the big blonde swordsmen to the plucked-from-obscurity, chosen-by-fate losers, have gotten old. But the age of Buffy and Veronica Mars has just started, and they make much more exciting heroes. Geek guys don't look up to the high school quarterbacks that smacked us in the locker room; we're more impressed by the complicated but confident geek girls, who actually talked to us in the library and always seemed more sure of themselves than the rest of school, no matter who teased them. And now they can slay giants. Who wouldn't want to be one of them?
As a man pretending to be one of these giant killers, what do I owe other players? Although I don't try to hide my identity, I also don't bring it up. And at first, I actually thought it would be a non-issue: Partly thanks to Whitney Butts' essay, "OMG Girlz Don't Exist on teh Intarweb!!!!1" I didn't even think anyone would expect that game girls are real girls. But it's not always that simple.
Early on in the game, I landed in a group with a couple of other players, and I struck up a conversation with one of the players - a handsome, burly night elf. We had fun killing gnolls, and we added each other to our "Friends" lists. Thing was, the next few times I logged in, I noticed this guy would say hello almost immediately - wherever he was, and whatever he was doing. Then, I got a message through the game's mail system, saying hello and asking why I haven't been around lately. He also included a chunk of change as a "gift," and he signed it with his character's name, but also his real-life name - trying to lower the veil a little on his own character, as it were, and ask for a peek behind mine.
I had to give him the brush-off, but what would be the best way to do it? Come clean and tell him I'm a dude? Or would that embarrass or bother him? And anyway, why should I have to break character? Do other people admit that in real life they're shy, or short, or don't really have an English accent? I don't tell people where I live, what I drive or what I do to pay the rent, so why would I tell everyone I'm a guy? I didn't put in this much time as a chick to ditch my skirt for every chucklehead with a schoolboy crush.
So I settled for a compromise: I shot him a letter, returning the money he had given me, and making small talk about how little time I've had to play - because I have a kid eating up my time in the real world. And I left it at that. Maybe he thinks I'm a MILF, but hey, if he wants to dream about somebody's mom, that's his fantasy. And who am I to criticize?
Chris Dahlen is a freelance writer for Pitchforkmedia.com, the Boston Phoenix, Signal to Noise, Paste, and The Wire (New Hampshire). His website is Save The Robot.