Males that use female avatars in online games still give off gender clues, according to a new multi-university study published in the journal Information, Communication and Society.
For the study, researchers analyzed the online behavior of 375 subjects as they participated in a quest on World of Warcraft — a massive, fantasy-based multi-player game in which players fight warlords, dragons, demons, and one another in order to gain strength and abilities.
Researchers evaluated the players’ online movement, chats, and clicks to see how gender differences in online behavior compared to gender ‘norms’ in the real world. They found that 23 percent of the study’s male participants chose female avatars, and seven percent of the female participants chose male avatars.
“Avatars can convey a player’s sense of humor, displeasure, intrigue, and interest through cues like gestures, movement, and language, which can reveal real-life identity,” said study author and professor Mia Consalvo, Ph.D., from Concordia’s Department of Communication Studies.
“We looked at things like language use and online movement to see if, among those who played a character of the opposite gender, a player’s real-life gender would be revealed.”
The findings showed that males who used female avatars used more emotional phrases and smile emoticons compared to males with male avatars. They were also more likely to choose an attractive avatar.
However, males gave themselves away when it came to movement: They moved backwards more often and stayed further away from the group than females playing with female avatars.
“Movement is less conscious than chat, so it can be an easier ‘tell’ for offline gender,” said Consalvo, who also holds a Canada Research Chair in Game Studies and Design.
Males with a female avatar also jumped an average of 116 more times than female players. Researchers had a few hypotheses for this interesting finding:
- Males with female avatars could be trying to hint at their true gender by jumping more than they would otherwise;
- Since males sometimes use female avatars to gain attention or kinder treatment from other players, jumping may be used as a way to attract attention;
- Jumping may be a way to use the avatar for entertainment rather than for the more “serious” work of fighting in-game enemies. Frequent jumps may indicate that the gamer wants to play a less serious role in the game.
“Our findings support feminist theories suggesting that although gender is a powerful social category, there is a range of ways it can be performed,” said Consalvo. “Men may not necessarily try to mask their offline gender when they use a female avatar, but our study shows they do reinforce idealized notions of feminine appearance and communication.”
Source: Concordia University