Researchers: Racial Bias Exists in Game Worlds

A Northwestern University study indicates that MMO players are subject to the same racial biases seen in the real world.

According to iTnews, researchers used the virtual world of as the setting for social interaction experiments in which light and dark-skinned avatars approached random players and asked for a favor. From the report:

White avatars in the DITF experiment received about a 20 percent increase in compliance with the moderate request; however, the increase for the dark-toned avatars was 8 percent… The finding is consistent with previous DITF studies — in real and virtual worlds — that demonstrate that physical characteristics, such as race, gender and physical attractiveness, affect judgment of others.

Researcher Paul Eastwick commented:

This study suggests that interactions among strangers within the virtual world are very similar to interactions between strangers in the real world. You would think when you’re wandering around this fantasyland … that you might behave differently. But people exhibited the same type of behaviour — and the same type of racial bias — that they show in the real world all the time.

Via: Kotaku

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  1. rene says:

    "Not to be racist, but how come in Nightfall you can only be black? I have nothing against black people, it’s just it’s nice to play as your own race."  – Some Guy On Youtube


    As a Black, AND female gamer(a pariah and a unicorn), this comment was made by the biggest, whiny, pussy in the world.  I am surprised, that anyone here is surprised at the slurs, and racial bias in games.  I play as majority black chars, though I do have at least 3 Asian, and 4 white chars.  While playing white, I’ve been called ‘FUCKIN’ noob.  This guy once told me his deer would p0wn my wolf, but that’s about it.  While playing Asian, I’ve been called chinky, chopsticks, and a few others.  While playing black, I’ve been called niggers, negresses, blackie(cute name for dog), darkie, jigs, nigs, negroids, blu-gums, groids, rubber lips, sambos, monkeys(of all varieties), foot warmer, booty clapper, brownie(this was said in a nice way), branch manager, and many more.  I’ve had people outright refuse me entry to PoG, and quests.  It sucks, but it’s not a big deal, I just put em on ignore, and keep playing…we all came to this bitch the same way, and we’re all gonna leave this bitch the same way(kicking and screaming?).  Life is too short, and I have waaaaaay too many games to beat^.^

  2. Hitodama says:

    I’m afraid I would not be inclined to help you, for your Gnomish ways disturb me. No offense. Also, I get very angry when a Gnome kills me. Very angry.

  3. Anonymous ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    No, never, people would never use judgment on the only thing they have to figure out the intentions of someone, looks, to figure out if the will do what they say or not.  I think there was a Bias in the creation of the characters, haha.  Take a little of that lolly pop kids, because when you look into the cause and effect, you might find that the creator of the character is creating the character to have features that make them less likely to get the response they are going for, or even what they type.

    If I see a character in a suit I would be more likely to respond good to them than a character in ratty old torn cloths too.  Does that make me bias against street bums?  Yes, because I am afraid of one of them stabbing me.  Do I have a bias against red haired kids with freckles, hell yes, they dont look normal.  It is all what you are used to.  I only have past experiences to work off of. 

    Carrot Top was not a good first impression for red haired people in the world for me, haha.  And a bum getting in my way asking for money when I am trying to walk to a parking garage doesn’t help my opinion of them either.  So the fact that my old neighbor had dark skin and played his music so loud with the base turned up pictures fell off the wall.  That is in his apartment and outside with his car…  I am not going to have a high expectation for other people with dark skin, especially if they dress like P. Diddy…  Thats another story though…

    There are more stories than that, but you get the idea.  We only have what we do to go off of.  If you know that a guy with red hair just shot up an entire mall of people was still out on the loose, and you were at a college campus 5 miles away, and were walking to class, and saw a red haired person, would you walk close to him?

  4. Kris O. says:

    Likewise. My time is just as valuable as theirs is. If their favor takes time away from me, without benefitting me, then it’s a no-go. I only help if I’m bored to tears, if there’s a return on my investment, or if I’m already in the area where the favor takes place. I so rarely help, because you can typically get what you want by yourself–assuming that you’re willing to invest the time and money to do it.

    "SOW PLZ?!" – Ignored.
    "NE1 WNT 2 GIV ME GOLD PLZ???? ????? KTHXBUY!" – Ignored.
    "Sorry to bug you, but could you give me directions to the Landlord Of Blight? This place is like a maze." – Helped.
    "ROFLMAO!!!1! TUARANS SUCK MAN!! ROFLMAO!!! yoU SHOULD Be a gnmoe!" – Corpse camped.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I doubt that kitten, i play horde and have you ever tried targetting a gnome that’s running in the middle of the rest of his raid group? VERY annoying… I got nothing against alliance or gnomes (i have a 70 alliance myself but that’s beside the point) i’m just saying they’re hard to click when they’re near other people and that’s probably why you died last 😛

  6. Matthew says:

    This study suggests that interactions among strangers within the virtual world are very similar to interactions between strangers in the real world.

    Get out of here. No, really. You’re making the place look dirty. Why would people, who are generally racist, suddenly stop being racist when presented with anonymity?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Well Night Elves are lazy slackers that illegally cross the Ashenvale border with their burpadurpa talk and their dirty moonwells!

    We oughta round up every Night Elf and send them back where they belong!

  8. King of Fiji says:

    And yet somehow I think racial bias wouldn’t exist all together if we concentrated on getting rid of it in the real world and not in the fake MMO world where its probably non existent and just senationalized just for the purpose of making a story. 

  9. Helpless Kitten says:

    I’ve found that even in WoW there are some interesting trends.  For example, I always found it easiest to get help from others when I was running around with a gnome avitar.  I think something about being shorter than everyone else made people want to help me in a sort of protective parental way.  Also I would usually be the last target in PvP games even though I was playing a Warlock (one of the more anoying PvP classes).

  10. janarius says:

    Not surprised by the study, I know another study that found people who perceived their virtual avatar that is attractive or tall behave more confidently than people with short or unattractive avatars in a money-splitting game. (study at, article title: The Proteus Effect: The Effect of Transformed Self-Representation on Behavior) So, same old same old.

  11. JustChris says:

    I used to play Gunbound (don’t laugh) and it was a decent free Worms-like game except for the fact that 99% of people are still kids that didn’t understand the strategic value of team-based playing. Anyways, I decked out my avatar with some Arabian-looking clothes complete with a palm tree on the back of my vehicle. I thought it looked cool, in a Prince of Persia sort of way. I’ve gotten a few "terrorist" remarks and one "Indian" comment. I found it when I would get double teamed because of how I look.

  12. Kendra Kirai says:

    Racial bias…or the people they asked were busy/didn’t want to be bothered by anybody.


    If it was Warcraft, I for one am not likely to help *anybody* who asks for my help, ‘less I get to know them a little first, just ’cause there’s a good chance the favor would take me way out of my way, or cost me money, or both.


    If it was Everquest, my experience with that is that ‘favors’ tend to boil down ‘GIVE GOLD PLZ’.  Same with Final Fantasy XI, to a lesser extent. City of Heroes….I didn’t play that long enough to really get a feel for the society.


    Never used Second Life, never want to.


    Did they say if they asked the same people at close to the same time the same favor? If so, then I’d give it more credibility.

  13. Hannah says:

    Given that there are active racist (and anti-racist) groups on Second Life, in addition to interracial sex fetish groups and 4channers who’ll shout racial slurs if given the slightest opportunity, this doesn’t exactly surprise me.  

    Personally, I do judge people based on avatar race… to a point.  This has nothing to do with player race, mind you — the actual black people, for example, are usually fine.  But the white anti-racists who use black avatars because they hate their own race, the rap/hip-hop fans who think that they’re SO COOL because they’ve decked their avatar out to look like some kind of inner city American criminal, and the ubiquitous griefers who use black avatars just for the lulz… those people annoy me, and they’re much more common than real blacks.

    Oh, and if I see an Asian avatar, there’s at least a 90% chance that the person falls into one of two categories: real Asian who can’t/won’t speak English, or crazy anime fan.  I don’t treat them badly, but I try to avoid them most of the time for obvious reasons.  Again, this has nothing to do with player race, and everything to do with the way that avatars with a certain look usually act.

  14. Are'el says: may not be that great a game (ok, it sucks), but they needed an MMO that only had humans, and one where they were set in a non-fantasy setting.  That doesn’t leave very many options.  Although, the findings aren’t suprrising, considering it’s already common knowledge that gender effects other people’s reactions ingame.

  15. Samantha says:

    They should have used Guild Wars, especially the Nightfall campaign. That was an African-esque setting entirely, humans only, with more ‘black’ character creation options than ever, and yet I still remember seeing mostly white characters running around. I even remember complaints in some of the fan forums that the character templates for Nightfall were ~too~ skewed towards being black.

  16. ZippyDSMlee says:

    Game and anime worlds do tend to be populated by ze people of ze pale side….and emos…but I digress…..

    Fiction works off the world its set in so do not see racism as the reason why you have odd population rates in fictional worlds….mainly because thy are fictional…


    I is fuzzy brained mew =^^=
    (in need of a bad overhaul)

  17. DarthM says:

    Yeah I am really smart. It’s tough being me.

    Also, if some two-bit researchers can’t figure out how to study an MMO using the BIGGEST MMO EVER then I really don’t think we should be paying those researchers. Because that shouldn’t be that hard.


    On a related note: Brokenscope, did I murder your parents or something? Right out of the gate you call me a cunt? All I did was call into question a study of EXTREMELY QUESTIONABLE scientific value that ‘established’ that people are still racist online. Wow. What news. So since I took a position that, quite likely, many people would (and from the looks of comments) HAVE TAKEN, you call me a cunt? I guess I should feel foolish, having expected something like common civility on the internet.

  18. PerfectLibra says:

    You do realize that human characters in WoW can be made black / white – right? If the issue is level – then go out and find level 70 players with human characters with the desired skin tones who would be willing to loan out their characters. Then – they can go ask other level 70 players. Hell – they can make a premade 70 on a test server and go ask favors from people who are in exactly the same boat they are in. Inversely – A level 1 character asking another level 1 character for a favor is pretty much the same thing as the actual survey in question. So you see – WoW could easily be incorporated into this survey. Keep this in mind too – what is I have never heard about it and I’m pretty fluent in internet phenomena and the sorts.

    I doubt many people here have heard about it. So why did they choose an online community that consists of what are basically "fringe" people? WoW has the one of the largest demographics – teenagers, college students, 10 year olds, house wives, working professionals, white, black, Asian etc …

    On a side note Broken – you are a fucking prick. Belligerent much?

  19. Brokenscope says:

    Thank god science doesn’t have to warrant your approval of it’s "importance" to be done.

    So then I guess we need to throw away almost every piece of large scale sociological research, it is obviously useless since almost all of it uses a sample to represent a larger population.

    This study was designed to see if bias humans had against other humans in the real world translates into bias in a virtual world. Games that with avatar options besides varying skin tones of human would be useless. Games that add other social walls such as levels, and status symbols such as armor and other things would muddy the results. The sheer act of building a character in a game like WoW adds other variables that are impossible to track.

    But since you are so damn smart why don’t you tell us how to run this experiment in WoW.

  20. DarthM. says:


    If you tell me people react ‘adversely’ to color in online communities then you better look at all online communities and not just one. You take samples from as many potential communities as possible.

    But seriously, people react adversely to color in online communities? There was no more important research that could have been done? Please. This study is as pathetic as you are. And by you I mean Brokenscope.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I think you illustrate a good point: Racism is not predominately practiced by just ONE racial/ethnic/cultural/religious group but can be found across the board.  In many ways it ridiculous when you condemn one person from a majority racial group but allow another to continue to say something just as racist because they’re a minority.  Racism is racism and to concentrate on only one sector is hypocrisy at its worst.

  22. chadachada(123) says:

    My dad (a white guy) was threatened almost daily by black guys in high school (he lived in Detroit). Sometimes it would even be at knifepoint.

    Plus, sorry to say it, but it doesn’t help if every black person I know (save for a few, honest, actual people) fits their stereotype exactly. There are maybe 15 black kids at my high school, and every one of them except for a couple are honestly horrible, racist, sexist, and don’t try at school.

    It’s a touchy subject, but the only way to deal with racism is for the minorities to stop crying racism when there isn’t any and to start trying to become equal, instead of trying to drag other people to their level.

    I apologize if any of the above seemed racist, and feel free to respond/discuss the above.

  23. bpm195 says:

    As an African American from a North Philly ghetto, I will say that some of the most prejudiced people I’ve ever met are African Americans from the ghettos. I wouldn’t go as far as to say racism is stronger there than any other group though. There’s plenty of animosity toward middle and upper class white folks, but it’s not unreasonable and from my short time in the corporate world the feeling is mutual. I’ve heard of people getting jumped for being white, but that’s a rarity, though being white means you’re rich until proven poor so that’s can make you a bigger target. While there is animosity, it’s not to the point where white people are shunned. I’ve experienced worse prejudice toward me than I’ve seen toward white people.

    However, if you’re gay you’re pretty much fucked. It’s unacceptable, and you shouldn’t come out of the closet until you’ve left the ghetto.

  24. Anonymous says:

    While I can’t speak for everyone, that rumor DOES have some base; every black person in my area is racist to an extent (I have a friend who used to hate me simply because I was white. I think it was until some whiny bitch started cussing him out and how I said something about her to him did he realize he was wrong about his vision of white people since a white guy just went and sympathized with black guy. He still is a bit racist, though.), and as for the homophobia, well it seems like that’s everywhere and not just within the black community here; half my school was against homosexuals and it’s about 60-70% white, with 40 or 30% everything else mixed in.

  25. EeLos says:

    And where did you come up with that rumor?  Unless you’re white, gay and live in an area dominated by Inner city black culture, how can you back up that statement?  Or are you actually black, racist and horrified of gay people all the while living in an area dominated by inner city black culture?  Or are you just talking out of your ass?  Which is it?

  26. Austin_Lewis says:

    Do you want to know the most racist and homophobic culture in the world?  Inner City Black culture. How’s that for some hilarious irony?

  27. EeLos says:

    Yea it’s sad but true.  It shouldn’t matter what gender, race or lifestyle the person you playing with has.   Everyone is there to do one thing and that’s to enjoy themselves, and it’s hard to do that when you have idiots who ruin the mood for people.

  28. Austin_Lewis says:

    Actually, its from time I spent trying to research the ‘black ghetto culture’.  I’m sure you know more though.  Here’s a fun experiment I recommend for you; go to the ghetto, dress in a pink shirt and short-shorts, and hit on a guy.  See how long you live. 

  29. Brokenscope says:

    Well considering most of the wow characters aren’t human, I’d say wow would be hard to use you stupid cunt. Maybe wow doesn’t allow for the types of interactions they want. Maybe the way WoW works(Levels) wasn’t appropriate for conducting a study. Maybe they were looking at a game with a relatively friendly environment. Maybe they were looking for a game that focused specifically on social interaction. Maybe they looked at a bunch of MMO games, picked the one that fit their needs as well as funding.

    Why don’t you actually read what the research is about before you try to be a smug asshole about it.

  30. DarthM. says: So they didn’t want to use WoW for a survey about online interactions? They didn’t want to use the biggest most massive online game? Yeah, sounds like a well-done study. Amateurs.

  31. scribe999 says:

    I mostly have a problem with Blood Elfs…but in my defense "BLOOD" is in their name. Oh, and the undead, but that’s because of an irrational fear I’ve had since I first saw the original Dawn of the Dead.

  32. crownjewel82 ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Of course racial bias exists in game worlds. Those are actual human beings with actual bias (racial and otherwise) controlling those characters. I know that suprises a few people still but let’s face reality, we’re moving towards a post racial world. We aren’t there yet. Now if this study had found no racial bias in a game world then I might be impressed.

  33. mogbert says:

    I’ll admit I’m more likely to do a favor for a female avatar then a male avatar. However, in most of my games there aren’t "white" and "black", there are "elves", "dark elves", "orcs" "vikings", "dwarves", and "humans".

    I played AoC for a while, and they did have "white" and "black" characters… and I played a a black character 90% of the time (I did have a "white" tank, but they were too slow). I didn’t notice any difference in how people treated me. In games with, say orcs for example, I don’t notice being treated any differently if I was a bright green orc as opposed to a darker green orc.

    Also, XBox Live is the playground of the Greater Internet ****wad Theory, not a suitable neutral starting ground. That is like saying that the internet is a hotbed of racial tension based off a randon sampling of b-chan. Annonymity does really bring out your true self, it brings out people saying stuff to get a rise out of others. Especially the tweens. They feel they have no power in real life so they try and upset people by insulting them. Same thing about in game griefers.

    Try this same test again somewhere else, only try it with male and female avatars (probably already been done), then you can have a whole ‘nother field day.

  34. EeLos says:

    They probably did only get this study from this particular MMO, but I can tell you from experience that there’s a serious amount of racism on Xbox Live.  I can’t play GRID(racing game) or any shooter without hearing some kind of racial remark.  That’s why I hardly play online unless it’s with people I know.

  35. Waffles says:

    What the hell is there?

    Did they seriously base all this research off of some obscure, cruddy little MMO?

  36. Pirce says:

    People are still people when they play online games!? MAN I never would have guess that people don’t perfectly role play in MMO’s and that they have the same tendencies when they are talking to other people as when…they are talking to other people.

    Sooooo how much do you think these people got payed?

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