He was from Quebec, Canada; she was a thousand miles away in Fort Worth, Texas. Yet, in the world of Lineage, they were inseparable; best friends, hunting partners and more.
Septonian was new to Lineage. He had just joined a “blood pledge,” the Lineage equivalent of a guild, but still needed help finding his way around the game. This was where Flippage came in: the older and wiser player. Septonian told me, “I befriended Flip because she was a pretty high level comparatively, and seemed to know a lot about the game … so, I thought she could be my mentor. We hung around a lot … She was what I considered ‘leet’ back then … and as you know … we’re all attracted to people of power.”
Originally, Septonian hadn’t even known that his companion was female. But it wasn’t long into their friendship before he finally popped the question – “A/S/L?” – and found out that the male mage he was hunting with was a girl in real life.
“If we were a pair in-game,” Septonian decided, “we could try being one outside the game, too.” Septonian made the first move: He started to flirt with Flippage. His attraction to Flippage grew when a popular Lineage fansite, Lineage Compendium, opened up a “real-life pictures” section. “[She] posted some pictures of herself on there and sent me some. The girl was pretty hot, you know.”
Flippage was a wonderful mentor to Septonian, sharing her wealth as well as her knowledge. “[Flippage] shared some of her wealth with someone in need … no +7 weapons obviously, but when you’re a lowbie, every little bit helps! And it’s the thought that matters … knowing that there are people out there who are ‘better’ than you, and would sacrifice some of their wealth to help you out, that’s cool.”
Yet, this wasn’t enough for Septonian. A month or two into the relationship, Septonian betrayed Flippage; with the help of a friend, Septonian logged into her account while she was offline and stripped the characters of all of their items.
A brutal hacking, a friendship and partnership betrayed. But let’s step back a second and review some missing pieces.
First off, there’s Flippage’s real story: Flippage, a male in the real world, had started his career in Lineage as a male mage. At the end of beta, he quit for about a year, and his friends and pledgemates counted him among the lost “beta hoppers.” When Flippage reappeared a year later as a very convincing female, no one was really sure who was behind the avatar the second time around. He was such a good actor, everyone forgot about the Flippage-that-was.
In truth, Flippage never intended his ruse to become so large and intricate. When he came back to Lineage and decided to adopt a new persona, he never expected to become involved in a relationship.
To anyone who has ever witnessed an average male gamer’s attempt at emulating female behavior, the fact that Flippage managed to keep up the ruse for months is amazing. Flippage was a high-profile player and consorted with numerous guys and gals who never saw through his disguise. I’ve always considered myself a fairly good judge of the fake vs. the female, but Flippage, who was a member of my blood pledge and a close friend, had me fooled.
Ironically enough, Flippage didn’t have the same malicious intent that the Lineage community had come to expect from “in-game cross dressers.” Stereotypically, when a male pretended to be a female, it was an attempt to earn free items from potential suitors. This was probably one of Flippage’s greatest camouflages: Here she was, helping out a low level character that had nothing to give her. What motivation could she have?
Indeed, Septonian couldn’t imagine why Flippage wouldn’t be a girl. “All along, I kept [asking] myself, ‘Why would she be lying about it, if I’m the one gaining from it?’ In these types of relationships, it’s usually the person who’s making a profit who’s playing the girl-who-needs-stuff role … but here [she was] spending time with a lowbie, even giving him money and items.”
Most men playing women don’t do it as a joke or for an interesting experience. They do it to exploit the different ways that males and females are treated on the ‘net. Septonian was lucky: Newbie males don’t often receive help in the game world, while those perceived as females are immediately mentored by higher level males. Naming yourself “xXCuteLoveXx” or playing a female avatar promotes kinder treatment, and taking on “feminine” mannerisms – lots of giggling, anime faces, emotional responses, etc. – can earn you free items or a spot in a prestigious blood pledge.
But why would women be treated differently than men in a videogame? Sexual favoritism in the real world is usually due to sexual undertones exhibited by either party, but online benefactors rarely meet those they help. With thousands of miles and the anonymity of the internet separating benefactors from their benefices, what drives guys to shower lower-level players with items?
Perhaps those real-world undertones still have an effect inside the game. Although not the dominant member of the give-receive pair, Septonian hoped to take his relationship with Flippage to the next level.
Though Flippage sent Septonian pictures and gave him her phone number, she would never join him on live web-cam chat and never answered her phone. Septonian had plans to eventually visit Flippage, though nothing immediate; “Considering I had never seen ‘her’ on a live webcam, or even chatted with ‘her’ on phone or voice chat, I can say I was still pretty far from a visit.
“I guess he was waiting for a girl to be at his house [before he told] me to call him, so he’d have an accomplice,” Septonian muses years later.
Flippage’s ruse came to a close when an anonymous source remarked that “real-life Flippage” looked exactly like another high-profile ‘net female, “cyberchiq.” With the help of Google, it didn’t take Septonian long before he found the real person in Flippage’s pictures, whom he even contacted via email (and perhaps flirted with, just a little).
“I remember my blood pressure rising around the time he admitted [he was a male in real life],” Septonian told me. “We were walking around Giran and I was … nervous waiting for the truth to come out.” Once Flippage admitted it, Septonian waited for Flippage to log off and then stripped his characters of all their possessions, putting the finishing touches on the destruction of a friendship.
Did Flippage owe Septonian knowledge of his true gender? If we can pretend to be wizards and knights and elves and royalty, why can’t we cross such a mundane line as the male-female one? Flippage did no more than create a character in a game, and the progression of that character carried him down this road. Yet, while Flippage had some right to create his own persona and enjoy it in a fantasy world, the line between fantasy and reality was bridged, and a relationship was taken into the real realm. When did he owe Septonian a true explanation, if ever?
Flippage was simply using a roleplaying game to, well, roleplay. The surprise and anger directed at Flippage was, in part, because he broke the conventions of in-game roleplay: Instead of playing a female mage wandering the lands of Aden in the name of Einhasad, Flippage was playing a female playing a male mage. He was roleplaying a meta-character, something that traditionally is met with scorn in roleplaying communities.
Harmless roleplay turned lethal, though, when Flippage met Septonian. While the former did no more than continue to playact, suddenly there was another character that didn’t realize he was part of a play. Septonian was dealing with real emotions in his real life. Even if Flippage didn’t owe the world an explanation of his choice of play, he could have easily distanced himself from Septonian.
The fact that Flippage never intended to steal from Septonian was one of the wildest cards he played. When Flippage was outed, no one was sure of his motivation. Why did he fool Septonian? What did he gain? If Flippage had stripped Septonian of his gear, the answer would be obvious. But instead, Flippage left Septonian and his friends bewildered and angry.
Flippage soon left Lineage. While he kept in contact with a few friends, the joke-gone-wild was a heavy blow for him, and even for the community left behind; in the small English-speaking roleplaying community, distrust for anyone claiming to be female ran rampant, and many who knew Septonian and Flippage took extra precautions in their personal dealings with others. Ironically enough, this had little effect on the population of guys who faked femininity to earn items.
Now that time has smoothed over the situation, Septonian looks back on his reaction with some regret. “[Breaking into Flippage’s account] seemed like a good idea back then because I had been lied to for weeks, if not months … Of course, I regret doing that now, because the guy probably never meant to hurt me, and my punishment to him was very harsh for something which was probably meant to be a one-time joke that just turned into a long unfolding web of lies. To think of it, I’ve never told him I was sorry.”
Laura Genender is a Staff Writer for MMORPG.com, and is also an Editor for Prima Strategy Guides.