As my hunter slowly picks her way through the Mines of Moria, I decided it was about time to get my alt on and roll up another character. Listening to the rave reviews of my father-in-law, I settled on the Rune-keeper, a caster with an interesting mechanic that allows the player to heal or deal damage, depending on the base spells that are cast. I knew I wanted my profession to be Historian, so the only chose remaining was my race. I dickered over the decision for several days before I finally settled on being a dwarf, the single male-only class in the game.
Over the years, I’ve played as a male character many times; however, since I’ve started in the MMO genre, I’ve found the requirement to play a male class has diminished over time. Thinking back, I don’t think I’ve ever actually played an MMO without gender choice. Considering the interaction that takes place in an MMO between players, and not just characters, I wasn’t sure I’d feel about playing a male character, but I know I would’ve felt cheated if I’d rolled up another elf or human for my rune-keeper.
Now, there’s a very lore-centric reason that Turbine chose to exclude female dwarves, and it’s not that they don’t exist. During the course of the adventures of Frodo and his pals, Gimli tells us
Gimli: It’s true you don’t see many dwarf women. And in fact, they are so alike in voice and appearance, that they are often mistaken for dwarf men.
Aragorn: [whispering] It’s the beards.
Gimli: And this in turn has given rise to the belief that there are no dwarf women, and that dwarves just spring out of holes in the ground!
Gimli: Which is, of course, ridiculous.¹
I always thought that I thought the reason female dwarves weren’t often seen was their low population (as low as 33% of the dwarven population²) and the need to keep them safely ensconced for the viability of the race, and that the reason Turbine chose to keep dwarves male-only was to highlight that female dwarves were not adventurers.
While many on the forums have argued that you can play your dwarf as a male or female as the dwarves appear androgynous, when I’m talking to a NPC and he keeps calling me Sir, or my gender titles come up Kinsman instead of Kinswoman, I have a hard time living in that particular fantasy. Instead, I’ve chosen to embrace my character as what I perceive him to be, a male dwarf!
So far I’ve been having a lot of fun with my class and my perceived masculinity. I imagine myself booming out instructions to fellow companions, and trundling along in a low but energetic manner. I’ve actually been paying more attention to dress than any of my other characters… apparently dressing up guys really is fun.
Although I’d never really spent much time considering why anyone (male or female) might choose to park their virtual fanny in the guise of another sex, I’m actually finding the experience a lot of fun. Playing as a male character has kept me in a more role-playing frame of mind, making me think about my character, instead of just what me as an elf, would do. While all gaming is one-step removed from an identity position, switching sexes makes me feel even more secure–who cares if someone assumes I’m a man, I’m playing one!
While I would have liked the option to play a female dwarf (even if the models were identical), the experience so far has been a positive. In the future, I think I may spend as much time contemplating the aesthetic I prefer in the gender models, whether it be eye-candy or role-playing potential, when I roll a new character.¹The Two Towers ²Appendix A of Return of the King.