Sunday, July 09, 2006

At least there's no taping down involved

I'll admit, I've bent my gender whilst online from time to time (If you're snickering, please stop reading now. This is a grown-up blog. You cheeky monkey!). I'm talking about online games. As I'm fooling around in the character creation tool of an MMORPG, the variable of gender is a choice to make just like that of hair color or species. Lest we forget, you can't spell MMORPG without RPG (did I really just write that?). So my choice of gender is not automatic. I fancy myself a roleplayer at times and roleplaying a woman can be challenging and fun.

What I find most intriguing about online roleplaying (unlike say, tabletop roleplaying) is that no one knows who you really are to begin with. If I am roleplaying a female elf with bad ass weaponry and a wicked temper, no one knows that I'm really a guy with a penchant for paper cuts and a generally obsequious demeanor. Online, there is no point of reference. There's no one thinking, "Wow, that's a really cool female elf... for a guy".

But all this is thrown out the window when you introduce voice chat. Voice chat kills roleplaying. I won't go into the evils of this (since you can find a great post by Richard Bartle that tackles the subject). What I want to focus on is that is voice chat reveals something about the player which forever changes the perception of the character. When the character loses it's integrity, the game experience suffers.

All hope is not lost... maybe. A company has released a device that allows people to change how their voices sound in voice chat. Its marketed towards female gamers. That's also how the story is mainly being picked up by the press. To paraphrase the marketing message: female gamers can "hide" their true identities to let their skills do the talking or simply to avoid harassment. Can't you just hear someone saying, "Hey girls, it worked for Hua Mulan."?

Frankly, this marketing strategy is a mistake. (Though not for the obvious reasons, I'll let the more 'feminist' bloggers deal with those issues.)

I say: Why not market the device as a voice changer for everyone? Men/boys need this just as much as women. In fact, I'd like to see voice manipulation added to every device and game that allows voice chat. I'd like to see this as something you can do to your own voice or to incoming voices as well. It's probably too much to ask that people become better vocal roleplayers so let's bring some anonymity back to online games.

I don't think I'm alone in calling for this. We've all had bad experiences. I think I can sum it up like so:

For the love of all things good and holy, make that burly-looking special ops sniper stop sounding like Screech in Saved by the Bell.... Please?

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