Kirby Crow from Riptide is here with Reya Starck on the Circuit Theory Virtual Book Tour

Welcome to the Circuit Theory virtual book tour! As a thank you for helping us celebrate the release of Circuit Theory, we’ll be giving one lucky reader a $10 gift credit to Riptide Publishing! To enter, just leave a comment with your email address included below. Earn additional entries by commenting along each stop of the tour. Thank you Top2Bottom for hosting us and helping us celebrate this exciting release from Riptide Publishing!

Your Gender is Not Analog
Kirby Crow

Gender is a huge question mark in Circuit Theory. No one knows who is who and what’s under the hood, so to speak, and no one really cares.

Synth is a world not yet realized. There are hundreds of online gaming worlds and MMORPG’s that are similar to the system elements of Synth featured in Circuit Theory, but with the current state of technology, it just doesn’t exist yet.

In Synth, the couch-sized user interface is completely immersive and can be confused, fooled, or even influenced by the emotions and physical reactions of the user. It can act independently to a certain degree. There were a lot of ways for us to explain the science behind the interface, but we didn’t want to get too much into the technical aspects. We wanted to concentrate more on the relationship between the avatars, and to a lesser degree their human drivers. Being already full-time residents of the land of flesh and blood, we wanted to give readers a peek into the Metaverse spaces where code is God.

We also wanted to tell a tale about a complex, organically-evolved social system that existed only in 3D virtual reality, a place where the majority of users were accustomed to handling their everyday affairs through the interface, interacting solely with other avatars, and how that system might work in a romantic situation. The vision was that Synth had evolved like all digital communities evolve; as its own creature, despite the best or worst intentions of its creators. In Synth, like almost all virtual worlds today, the avatars are customizable to a high degree. This allows for the imagination and preferences of the user to be fully expressed through the avatar. It allows people to pretend to be something they’re not, which can be pleasurable and rewarding, but also possibly damaging to the user as well as others.

The allure of playing pretend is something we can all relate to. Imagination was our first toy, after all. But where’s the line between harmless pretense and outright deception? The way I see it, as long as everyone is an adult and boundaries have been addressed, there is no line. It’s no one’s business who you are, what you are, or where you are, unless you want them to know. Simply being acquainted with someone online doesn’t confer special rights on either side. If anything, it creates even more distance, which may be why some people feel they deserve to know exactly who their avatars are speaking to in the game. Also, there’s the very real issue of safety, which is something all women can relate to. With that in mind, the emotional and practical distance that online gaming can offer has rewards.
In the story, we wanted to illustrate that- to Byron and Dante- Synth isn’t simply a game. To them, Synth is something akin to an apartment complex or city where their avatars happen to reside as true personas. As such, they must be maintained with housing, clothing, speech, friendships, sex, a job, and in short; everything that differentiates an avatar from a robotic mannequin. Their avatars aren’t roleplay characters: they’re who they would be in real life, if they could change the rules. Although roleplaying is common in Synth, there’s an unspoken division between those playing it for fun, and those playing it as a lifestyle.

Whether in 2D or 3D, drawn flat or driven, an avatar is sometimes not meant for play. Sometimes it’s meant to represent the ideal you – the truest, fondest image you have of yourself. When that image doesn’t jibe with reality, or when expectations run unreasonably high, that can cause problems. A strong sense of cooperation is essential if any virtual community hopes to function for long, and it takes the shared vision of many minds to create an entire world. In a way, roleplaying is a puppet show. It shares some qualities with Japanese Bunraku theater, where the audience agrees beforehand that the black-clad puppeteers in full sight on stage are invisible. Without that fragile agreement, the puppets lose their animating spirits and become merely wood and cloth again, or strings of code.

Dante and Byron are cooperating in the same kind of intricate puppet dance. They’re aware that they’re more involved with the person’s creation than with the person, and they both agree that the avatar is the truer representation. It’s the only way the romance works, given the limitations the relationship labors under.

Unsurprisingly, we decided to make physical gender not part of the Synth equation. Avatar appearance, manner, bearing, writing ability and even artistic standing (talented designers are celebrated in virtual worlds) matter much more in Synth than whether you’re male or female in the flesh, young or mature, sexy or natural. Even the female-appearing and hyper-emotional character of SexxyBabee isn’t guaranteed to be a woman.

This isn’t the hard rule for roleplaying and gaming communities today. Finding gender-fluid attitudes in 3D/Virtual is more like a happy accident rather than the norm, but all that is changing. Just as digital streaming and storage has pushed aside analog devices in the realms of media consumption, those rusty, hard-wired attitudes are slowly getting nudged out for a more elastic and contemporary understanding of gender identity.

A roleplay avatar is a collection of binary data, controlled by several systems and input devices. The only life it has is what you give it, and you’re not giving it with your gender. If a mind pushing pixels is all there is to interact with, what do chromosomes matter?

Surprisingly, it matters a great deal to a large segment of avatars dwelling in virtual spaces, and many role players feel cheated when they discover that the male avatar they’ve been playing with for three months turns out to be driven by a woman. There’s a definite sense of betrayal. Whether that’s a fair accusation has to be judged on a case-by-case basis, but in general, if two avatars find themselves growing closer to each other, it’s prudent to put the cards on the table. The important thing to remember is there’s a real person back there animating those pixels. Handle with care.

-Kirby Crow

Kirby Crow worked as an entertainment editor and ghostwriter for several years before happily giving it up to bake more brownies, read more yaoi, play more video games, and write her own novels.

Kirby is a 2010 winner of the Epic Award and a two-time winner of the Rainbow Award for her published works in fiction.

Her published novels are:

Prisoner of the Raven (historical romance, Torquere Press, 2005)
Scarlet and the White Wolf: The Pedlar and the Bandit King (fantasy romance, Torquere Press, 2006)
Scarlet and the White Wolf: Mariner’s Luck (fantasy romance, Torquere Press, 2007)
Scarlet and the White Wolf: The Land of Night (fantasy romance, Torquere Press, 2007)
Angels of the Deep (paranormal/horror, MLR Press, 2009)
Circuit Theory (scifi, Riptide, 2012)


Reya Starck lives in England, never gets quite enough sleep, and is a professional procrastinator and consumer of chocolate. By day she is an intrepid bacteriologist, eradicating microbes for a better world order. By night she writes wonderfully queer stories featuring an array of lovely men.


Attraction is Binary.

Dante and Byron are avatars. Driven by human beings, yet still only digital representations of their ideal selves. In reality, they live far apart, but share most of their waking and working hours together in a virtual world called Synth.

In Synth, like in most code, the laws are infinitely more simple and infinitely more complex. Navigating the system rules of virtual lovers is like steering through a minefield of deceit, suspicion, heartbreak, and half-truths.

Under pressure, Dante makes a friendship that trips Byron’s warning bells, disrupting their carefully-ordered lives and calling into question the wisdom of trusting your heart to a man you can never touch in the flesh.


  1. Alrighty, I’m all caught up on the tour blogs! I love how different each one is, every blog just made me think more and more about this novel, and GOSH I really really need to get my hands on a copy now 😉 Such interesting thoughts on gender here, so relevant!!

    Thanks for the epic blog Circuit Theory tour, I’ve really enjoyed it!! 🙂


    • Hi there – I was just wondering if you guys would please be able to edit my comment so that my email address was shown as owlsforbrionyjae(at)gmail(dot)com? I’ve been getting annoying spam emails so I’m trying to hunt down places where my email is accessible xD Thanks so much in advance, really appreciate it! 🙂


  2. Hey guys! I’m glad people are liking the article! 🙂 🙂

    It’s an interesting subject to explore, considering how prevalent role-playing and gaming is among readers of the m/m romance genre. I’d like to see more stories about virtual reality romances or perhaps some alternate reality themes. The jury is still out on what the audience wants, though. I guess we’ll see!


  3. The main online game I played was World of Warcraft – between a third to half my characters were male, including my ‘main’ (raiding) character – but there is nothing sexy about a male tauren tbf 🙂 The guild I was in didn’t like drama and any behaviour edging that way was quickly stamped on. And with at least one female officer any misogynistic players left very quickly.
    But I’ve definitely seen the bad behaviour directed towards female characters, sometimes followed by horror when it’s revealed the player is male, especially if they’d been flirting back. Given that it isn’t really surprising that many women choose male avatars in games. Also many female avatars have ‘interesting’ proportions and outfits. If I’m playing the game to unwind I just don’t need that kind of hassle.
    As voice chat tends to reveal your gender most female players I knew in WoW would only use chat when on guild runs – random pick-up groups had to high a chance of someone being difficult over it. I like to think eventually we’ll move past that – if you want a relationship with whoever is behind the avatar then maybe it does matter (although WoW probably isn’t the best place for that anyway); if all you want is to kill monsters, level and get loot then gender is irrelevant.


  4. Pingback: Starck Words » Circuit Theory book tour

  5. This idea of avatar and its consequences is a hot topic and you examined some of the issues in a well thought out manner. I think it is easy for people to forget the existence of the person behind the avatar and lose themselves in the electric reality. Well done post.


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