Researcher Studies Gender in MMOs, Gets Strange Results

Sometimes you just have to go with your gut.

And my gut is telling me that a recent study dealing with gender in online games is seriously flawed. A BBC report describes the work of University of Delaware Prof. Scott Caplan, who surveyed Everquest II players with assistance from publisher Sony Online Entertainment. The University of Southern California and Pal Alto Research Center also participated in the project.

Caplan claims that about 40% of EQII players are female, but that the women are more dedicated, spending more time per day with the game that male players. Based on my MMO experience, I have a difficult time with that conclusion. But what really blew me away was this:

The survey revealed an unusually high level of bisexuality among the women who took part in the study – over five times higher than the general population.

"These are not people who are following strict gender stereotypes," said Prof Caplan.

"I think that the game itself is right now a very non-traditional activity for women, and so I think what you would find in this population are going to be people who are in other ways less traditional than the majority population."

From here, the bisexuality figure alone renders Caplan’s study questionable. EQ II women are five times as likely to be bisexual? What is the statistical likelihood of that occurring? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the survey relied on self-reporting data from EQII players. Could some respondents have been pulling Caplan’s chain? 

Really, it’s unfortunate that this statistical anomaly mars Caplan’s work. His other conclusions are generally positive, indicating that EQII players are healthier and more social than the common MMO player stereotype.

Oddly enough, the bisexuality angle did not come up in earlier coverage of Caplan’s work, including ours (See: Survey Says: MMO Players Not Fat, But Have Other Issues). We also note that University of Delaware school newspaper UDaily does not mention the bisexuality angle in its coverage of Caplan’s reserach.

UPDATE: Sister-site GameCulture takes me to task for my comments regarding Caplan’s study. However, I’ll stand by my remarks. There was a fair amount of uncorrelated self-reporting data in the study, including the respondents’ own claims about their level of fitness. Beyond that, the idea of the bisexual woman is such a stereotypically male fantasy that any study which finds a five-fold increase in that population, absent any compelling explanation, is, de facto, suspect.

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  1. Karsten Aaen says:

    It may well be that 40% of the MMO players playing Everquest II are actually women. It may also very well be that 20%-30% of all MMO players are actually women. EQ II could very well be bi-sexual for all we know, also 5 times as bi-sexual as the normal rate (in our society). This only applies to people playing EQ 2, of course. People playing WoW might just have different statistics.

    Generally, I fail to see why people’s sexuality in MMO’s are data that you can use to anything at all. I mean, why is it interesting to know how gay, lesbian or bi-sexual people that play your game(s)?



  2. queerassuffolk says:

    This is a highly trained, educated researcher from a reputable university. These people are trained in survey methods, have extensive experience accounting for the anonimity of web polling, and are experts at running figures like these. They aren’t yokels who forgot to "check their numbers" or "account for things like age". Why do gamers get so freaked out when academics attempt to study the web, and furthermore why is there a presumption that the researchers aren’t already familiar with the virtual world or research population?

    And why would anyone be surprised that a high level of bi-sexuality is reported among female gamers (esp. considering that the majority of young women do explore bisexual impulses at some point in their life, and that bisexuality among women is losing its cultural taboo). Ask any dyke what she would think of those numbers and the response would be, "Well duh."

  3. Spartan says:

    WoW! I’ll need to make sure that my next girlfriend is an EQII player.



    "The most difficult pain a man can suffer is to have knowledge of much and power over little" – Herodotus

  4. Inimical says:

    That’s what a good amount of evidence is pointing to. Homosexuality, transgender, bisexual, etc. exist in all cultures and some are even viewed as being a higher level spiritually. Gender norms are definitely a social construct.

  5. ZippyDSMlee says:

    Ture ture, sexuality is intamentcy and depending on the person it can be open and kind or closed and cold, either way its not something that can be defined by one thing or another.
    Pirates,Shearers,Lenders and downloaders are not a market that can be taped by the mainstream.
    I is fuzzy brained mew =^^=

  6. ZippyDSMlee says:

    I am really starting to think humans are mostly bisexual by nature and are trained by society to fall into stereotypes.
    Pirates,Shearers,Lenders and downloaders are not a market that can be taped by the mainstream.
    I is fuzzy brained mew =^^=

  7. Inimical says:

    Well, if you look back at Kinsey’s research (which is often hailed as some of the best), the rate of homosexual and bisexual activity was very high as well. It’s a huge criticism of the research.

    The way we define sexuality in Western culture is very dichotomous. Everyone is bisexual to an extent (it’s scalular) and sexuality isn’t static over time, that’s been shown in many studies. I personally wouldn’t be surprised if bisexuality and homosexuality are high in self-reports. If it’s anonymous, then people are more likely to be truthful.

    A few homosexual and/or bisexual experiences in your life don’t make you one or the other. Sexuality is so ambiguous that scientific definitions don’t capture its true nature.

  8. Faceless Clock says:

    Considering that this was a simple survey, the bi-sexuality claims are probably entirely based off self-indification, which as valid as another way of identify sexuality but which do indeed lead to siutations where "bi-curious" people identify as "bi-sexual". If you jump on dating websites, you can easily see that the number of females which identify as bi-sexual is fairly high, in comparsion to the number of men, and in comparsion to the number of females overall.

    This is likely because of the "I made out with my friend" demographic of bi-sexual women, and also because bi-sexual women seem to be considered hot by men, while bi-sexual men are expected to walk around with leather pants on.

    But of course, trying to toss out people’s self-identifcation as bi-sexual based on the fact they only are bi-curious has its own problematic implications – for example, under that criteria, a man who feels attraction to other men is only gay once he actually has sex with another man. That is obviously ridiclious, since it would imply that everyone is naturally straight.

    Trying to figure out why females who play Everquest II are listing themselves as bi-sexual so often is something that would require an entirely new study to even have a chance of reaching a pausible conclusion, and it would be less about studying video games and more about studying how people self-identify themselves in terms of sexual orientation.

    The Honest Game –

  9. CyberSkull says:

    When I am given a choice of gender in a game, I usually pick female because I prefer to spend my time looking at a female avatar. It probably has something to do with my being male.

  10. Arell says:

    A few things to ponder:

    1.  40% is the number of female gamers overall (playing any type of game).  Previous studies of MMO populations suggested that the female percentage was somewhere between 20-30%.  One has to consider if the researcher of this study has his numbers right.

    2.  You have to be careful when researching Bisexuality, because the questions you ask can be misleading.  Some people don’t know the difference between "bisexual" and "bi-curious," or simply don’t recognize the difference.  Drunkenly making out with their roommate at a party for attention doesn’t make them bisexual, nor does thinking, "I wonder what it’d be like…?"

    3.  It’s possible that the researcher based the "findings" partially on avatar selection, in which case would explain why the numbers seem so off.  Cross-gender playing doesn’t have to have anything to do with your sexuality.

  11. Faceless Clock says:

    So let me get this right. Because this survey doesn’t reinforce your pre-concived notions of what a particular MMO community/culture is like, based on your own ancedotal experiences, then it is obviously wrong and flawed?

    That isn’t how this stuff works. Hell, even your own study, which you reference as a counter-point the female population found in this survey, was interpreted by this website as indicating the MMO market is "less male-dominated than the common wisdom would dictate."

    I’m sorry it is hard to accept that females might play MMOs a great deal. Or that a lot of them might be, for whatever reason, bi-sexual. But that is what the study came up with, like it or not. 2,400 respondents is a fair number, and its unreasonable to right the findings off as players "yanking their chain". Why would respondents try to screw up the reseults of female bisexually exclusively, and not the results of male sexuality or of any of the other questions in the survey?

    The Honest Game –

  12. Shadow D. Darkman says:

    Three words.

    What… The… Hell.


    "Game on, brothers and sisters." -Leet Gamer Jargon

  13. darkenchanter says:

    Reminds me of that gaymer survey they did a few years ago, when they discovered that bisexual gamers were more likely to play as a member of the opposite sex than monosexual (gay or straight) gamers. Was quite an interesting little discovery, especially seeing as all other data matched common expectations of gender/sexuality divide.

  14. Neeneko says:

    I wonder if he corrected for age group?

    Claimed bisexualty among young women is pretty high right now, and WoW is made up of mostly young players (young as in below 30).  So if he compared WoW females with the general population these numbers actually sound about right.

  15. Shahab says:

    Researchers already know about the problems inherent in self reporting and surveys and have ways to minimize the impact of said problems. He also was working with Sony and data gathered from them is sure to be very accurate.

  16. Ghede says:

     I think the self-selected survey method already rendered the results questionable. This is an anonymous survey. They ask how much they weigh, and how much they exercise. If we relied on that method everywhere, there would be no weight problem in America. The women would be svelt models, and the men body builders.


  17. Shahab says:

    Well, you sir are a fool. You should at least know what you are talking about before you rip into something. I would bet a million dollars that prior to writing your comment you made no effort to read or look into the study that was written about here. If you did, you would know that nobody was sitting around watching avatars run around the screen and ticking off marks on a paper. Studies like this are useful and present relevant data.
    I find it funny that you take as truth a fact on a Wikipedia article yet you are quick to be super critical of an actual study that you know nothing about.

  18. Faceless Clock says:

    You’re a moron. The entire point of surveys and studies is to see if the perception gained by the regular person is correct, or if there is in fact other trends that are difficult for an individual to see, either because they are hidden from the sight of an individual by their size or by intent, or because the individual refuses to see evidence of the trend.

    It does not matter what you think about MMO culture. It doesn’t matter what you’ve seen. What matters is that you come up with pausible reasons why this study is wrong. Hint: Guessing that the number of female avatars you’ve seen in a game that was not even involved is more than the number of actual females in the game isn’t a pausible reason.

    The Honest Game –

  19. janarius says:

    That may be true for EVE Online, but Caplan is talking about Everquest 2. There are several possibilities to this statistical anomaly as GP stated. IMO, one possibility is that men are more likely migrate to new MMO pastures, from EQ to EQ2 to WoW and that women who are more social-oriented tend to stay in order to maintain existing social relations. Others’ explanations are as good as mine, so who knows.

    And you should really know that Nick Yee and Mia Consalvo are also involved in this study, they do know about MMO culture (

  20. Ghede says:

    Before you fly off the handle on an irrelevant tangent, please note that the data was gathered from a survey not by looking at avatars.


  21. J.Alpha.Gamma says:

    I agree. This guy obviously knows nothing of the MMO culture, or the internet culture by and large.

    In the month I’ve been on EVE Online, I’ve seen dozens to hundreds of female faces flash across my screen. That doesn’t mean that any of those female faces belong to female players. In fact, if Wikipedia’s stats are accurate, the total number of true females on EVE are about 5%. Considering that there are between 20,000 and 40,000 players logged in at any given moment…

    I’m no mathematician, but I’m sure the number of female characters I’ve seen have numbered well over 5%.

    A female character does NOT equate to a female player. A guy can play an MMO as a girl just as easily as a girl can. That’s the basic underlying principle of a massively multiplayer online role-playing game.

    As has been said before, these "experts" that insist on trying to analyze video games need to get a clue BEFORE releasing "findings" that don’t exist.

  22. Shahab says:

    To all you people thinking this guy got it wrong because people pick other genders than their own for their character, you are idiots who know nothing about how these studies are conducted.
    This guy is using a time tested method, surveying. I don’t the particular setup of his survey, but if you do a little bit of research yourself will see that researchers already know the problems with surveys and self-reporting and take steps to minimize the impact of people not wanting to be honest. With trends so pronounced, even with some respondents giving false information, there is definitely something to his findings. To discount them out of hand is really lame and shows a lack of understanding about how these studies are conducted.
    I love this site and visit almost daily but I found your coverage here to be unprofessional and needlessly editorial. A rare dropped ball for you.

  23. Wolvenmoon says:

    I play male characters in the MMOs I play because the female figures are typically… oh how do I say this in a mature way.

    Screw it.

    They push in their spines, inflate their chests and butt, and have them standing at odd angles. It’s utterly ridiculous and sets an unrealistic standard of beauty that I personally don’t want to take part in.

    I’m never really focused on my character anyway. I’m usually killing baddies. If your game involves staring at a pixelated figure’s backside for hours on end, paying 15 dollars a month for the privelage, maybe you should get a new game.

  24. Bennett Beeny says:

    "I’ve had people say, ohh man thats so gay to play as a female, but i say its even more gay to be staring at a man’s ass all day while running around my virtual world."

    Agreed.  I prefer not to play as a man in a game that shows my character in a 3rd person view.  I prefer to look at the female figure, whether it be a real woman or a pixellated one.  I consider any guy who prefers to play as a male in such a game to either be gay, in the closet or in denial.  There’s nothing wrong with being gay – heck, if players like to look at guys, they should just go with it.  No one – at least no one who matters – is going to make fun of another player for being gay.

    In my view, the only reason to play a guy in a 3rd person game would be if I was really into roleplaying.

    1st person games are a different matter though.  I always play a guy in Left 4 Dead, because then I get to look at Zoey (who is incredibly cute).  Yeah, she’s just a game character, and I think she’s attractive, so sue me.

  25. zel says:

    yarly, in wow, very often female characters are guys, almost all of my characters are female because, lets face it, if you’re going to be sitting at your PC for 3 to 8 hours at a time the last thing I want to be staring at is some beefy looking man’s jiggly ass shaking in my face as i’m running around killing stuff O.o 

    I’ve had people say, ohh man thats so gay to play as a female, but i say its even more gay to be staring at a man’s ass all day while running around my virtual world. At least if i get bored i can /dance and use the birthday suit option in outfitter.

    On another note i’ve noticed many female players pick male avatars and the few i’ve talked to about it say its cause people find out you’re actually a girl they flip out, which happens in vent all the damn time. Well it used to, the guild i’m in now is made up of almost all 25+  and I think none under 18 so they don’t get all giggly and starry-eyed over a girl playing.


    I am a signature virus, please copy and paste me into your signature to help me propagate.

  26. J.Alpha.Gamma says:

    You lost me at "you’re a moron." Really, I stopped reading there.

    I am not a moron. I was misinformed. And yes, I could have done some more fact-checking before posting. I’m not above admitting doing something wrong.

    By starting your post off with name-calling, you only established yourself as the moron on my end. Don’t dish out what you can’t take back.

  27. Doomsong says:

    A survey is hardly enough evidence to found a "study"…. Shouldn’t they just have labled it: Some random crap we found out about MMOs?

    "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety" – Benjamin Franklin

  28. Ashla says:

    I’m Left wondering what his basis for claiming hat female players are more likely to be bi-sexual then the general population; is this based on the gender of there avatars, "role playing" experiments, open admission, commentary…?

  29. mogbert says:

    Of course, other studies done with self reporting data suggests that 21% of the people on the internet are from another planet.

    This just in, self reporting workers across America are underpaid and over worked.

    We are getting late breaking news here… it tells me "Garbage in, garbage out."

  30. janarius says:

    I can see why the bisexuality angle isn’t explored earlier. For one, the earlier article addressed stereotypes and demographics about MMO players, so players’ sexuality wasn’t an issue. The current study addressed gender differences in MMO players and therefore sexuality is appropriately considered. Second, I’m pretty sure the researchers have a lot of data to sift through given the freedom SOE had given them to gather data.Third, until other MMO companies follow SOE’s example and allow researchers to survey more players in their games and therefore paint a more representative picture of the MMO population, we’ll have to contend with these results. It might or might not change the results.

  31. Brokenscope says:

    I’m wondering. If he had direct help from sony. He may have been able to get gender figures based on account details. (Credit card name or a direct gender question).

    If that is true, he may not have accounted for the fact that there are kids who play the game and have a female parent who pays for the account.

  32. GrimCW says:


    i dont’ see why it matters.

    you should never assume someone is as they appear in avatar form, ever.

    otherwise i’m a hideious lizardman, and my GF is a tiny evil looking fairy thingy :p

    we both play EQ2 and we both have male and female chars. My way of looking at it is, i don’t care whats past the avatar in game, i don’t know them, i don’t want to know them. (aside from my lady) I’ll stick to that.

  33. Doomsong says:


    I have often encountered a large number of men who play as women in MMOs (esecialy FFXI). I truly hope these guys didn’t just sit there and observe other people playing. …Of course, I don’t expect the type of scientist who would do a gender study on an MMO to actualy understand one.

    "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety" – Benjamin Franklin

  34. Monte says:

    "Based on my MMO experience, I have a difficult time with that conclusion, but what really blew me away was this tidbit from Caplan:"

    part of me can’t help but wonder, how sure that the female players he considering in this study were actually female in real life, or could it be possible that he looked at the female avatar and ASSUMED it was female…

    it’s like my one of my old roommates used to say, "If i gotta stare at a game screen for hours on end, i might as well do it while staring at a female ass"… or something like that anyway, heh…


    but ya, with self-reported study along with free stuff, i do have to agree with the very real possibility that more than a few gamers had a few "lulz" when they filler out that survey to get their free stuff

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