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.