Research: 23 Percent of Men Use Opposite Gender Avatars in MMOs

Syracuse University researchers have conducted a study that aims to suss out whether female avatars in games are actually women in real-life or just men role-playing as female characters.

Research that included work at Syracuse University considered 375 people playing a multi-player World of Warcraft quest. Researchers found that 23 percent of the men chose opposite-gender avatars, compared to 7 percent of women who played as male characters.

Researchers said the men stayed farther away from the group than female players did and moved backward more often. Men used female avatars tended to use more emotional phrases and smile emoticons than did men with male avatars. The hidden men also jumped much more often than women, perhaps to attract attention or to use the game as light entertainment rather than for serious game fighting.

The study, published in Information, Communication and Society, was the work of researchers from Syracuse University, Concordia University, Colorado State University, Hofstra University and the University of Toronto.

While this is interesting, obviously more research is needed on why men and women play in opposite gender roles online. Who much of it is "just having fun" and how much of it is about being more comfortable playing a gender based on sexual orientation or the fear of being harassed (in the case of female players)?


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  1. 0
    GrimCW says:

    In this case it may be. But usually when this particular question is brought up (Is that a man or a woman behind that MMO char) someone is trying to draw a line to sexual deviancy or homosexuality in some way.

    So people get defensive.

  2. 0
    Kajex says:

    If you’re rolling an Asura in Guild Wars 2, you -need- to pick female because the male faces are generally ugly (unless you get a makeover kit that unlocks extra faces). Same with the Charr, to a lesser extent.

    If you’re playing a Sylvari, you -always- choose male, because the female Sylvari has a tendency to make annoying death wails anytime they they’re hit with a cripple effect.

    Leastways, this is what influenced my picking females over males in many cases.

  3. 0
    Wymorence says:

    I think I had all of 1 female character in WoW when I was playing, and that was a Draenei.

    You know the old adage "barrel chested"? Male Draenei seem to have taken that a bit literally and put an actual barrel into their upper torso. I just couldn't for the life of me choose the male avatar for that one…

  4. 0
    Sora-Chan says:

    I wonder if they took transgenders in account, or if they threw them into their birth sex category.

    On a semi-unrelated subject that this reminded me of. I remember years ago, much longer than I would like to think… back in the early days of MMOs, heck, even MUDs, a lot of women used male characters to hide from the male population. They didn't want to be harassed or constantly bugged. This was around when the stereotype of female characters are always male players trying to get free items started.

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  5. 0
    Sean Thordsen says:

    I saw this a couple weeks back and it is deeply flawed – it hardly looks at game behavior in a game context which makes all the difference.


    Men jump more than women?  Most players jump because they're bored, not to "attract attention" and they do so in any game you give them a jump button and they have nothing to do at the time.  It also fails to show that if the jumping when playing as their actual sex has the same ratio.


    Staying away from the group and backpeddling are dependent on class.  I have several WoW characters, when I play a melee class I have to be near the group to fight but a mage or a warlock HAS to backpedal to maintain distance to be effective so it really means little.


    I'm sorry but this is one VERY badly done research project.

  6. 0
    Glasofruix says:

    Well, since you'd be looking at your character's rear side for hours why not make it look pleasant at least :p Personnaly i don't like playing female charcters in MMOS (i'm a guy), but then in mass effect my characters are female because i think they suit the story way better than maleshep.

  7. 0
    axiomatic says:

    I have more male characters than female characters in MMO's but yes I do play opposite gender toons. I'm more interested in the reason for the question. It's a fantasy world. Why would it be wrong to want to explore the motivation of a female (warrior, mage etc. insert class here)? If anything I think it shows gender equality since in my (male) mind I am willing to play a female character therefore I find them equally viable.

  8. 0
    Cyberdodo says:

    375 players is not exactly a large sample size.  Also, it does not appear that the study takes playstyle into account.  These percentages can vary quite a bit across PvE, PvP, and RP servers.

    So, I'm taking this with a rather sizable grain of salt, while I play characters of both genders, in a different game. cheeky


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