Shims in MMORPGs

by Marinda Darnell

The first thing you are probably wondering from the title, just what the heck is a "shim"? A shim is a person that plays a character the opposite gender of their real life sex. Most people wonder, why this is such a big deal for others? In order to answer this question, we need examine the culture that surrounds a MMORPG.

MMORPG is short for massive multiplayer online role playing game. In an online game, there is a lot more anonymity then in a face-to-face tabletop RPG. Also, you can log on at anytime and find people to interact with. Unless you give it away or tell someone, no one knows what race, sex, body type, social history, or age you are. You are anonymous. There are no real consequences if you wish to be a very cruel, uncaring person or a promiscuous person. Characters can easily be deleted and remade, with no one knowing you played the other character unless if you tell them. Or can they? Technically yes, all of the above is true. But there is a huge social aspect of online gaming a lot of people do not take into consideration. Players become very attached to their characters, and their character often becomes an extension of themselves. A very large emotional bond has the ability to form.

In many modern MMORPGs, characters can be married and divorced within seconds. Large, lavish weddings are planned, with a dozen attendants, and a lot of credits are spent to have the dream wedding for a fictional character online. Characters date, have cyber sex, and have every other social interaction you can think of. Families are created and destroyed. An amazing amount of personal information is often exchanged between characters that is true about the real life counterparts. Close "real" friendships are created very quickly. A person may have never talked to the other player in real life (IRL), but they definitely call that person a friend, and care about their welfare. Every once in a while, you hear about a real life wedding between two people who met on Ever Quest or Ultima Online.

Now with all of this social interaction in mind, what would you do if you found out that your in-game character's husband was really a girl IRL? Or your character's wife was played by a guy? For the casual player, this is usually not that big of a deal. VenusRising wrote the following in response to the question of what her thoughts are on this subject.

"Part of the fun of playing a role playing game is that you get to create another persona, and imagine what that persona would do in the daily situations he/she is presented with. Swapping genders is one of the easiest ways to be challenged as a role player without a lot of effort into character history, etc. By swapping genders, pretty much your whole daily routine would need to be changed to reflect the habits of the other sex, but it's still familiar enough to us to be able to make this change effectively. I think switching genders is perfectly acceptable, because you are ROLEPLAYING, the same as I am. If you happen to be good enough to fool me into thinking you truly are a female instead of a man behind the computer, then I tip my hat to you."

Other players have an extremely difficult time with this concept. Some players become very immersed in the game, where cyber sex can be common in character relationships. There was once a guild based on Tatooine in Star Wars Galaxies. The guild decided to start a Team Speak server up. The "wife" of the guild leader refused to join the server. Later after a lot of persuasion, and the guild leader being offline, the female character joined the Team Speak server. She turned out to be a he. Once the guild leader found out, the in-game couple was divorced instantly, because he felt that his "wife" had lied to him, and that he had just had cyber sex with a male. This concept just completely freaked the guild leader out. But this is just a game right? For some people the emotional attachment makes this more then just a game.

There is another factor to consider. The ratio of male to female gamers is very lopsided toward the male population. But there are a large number of female characters in MMORPGs. Even if all of the female players had female characters, there is still a surplus in the number of female characters out there. So if this concept bothers you, check under the skirt first guys. *winks*

There was one comment that guys have made numerous times concerning shims and why they play them. Is'Le sums this up nicely: "Many of the males I know in real life play female characters. Why? Most have said their reasoning is that if they are going to stare at the rear end of something for 8 or more hours a day, it might as well be nice to look at. While I don't always agree with the logic of men, this is something that makes sense to me." Others claim that this kind of mentality is sexist, but I have to disagree. A straight male man will more likely want to look at a female more than a man. Whereas a homosexual man, with no interest in women, would more then likely want to look at a man instead of a woman. And vice versa for the other sex and preferences. I have a male friend who likes to play female characters. Why does he like to? Simply because he can flirt with the male characters and they will never have any clue he is a male in real life.

Pretty much each player has to decide for themselves if they want to try the challenge of a shim. The good role players can pull it off. If anything it will be an experience into how the world views the opposite sex, and the limitations of such thoughts. To shim or not to shim?

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