Girl in the Machine
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Gaming, Identity, and Sexuality

You may have heard the news already, but take a look at this:

"Shanda (Nasdaq: SNDA) subsidiary Aurora Technology has frozen game accounts of male players who chose to play female in-game characters in its in-house developed MMORPG King of the World, reports 17173. Aurora stipulates that only female gamers can play female characters in the game, and it requires gamers who chose female characters to prove their biological sex with a webcam, according to the report."
Article from Pacific Epoch

Shanda Interactive Entertainment Limited’s homepage does not include any news of the ban. The company is one of the leading online entertainment providers in China, offering everything from MMOs to casual online games.

I’m not about to get involved in a discussion leagues outside of my area of expertise (particularly China’s stance on topics like transsexuality and gender bending), but I do feel comfortable enough to say that I find this simultaneously fascinating and horrifying. My fascination comes from my inability to relate to the individuals responsible for this ban. Their fear and ignorance leave me dumbfounded. I am horrified because I see this as a stepping stone to something worse—the notion that this ban could be a reflection of policies that may affect real life. Perhaps I’ve read too many dystopian novels.

I'd like to focus on one particular facet of this ban, as Shanda has not publicly explained their decision for implementing the plan. Before continuing, I’d like to include a quotation from Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction by Teresa De Lauretis:

“For since the very first time we put a check mark on the little square next to the F on the form, we have officially entered the sex-gender system, the social relations of gender, and have become en-gendered as women; that is to say, not only do other people consider us females, but from that moment on we have been representing ourselves as women. Now, I ask, isn’t that the same as saying that the F next to the little box, which we marked in filling our the form, has stuck to us like a wet silk dress? Or that while we thought that we were marking the F on the form, in fact the F was marking itself on us?” (pp 12)

Lauretis was referring to a concept known as interpellation, or the process through which social representations of identity are accepted and internalized by an individual. This example extends beyond the male-female binary it initially suggests and instead suggests that all conceivable genders are limited when equating sex with gender. Shanda’s ban serves as an example of one of those imposing sources attempting to restrict our definition of self.

Personally, I feel that this kind of imposed thought-filtering fetishizes the so-called “perversion.” By focusing on eliminating these desires from ourselves, we actually think about them a great deal, and they don’t simply go away. After all, we’ve invested so much time and energy into the act of renunciation. In terms of the ban, this means that if a male player wants to play as a female, he may initially go along with the rules to play as a male. As he continues to deny those desires, however, he acknowledges their presence. Eventually, he may wish so strongly to play as a female character that he has a female friend create the character for him to play.

I find it absurd that the individuals responsible for this ban would attempt to limit the ways in which others could construct their identities. We don’t know gender through our bodies, but rather the stories we tell about them, even in video games. Because of the society in which we live, our sex burdens us with faulty expectations and limit our self-expression. The self is not such a simple concept, however, and it is impossible to choose a single element that contributes most to our socially constructed gender identities.

The problem with this issue is that we do not know official reason that the Shanda company implemented this policy, and this is why my views on the matter may seem somewhat narrow. To broaden them, it’s important that we consider the “why” of the matter. Was it because of intolerance on the part of the company, or were players being intolerant of one another? Could it be to limit problems with sexual harassment, or does this policy amount to harassment in and of itself? Please feel free to share your thoughts or concerns in our comments section.

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 Posted by Calabar
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