December 14, 2005

Horde Hotties?

Filed under:Gender, Massively Multiplayer Online Games, Statistics, World of Warcraft — Lake Desire @ 2:43 pm

Via Terra Nova, PlayOn has posted a study on gender, race, and class selection in World of Warcraft. PlayOn’s bloggers Nick and Eric say what I was thinking when I read the name of the study: “It’s a little eerie how those 3 words have their own meanings in an MMO, but yet when you put them all together, you realize how much weight they carry over from the physical world.”

Onto the study results:

Here’s what we found in our data. The gender ratio is different for the Alliance and the Horde. There are fewer female characters on the Horde side. One out of three characters is female on the Alliance side. On the Horde side, it is one out of five. Our intuition is that fewer players choose to be female on Horde side because the female Horde characters are kinda … ugly.

Kinda ugly? Eloquence aside, what sparks my ire is the surveyors defining what they find attractive in their conclusion. No surprise, I believe beauty is a social construct. We are conditioned to find certain traits valuable and attractive, and night elves and humans in WoW conform to some of those Western standards. I don’t disagree, however, that many players as individuals do pick characters they are are visually attracted to. I happen to find tauren and dwarves good looking, but that doesn’t mean I have a fetish or am some sort of deviant.

The PlayOn writers consider gender-bending in character selection:

The Daedalus Project data suggests that male and female players are equally represented on both the Alliance and Horde. This implies the observed gender differences are driven almost entirely by gender-bending. Given that players who choose Horde are more likely to be competitive and achievement-oriented than players who choose Alliance who tend to be more customization and role-playing oriented, this makes a great deal of sense. Of course, as many players point out, they gender-bend to have an attractive avatar to look at. Playing a female Horde character would defeat this purpose.

It’s an interesting theory, but again, androcentric, as it neglects reasons women may choose to play male avatars.

Terra Nova responds by citing a study from 1977:

[M]ale undergrads chatted over the phone with female undergrads they did not previously know. Half the male undergrads were given a photo of an attractive woman and the other half were given photos of unattractive women (unbeknownst to the women themselves). This is analogous to interacting with an attractive female Night Elf online.


Given that Alliance avatars are more attractive than Horde avatars (especially the female avatars), and given that many social interactions on Alliance side are parallels of the classic Behavioral Confirmation study – men interacting with who they believe are attractive women, might this cause Alliance players to become friendlier, more charming, and more sociable in general than Horde players over time regardless of their RL gender or attractiveness? That is to say, a form of behavioral confirmation cascade that has an effect on the community rather than simply the individual level.

Again, I ask: who decides what is attractive? I’m curious if sexual orientation was considered in the 1977 study, or if all respondents were presumed to be heterosexual.



  1. Hi Ariel – Thanks for the thoughtful comments. While I agree with you that notions of beauty and attractiveness are socially-constructed (and indeed vary a great deal from culture to culture), it is also true that within a single culture, there is agreement on these socially-defined standards.

    And indeed, as part of a different study, we did ask undergraduates to rate randomly-generated WoW avatars of different races. The ratings confirmed our intuitions. And, of course, these ratings are performances of a learned social construct.

    There are good reasons to resist essentialist and biologically reductive notions of beauty, but that is not the version of “beauty” I am invoking. As long as there are social stereotypes and concepts that are broadly accepted, there are differences in interactional patterns towards those groups. Attractiveness happens to be one of these. People treat attractive individuals differently from unattractive individuals. More importantly, individuals from the same culture have shared beliefs of attractiveness and there are systematic differences in how they treat people of varying attractiveness. In other words, I am invoking beauty as a social construct that has taken on a great deal of meaning in our everyday lives. The theory of behavioral confirmation works with any other social construct – such as gender, age, height, or hair color. I just want to emphasize that when I say “attractiveness”, I am very much referring to the a notion that is entirely socially-constructed.

    Part of the tension here is the different between analyzing generalities versus idiosyncrsies. It is true that some female players gender-bend, and some players choose avatars that are socially-defined as unattractive, but on the whole, very few female players actually gender-bend (compared with male players) and most players prefer attractive female avatars (as the PlayOn data shows).

    The question I bring up is not one that attempts to draw out conclusions of individuals or subgroups, but rather generalities of a large system as a whole. And here, we are very close to the rift between quantitative and qualitative methodologies and ideologies. But the notion of attractiveness I am invoking is not an essentialist, universal, or static one. The following question is meaningful as long as the culture of interest has an accepted notion of attractiveness. Do US players on Alliance side become friendlier than US players on Horde side over time because of avatar differences based on a notion of attractiveness that is socially-constructed?

    Comment by Nick Yee (1) — December 14, 2005 @ 4:27 pm

  2. Haha, I feel like I’m failing some sort of quality check standard by posting after Nick.

    Beauty is definately a socially constructed notion, but it’s a social construct that I figure can’t be helped. I suppose… well, everyone can be beautiful in their own special way, as the saying goes, but their notion of beauty can’t be expected to be shared by everyone else. Somewhere in the tally, there’s bound to be a majority (even if it is media constructed).

    I think we’re competitive creatures. When we compete, one has to be better, stronger, more correct, more beautiful than the other. And it feels like an inevitable facet of human nature really.

    … *gestures vaguely* Like, Dwarves can be attractive and Night elves can be attractive, but the majority of society is encouraged to pick one to be superior. I mean, one can argue that they think both are attractive, but the way these polls are set up push us to choose an option. At least, on the multiple choice exames, we tend to mistrust the “All of the Above” option.

    Comment by AlmostExactly — December 14, 2005 @ 10:41 pm

  3. It should be interesting to see what happens when the expansion is released, and the Horde gets a more “conventionally” beautiful race – the blood elves.

    The link, unfortunately, to the Terra Nova article is broken. I was curious to read it, but I can’t seem to find it on the site, now. :(

    I play Alliance and Horde on the same server, and overall, I like the people who play on the Horde side better. Perhaps that’s because the superficial, boring ones who want to turn the game into a giant soap opera are all playing on the other side. :)

    Comment by Astarte (5 comments) — December 16, 2005 @ 11:13 am

  4. Nick, thank you for taking the time to visit and respond to my comments. I’d love to read more on your study of undergrads and the WoW characters.

    AlmostExactly, my qualm with the beauty standards held by the majority is how narrowing they are. There is one or two standards held above all others, and it leaves little room for deviations to also be valued as attractive or beautiful.

    Astarte, welcome! I also had better experiences with the horde when I played. I mostly stuck to RP servers, and found more people interested in somewhat quality RP on the horde side.

    I think the broken link is on their end (none of their posts from the last week or so seem to be showing up at the moment). Hopefully it will be working again soon.

    Comment by Lake Desire (208 comments) — December 16, 2005 @ 2:30 pm

  5. Tauren inspire Bestiality, that’s all I have to say.

    And according to Family Guy, Bestiality is a sin.

    In all seriousness, most of the in-game females are played by men (boys). Most of these boys are between the ages of 10 and 20. Probably 50% of them become Night Elf females so they can strip and do the “sexy” dance. It’s the truth, life with it.

    P.S. There’s also the matter that the ratio of Alliance to Horde ratios on most servers lean heavily toward the Alliance.

    Comment by Ben — December 20, 2005 @ 6:43 pm

  6. I find Ben’s comments to be vaguely offensive and disturbing. “Tauren inspire bestiality”? Following in the footsteps of having seen a WoW based music video that in many parts featured the combined use of a “naked patch” and emotes done in a way that were meant to simulate fellatio and in one part showed a naked night elf female performing said act on a horse… I’d have to say that “inspiring bestiality” is not a function of what race one chooses in a MMO, but one’s own individual brand of twisted.

    I have found on both the PvP and RP PvP servers I have played in that horde players don’t indulge themselves in this kind of behavior on the scale that alliance (most notably those who choose to play night elves) do. As a matter of fact, I can also affirm that my experience of Horde players is a far more mature and positive one than any I have seen while my husband played alliance.

    Many of the people I have played with feel that horde females are as or more attractive than alliance race choices. It might be noted that I tend to play with a more mature, older, well adjusted set of people who for the most part have real life relationships that are fairly stable and lasting. While I understand that we are not the majority or actual percieved demographic of this game, I consider comments like Ben’s to tell a sad story about a segment of the overall gaming community’s superficiality, lack of maturity and lack of respect for others.

    Comment by Azhrarn (1) — December 24, 2005 @ 12:50 pm

  7. In the scientific community it is generally accepted that the human notion of what constitutes beauty has a definite biological and evolutionary foundation, and is not merely a social construct, as you assume. These conceptions of beauty vary relatively little throughout culture and time. It may be comforting to doubt the present notions of beauty by saying they are mere constructs of society, but in fact what constitutes beauty generally points to sexual virility and suitability for producing healthy and vibrant offspring.

    Comment by Aye DisAgree (1) — June 24, 2008 @ 11:00 am

  8. Aye DisAgree, if you’d like to use science to disagree, why not use science’s methods of citations and give me a little more to read up on? As far as I know, you’re basing your argument on cultural assumptions about science.

    Comment by Lake Desire (208 comments) — June 24, 2008 @ 12:24 pm

  9. This is purely speculation on my part, but I am curious as to why more men gender bend than women. Is it because the men on World of Warcraft have no attractive characters? Most women that I ask say that the male characters are too muscular to be considered attractive. I’m wondering if men gender bend more because they feel the need to be considered attractive. Even if they are just pixels. Maybe females don’t gender bend as much because they are already playing attractive characters. Therefore there is no incentive to gender bend because they will just be considered ugly when they do and they could just play a female orc or something instead of playing a male character. Again, just curiosity speaking. I have nothing to back up my speculations.

    Comment by David (1) — November 28, 2008 @ 6:03 pm

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