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BAMAPHIN 22
08-13-2006, 08:58 PM
By day, Freeman Williams manages a small dental practice in suburban Houston. But on any given night, he's prowling crime-ridden streets and battling ne'er-do-wells in the video game "City of Heroes" as his virtual alter-ego: a female superhero named Robotrixie.

"I get in character voice-wise as much as my male voice will allow," explains Williams, 48, who talks with other players through the game's voice chat feature. "This has become my catharsis, my escape from the work world."

While the idea of gender-bending is hardly new, the vast online worlds in video games such as "City of Heroes" and "World of Warcraft" have become the latest ways for people to forget about their real life and transform into someone — or even something — else.

After all, these are role-playing games.

Creation process is half the fun
For many, half the fun can be in the initial character creation process, where you decide the basic look and functions of your digital persona.

Among the crucial questions that need to be addressed: Do I want to heal or dish out damage? Do I prefer green-skinned orcs or pointy-eared elves? And of course, do I want to be male or female?

For a variety of reasons, Williams isn't the only guy with a preference for female characters, according to Kathryn Wright, a psychologist in Raleigh, N.C., who consults for the Web site WomenGamers.com.

In an informal survey she conducted with 64 males, more than half said choosing a female character gave them a distinct gameplay advantage. And while a quarter said they played women characters because it added to the role-playing experience, Wright said others had a simpler explanation: visual stimulation.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14304639/