Trion has announced a new free-to-play Action RPG-MMORPG (a la Diabo) called Devilian Online, but one thing has sorely tempered my expectations for the title: gender-locked classes. While gender diversity for players may not be expected in established franchises, games which allow a player to create their own characters are generally expected to have a range of customization options; the choice between a male and female character is important for many MMO fans. I should know, I spent a semester studying gender expression in World of Warcraft during college and spent a lot of time interviewing both male and female players on why they chose their character gender and what it meant to them.
There was a great variance in preference, with some players choosing their own gender to play as in-game because they could identify with their characters more and some choosing the opposite gender so that they could enjoy the form of the opposite sex (this was mostly straight males). Some female players who played as male avatars also expressed a desire to avoid unwanted attention from men while playing.
In MMOs there are no right or wrong choice when it comes to gender, except for when there isn’t a choice. Devilian Online will not ask you whether or not you want to be a girl or a boy when you start the game; each class has a predefined gender. If you choose to be a Beserker or Shadowhunter you’re going to be a guy, conversely Cannoneer and Elementalist will have you playing as a female.
The game is not new in Asia, with it being announced in 2012 and released last year in Korea after extensive testing, but it does raise questions about how comfortable gender locked games should feel in today’s market. Does gender matter when you’re playing MMOs? Or are you alright with the lack of customization?