Wednesday, August 03, 2005

On the net, nobody knows you're not a girl

Playing City of Heroes over the weekend I came across an odd conversation from two fellow players from Spain. They were talking about a female character who had admitted to them that she was a man in Real Life (RL is that place where players go to eat). They were shocked by the news, and wondered about the player's sexual preferences, amongst other things. I was thoroughly amused by this discussion. Call me cynical, but every time I see a female character wearing nothing but a tiny bikini and calling herself "Naughty Gal" or "Babelicious", I assume that the player is in fact a 47-year-old guy from Hull named Bob.

These musings were confirmed by the excellent Daedalus Project (via Terra Nova). The project is attempting to study the psychology of MMORPGs through the use of polls and qualitative research. The first results are now online, collected from World of Warcraft (WoW). Taken as a whole, some of the statistics are rather surprising. For example, male players tend to be in their 20s, while female players average 28-40 years old. About 60% of male players are single or single and dating, while 60% female players are married, engaged or separated. But some of the most interesting figures are the gender bending-ones. In WoW, 84% of players are male and 16% female. Of the total of those male characters, 23% play with female characters, while only 3% of all females play males.

It is difficult to know why exactly there is so much gender-bending online. I believe that some of it may be due to gender-baiting, a term invented by William Gibson to refer to males impersonating females online to elicit positive responses. Or the answer could be encapsulated by the words of Francis from PvP: "If I'm going to be staring at an ass in tights all day, it might as well be a nice ass!"


doris said...

I don't play such games and stuff, but I thought this was a very interesting observation. I would have thought it more likely for women to play males than for men to play female characters.

This is not gender-bending but within the blogging world I am constantly amazed to see graphics for cutesy pie itty-bitty girls decorating websites and then you find out the owner is actually a many decade old plump woman.

Maybe it is just a case that everyone wants to play the cutesy pie female characters - including men and women?

PS. A link to this article of yours appeared on the UK bloggers page of Technorati.

Andres Guadamuz said...

Hi Doris,

That is an interesting point about the graphics on websites. There may be something going on online, where the old borders of what is considered male and female taste become blurred. In real life, when a man likes something that is considered "girly", he gets mocked and told-off by other males. This happens less and less online.