And thus, Lorianna was born, and in due time she and Faerie had become quite the item, just as I had planned. We were both enjoying each other's company, and Lorianna had become quite popular MUD-wide. But I was not prepared for how those virtual experiences were becoming increasingly substantive. Could I actually turn our virtual relationship into a real one? What if she had a boyfriend? Would she still accept me once I told her my terrible secret? What chance would a long distance relationship between two teenagers have, anyway? I had to find out more about who Faerie really was.
I put my newly acquired internet-fu to work. I knew that Faerie's real life friends and fellow MUDders went to Berkeley, and so I began my search there. Back in those early days, the UNIX finger command could be used to see who was logged into a machine, even from across the internet. I got the names of a few undergraduate machines at Berkeley and began monitoring them. Whenever Faerie would log into the MUD, I would see what accounts were logged in on the servers, paying close attention to which ones that had just recently done so. When Faerie would log out, I would check the list of accounts again, looking for who was logging out. After only a couple of nights, I had narrowed the list of potential candidate logins to just one: Trip.
I was shocked. Was Islandia's most renowned femme fatale actually a guy? It was almost inconceivable. Sure, the high frequency of virtual cross-dressing had become an accepted fact on TinyMUDs by then, but Faerie? After days of nervous tension, I couldn't take it anymore - I had to tell Faerie the truth, and the whole truth. That night, we had a long talk online, wherein I revealed to her who really was, and what I had done, and how I had discovered who she really was, too. And then she told me about her player, Trip, and how he enjoyed playing female characters, and how this sort of virtual gender bending was just another exercise in roleplaying.
Trip and I remained friends, both online and off, for many years thereafter, and I even got him a job where I worked. But as a result of that early experience, I began to play female characters more and more frequently, and my male ones less and less. With the rise of Massively Multiplayer Online Games in 1996 and 1997, virtual worlds had finally become graphical, and once again I dived right in. But I soon found that there were noticeable differences in how male and female characters were treated in online games, even when everyone knew there was a good chance the female's player was really a guy.
Female characters are often given free stuff, either from males looking to impress them, or from females looking to help out their own. They're more likely to receive help and assistance in game when they ask, and less likely to get ganked by fellow players. Male characters, on the other hand, are often viewed with more suspicion by females, and as a competitive threat by their fellow males. And there are other forms of more subtle gender discrimination. The true extent of these elements in virtual worlds, and their psychological origins, are a subject of frequent debate. I can only speak for myself when I have found them to be generally true in my experience.
But there are other, far more visible reasons for males to play female characters in modern graphical MMOGs. Let's be blunt - female video game characters are frequently hot, and a sexy girl on the cover of your retail box can help sell your videogame. And it's not just games like Tomb Raider and Dead or Alive - look at the box covers for the MMOGs EverQuest, Lineage II, Guild Wars and World of Warcraft, not to mention those notorious Anarchy Online ads. Who doesn't want their character to look good? As one fellow player once put it to me, "If I have to stare at an ass in game for hours and hours every day, it might as well be a female ass." And don't the game developers know it. This year at E3, while playing the upcoming MMOG title Soul of the Ultimate Nation from Webzen, I was positively giddy to discover that the half-skirt on the female Elementalist character actually flips up when she jumps into the air, exposing her shiny panties underneath. Talk about your fan service!