The cheapest sex change in town

Players of the online role-playing game "World of Warcraft" can now change their characters' gender for only $15.

Published December 12, 2008 9:34PM (EST)

If you could change your sex for only $15 -- and I'm talking a 100 percent comprehensive physical transformation -- would you do it? That's the deal the online role-playing game "World of Warcraft" has just begun offering its players, along with a slew of other new "character re-customization" options.

Now, before I say anything ignorant, I'm going to have to preface the rest of this post with a disclaimer: I have never played "World of Warcraft," or any other Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game (MMPORG). While I find these games fascinating in concept, I'm pretty sure they're not for me. I know only a few key things about "World of Warcraft": Character creation is big business, with some high-level character accounts selling for upward of $1,200. And apparently "World of Warcraft" can sometimes take precedence over a player's offline life -- spouses' obsessions with the game have reportedly ended marriages.

The few (probably sensational) things I know about "World of Warcraft" were sufficient to interest me in this latest piece of news, but to be entirely honest, I have more questions than answers. Could it behoove a character to switch from male to female if, for example, flirting with a heterosexual male character would  help the newly female character get ahead in the game? "Flirting your way to stuff might work," said an ex-"World of Warcraft" player to whom I posed the question, "but honestly, since a person can play as any gender, it's not like a user would fall for that. Like, if you were in the game and you played a male and you're trying to get something from some poor schmuck, wouldn't you just say, 'Yeah, I play male so I don't get dumb boys flirting with me, hunk'?"

I was also intrigued by a point the gaming blog Kotaku brought up. "I suppose there are all sorts of reasons to change your sex," writes blogger Mike Fahey. "Perhaps talking in your deep, manly voice on Ventrilo didn't quite seem right with your dainty female Blood Elf. Perhaps you just want something new to look at. Or maybe you underwent a real-life sex change and need your character to reflect said change. I'm not going to judge you." As someone who can't even begin to imagine what a "Blood Elf" might be, it's the real-life sex change idea that jumped out at me. Would this development allow players to pursue transgender character narratives? "I guess," said my expert. "But unless you're some hardcore role-player person, nobody cares about their character's story line."

The "World of Warcraft" vet ended our conversation with these sage words of advice. "Internet articles love to draw deeper meaning about online worlds," he said. "I don't buy it." So this is where I turn the discussion over to you, "World of Warcraft" players. What, if anything, is important about the sex-change option?

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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