Choosing sides: playing characters of the opposite sex

Following Kim’s post on wonderful women in video games, I came to realise that I’m always more likely to choose a female character. I put this down to male leads being more typical and, in my opinion, the boring option when it comes to creating compelling protagonists.

Thinking back to when they announced the box art for BioShock Infinite, there was a backlash about the generic ‘good guy’ cover-art because Elizabeth was the more interesting character. This is a good example of what’s on my mind.

For me it started with Lara Croft in Tomb Raider when I got my PlayStation back in 1997 – and I promise it wasn’t about her pointy physique. Regardless of how good the design of any game is, I struggle to make that attachment between myself and the onscreen protagonist. I always feel like I’m controlling somebody else’s actions and it’s more prevalent when they’re able to speak. I think this is why it’s even more important that they’re interesting, not just in their backstory but also in their motivations and actions.

The closest I’ve probably come to actually feeling like the character I’m playing as was with Gordon Freeman in Half-Life, because that’s exactly how it was crafted to be in the form of a silent hero. The title was groundbreaking at the time of release in 1998 for mixing first-person shooting mechanics with story and game design that made it so immersive. The unspeaking protagonist is quite common today – perhaps because it’s cheaper than employing voice-acting – but back to the subject of women in video games.

There are sometimes clear benefits when it comes to picking the female character. Let’s take the Fallout series as an example. As most enemies here were male, it made sense to pick a protagonist who was a woman due to the Black Widow perk as it gave you a ten-percent damage bonus against the opposite sex. It also provided unique dialogue options outside of combat and you could talk non-player characters into giving up information quicker or helping with alternative ways to complete quests.

More recently in Apex Legends, some female characters had smaller hit-boxes due to their physical character design and this arguably made them more difficult to shoot when they’re not standing still. Not all the small characters were women of course but it does remind me of the same perceived issue with PlanetSide 2. Many players selected to play as a female protagonist as they were visibly leaner in size, with the theory being that they were therefore harder to target.

With the Assassin’s Creed series, we were given us a choice in character during the Odyssey instalment. I felt it would be more interesting to select the female character and see Kassandra after having played as Bayek for so many hours in Origins. Looking back at Syndicate, we were able to freely switch between twins Evie and Jacob with the former having stealth skills and the latter being a hot-headed brawler. This was more of a situational play-style choice, but again I found myself stepping more frequently into the shoes of Evie.

I recently returned to The Elder Scrolls Online after a three-year break from the game and found my main character was a female High Elf named Esamira. I remember making this decision simply to be different. Being a multiplayer title, my protagonist choice led to assumptions by others; many expected me to be a female player. It did make me wonder how many of us stick to selecting characters who are the same sex as ourselves, and what stereotypes we place on those who choose the opposite.

There’s nothing wrong with picking a protagonist who’s completing different from your real self. Choice is important – but is this a conscious decision or something we do automatically? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

22 thoughts on “Choosing sides: playing characters of the opposite sex

  1. Generally, I pick a male character when I play a video game and I think that is because I try and make my characters relatable to me. However, after reading this, I will experiment by choosing the female protagonist in future games I play to see the differences it presents. I really liked this though provoking read.

    As for BioShock Infinite; I’m sure the publisher said to have the cover like that because it would sell better than if they added Elizabeth. I believe that was the case for The Last of Us too, but Naughty Dog refused to put Joel as the main focus on the cover.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I generally play as a female character for numerous reasons, some shallower than others!

    For starters, it’s a running joke at this point, but if I’m going to be staring at a character for a long time, it being one that I find attractive is generally going to motivate me to 1) play the game more and 2) want to keep them safe.

    But it runs deeper than that. I just find female characters more interesting and enjoyable to play as. In games where I get to create my own protagonist, I enjoy the feeling of being able to step into the shoes of someone who is about as far from me as it’s possible to get; in ones where I get to play as a female character (or, as in the case of the games I’m covering at the moment, a huge cast of female characters!) I enjoy the non-gung-ho perspective on things.

    I can remember when I started feeling like this, too. It was with the original Baldur’s Gate back in 1999 or 2000 or so.

    When creating my character, I made a conscious decision to create a female character instead of a male because I thought it would be interesting and different from the norm. It was!

    Ever since then, every custom female character I’ve played has been named after that original badass Baldur’s Gate fighter lady: Amarysse. Her bloodline is a long and proud one at this point!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yep totally get what you mean about playing as someone as far away as possible from yourself, to get a different perspective, or at least you’d hope so if the developers have done their research!


  3. I do pick a female character conscientiously. I love playing female characters in video games because it’s nice to be able to play a woman in video games. Plus I relate to them easier like Kassandra from Assassins Creed Odyssey! I really loved her character!

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  4. I do tend to gravitate more towards male protagonists when creating characters, but I also love going back and playing female characters as well! Dragon Age, Skyrim, Fallout…Or even choosing Peach or Rosalina in Super Mario 3D World! 😛 It’s fun taking on a new perspective, especially in epic RPGs!

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    • It’s clear that we all love customising characters but I’ve always felt detached from that because I was always interested in what clothing my character would wear and so on. Playing a female character was different as it felt like playing something fresh instead of a minor edit of a generic character.

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  5. Personally don’t really have a preference one way or the other – I do tend to gravitate more towards female characters in games that give me the option, since it still feels like such a novelty in some ways. But I’m so used to playing male characters that I don’t really think about it anymore. Maybe it depends on the game… I’ve always played female characters in Demons/Dark Souls, but as soon as I started Bloodborne I created a male character. I always appreciate having a choice though – I hope going forward, getting to choose your protagonist becomes more of the norm.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Agreed – selecting a female looking character is one thing but having it actually change the game in an acceptable way is very powerful, without resorting to stereotypes of course!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. If I can create my own character I tend to play male characters as I feel more comfortable playing as them, like a pair of favorite worn shoes. Then on the second playthrough I pick female to see if there is any difference. 99% of the cases there aren’t and I am okay with that.

    There was one exception though. On Mass Effect 2 and 3 I decided for my first playthrough to be with female Shepard. After playing with her in Mass Effect 1 I found myself preferring her voice actress over the one for Male Shepard.

    If they are a pre-made character with their own backstories, personalities and abilities then I will pick whichever seems more interesting at the start of the game.

    Liked by 3 people

    • That’s a very balanced view! I feel most players would agree with this stance, it’s not something they’d go out of their way to do unless there was some motivation such as a replay opportunity. I also agree on the ME voice actors though!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Very interesting! When I have a choice i often choose a female character, but when I did my Year of the RPG, the characters were either already created or created from me rolling dice. What I found was the role playing that occurred due to the characterise more than the body type was the part that was interesting.

    Having said that, I also grew up with male protagonists with whom I generally didn’t share physical traits, so I tend to just want an interesting story.

    Maybe female protagonists seem more interesting because they are still seen as novel, or they haven’t been boiled down to decades-old stereotypes?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes if they were the default then I agree I’d probably be talking about creating male characters instead! It really did start with Lara Croft in my own personal experience and for that we’re talking the late 90s, it’s a shame that it has taken 20 years for the shift to make further ground, particularily for when the choice alters the experience enough such as in Odyssey.

      Liked by 1 person

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  9. When I can create my own character I do tend to go down the route of creating a female one, and I’d say on my part it’s purely an aesthetic reason. The clothing/armour options are usually more varied, even if far too often they’re ridiculously unrealistic, so you get more of an opportunity to make the character your own

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have always played male characters growing up and since I would say the past 5 years I have gone more to playing more female characters that are similar to me bc Let’s face it i want to be in the game. Now I do have my fave male characters but lets take fighting games for instance. I can tell speed and heavy distance in some male characters compared to females. Zangief in SFV I can not play with compared to Laura. I love Jax in MK11 but he is a slightly too slower for me to handle compared to D’vorah.

    Liked by 1 person

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