Some Numbers on Gender-Bending

The demographic that is most likely to gender-bend is not male teenagers, but men over the age of 25. There are several ways one could explain this. One explanation is that male players are probably more tempted to gender-bend because restrictions on crossing gender boundaries are far more stringent for men in real life than for women. And younger male players are probably less secure about their own gender identity to gender-bend.

But of every male and female character you run into in game, how many are actually being played by someone of the opposite gender?

We know that about 19% of EQ players are female (n = 1239). So in a hypothetical pool of 1000 EQ players, 810 are male and 190 are female.

We know that about 15.0% of male EQ players and 4.2% of female EQ players use a character of the opposite gender as their main character (n = 1228). Thus, in our hypothetical pool of players:

Of the 810 male players, 689 are playing a male character while 121 are playing a female character.
Of the 190 female players, 182 are playing a female character while 8 are playing a male character.

So altogether:

There are 697 male characters, of which 8 (1%) are being played by a female player.
There are 303 female characters, of which 121 (40%) are being played by a male player.

So in EQ, every 1 out of 2 or 3 female characters is being played by a male player, while every 1 out of 100 male characters is being played by a female player.


Comments on Some Numbers on Gender-Bending:

Richard Bartle says:

If you're at all interested in who gender-switches in virtual worlds and why, you might want to try take a look at: Lynne D. Roberts and Malcolm R. Parks, "The Social Geography of Gender-Switching in Virtual Environments on the Internet", 1999. This describes two well-implemented surveys of MOO players, focusing mainly on why people play cross-gender. Of particular interest is that it makes a distinction between people who currently play cross-gender and people who have tried it but have since stopped.

Unfortunately, Roberts & Parks' paper is not on the net. It appeared in "Information, Communication & Society" vol. 2(4), Winter 1999, but the version I have is in Eileen Green and Adam, Alison (editors), "Virtual Gender: Terminology, Consumption and Identity",
Routledge, 2001.

Richard

Posted Oct 17, 2003 1:03:04 PM | link

Dan Scheltema says:

I'm a statistic!

I've gone through phases on playing female characters. First time I did it was a fit of pique because the name I wanted was already taken. They it just became part of the role-play.

I've gone back and forth, but now I pretty much play half and half. And if there are other sexes (I HATE the evolution of the use of "gender" to be a PC-ized reference to "sex") in a science fiction game, I'll probably play those too.

Posted Oct 17, 2003 1:15:51 PM | link

Hunter says:

Character of the virtual environment and skills it takes to succeed can greatly impact the gender decisions, especially when those representations do not impact avatar ability within the world.

For example, i've always been female within Second Life because my play style focuses on creation and socialization which just feels more female. Oh and also in the beginning there were more custom outfits for women...

Posted Oct 17, 2003 1:19:22 PM | link

Raijin says:

I beleive it's cause men aren't allowed to gender bend like women are, thats why I do it. I hate being a guy, too many restrictions.

Posted Oct 18, 2003 9:48:29 AM | link

B. Smith says:

I tried a female character in EQ for 2 reasons. First, it was a lot easier to level a female. Male charcters were constantly giving me stuff and offering to powerlevel me. Second, I wanted to see how well I could roleplay a female, and see if I could fool the members of my guild. I enlisted the aid of a female friend and swore her to secrecy. I actually got away with it for a while, which answered the question. At that point I retired the female character and went back to my main.

Posted Oct 18, 2003 10:13:56 AM | link

B. Smith says:

"I hate fags who play chicks"

Role-playing. Grasp the concept.

Posted Oct 18, 2003 12:19:33 PM | link

Dr. Cat says:

I think one motivation for gender switching (though far from the only one) can be seen by looking at the behavior in many US prisons. In the absence of any actual women, some of the men are put into that role in order to fill that societies need for there to be people in the role. In an online environment there's a lot less consequences to switching - in most cases you can totally divorce the new identity from your real world self and from your other online identities. So it's natural we see it more often there.

It would be very interesting to see if there's more female-to-male switching in an online environment that's mostly populated by women, and less male-to-female. I'd also like to know whether the ratios in that situation are close to the same, or whether they'd be (as I suspect) somewhat different. Is anybody aware of any primarily-female message boards or other online communities that've tried to do any studies on this?

Posted Oct 18, 2003 2:04:20 PM | link

Dan Scheltema says:

Dr, Cat, that would indeed be an interesting study. I've seen games with better female to male player ratios, but never one primarily played by females (but, then, I might not be attracted to that sort of game either, so might have missed it).

As to the troll by Jay, I don't recall much of that attitude in the early days. I think I first saw it in UO, but it came on stronger after that. It coincided with the "RPers are " attitude that grew as the population shifted from more social to more combat-oriented.

Being an oldtimer, I put it down to excess testoterone with nowhere to go. :)

Posted Oct 18, 2003 7:56:27 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

FYI, post from 'Jay' has been deleted. Sorry it took so long, we had to get used to the moderating tech for the first time.

Posted Oct 18, 2003 10:41:47 PM | link

Northerner says:

Well, gender-bending for males is often a question of PoV. In games such as DAoC and AO and the like, a 3rd person perspective often will make a heterosexual male more happy with looking at a (largely idealized) female than a male avatar.

Think Laura Croft and some of the explanations may not be so far away.

Posted Oct 19, 2003 3:40:29 AM | link

Slogies says:

Very interesting topic, I've played many female charactors in games such as NWN and, usually Vampire The Masqeurade.

Also true about the age thing I was 30'ish when I started playing online and immediately used a female charactor.

I suspect males tend to "Gender Bend" to try and understand women, a futile task but entertaining sometimes :)

Seriously though, with games like V;TM social interaction is the primary methodology of role playing so yes, females tend to get away with more than males. It's also better if the male players actually think your a female player, they seem to be more chauvinistic and find you less intimidating, unless they are younger in which case they try to chat you up ;)

Posted Oct 19, 2003 7:31:28 AM | link

Dave Rickey says:

There are a lot of reasons to gender-bend. Some do it for RP, others for self-exploration, some for the perceived advantages of the other gender, others just for a lark. My first experience with it was the last turning into the second, a character I created simply to check out a new class that I wound up having too much time invested in to simply walk away from.

A lot of people (mostly male) seem to be uncomfortable with it, for many of the same reasons they may be with transgendered or homosexual people in real life. It raises questions about identity and gender and how they can be separated from physical sex organs. Facing the possiblility that the female wood-elf hottie you've been chatting up (or possibly more) may be a real-life male raises even more.

Every young male goes through a period in his life where at some level he wonders about his own sexuality. In many cases, they are influenced into believing that even questioning your sexuality is itself evidence of homosexuality, and go into self-denial about it. Anything that raises those questions again can provoke a hostile reaction (by the same token, an online game can provide a safe place to look at the questions again, after the testosterone storm of puberty is well past). As I understand it women often have similar questions, but rarely with the same degree of repression and anger involved.

What I find more interesting, actually, is how few women choose to play cross-gender.

--Dave

Posted Oct 19, 2003 8:05:25 PM | link

Cory Ondrejka says:

To echo Northerner's comments:

I know that I first started choosing female characters in arcade games thanks to Killer Instinct and Tekken, where I found the female characters easier to learn since they generally had cheap, repeatable moves (eg, Nina's easy combos, Orchid's many air juggles). Games that vary avatar abilities have often made the female characters quick and weaker while the male characters are slower but tougher. While there are obviously exceptions, when I approach new games where there is an avatar choice, I will choose the smallest, most agile character -- female, floating blob, whatever -- because it gives me the best chance for success based on my strengths as a game player.

Of course, for a MOG, the rules may not differentiate abilities based on the character design, so then it comes down to aesthetics. In a 3rd person game where a large number of pixels on screen are my avatar, I tend to pick the "coolest" looking avatar, which often, IMHO tends to be female.

An interesting aside would be to comtemplate the sex ratio of the game designers and artists who created the characters and how that factors into the quality of designs.

Posted Oct 19, 2003 10:01:48 PM | link

Michael Zenke says:

Though I am basing this solely upon my personal experiences, I would guess that instances of gender-bending are much higher in Star Wars Galaxies. There are *many* males playing female avatars (esp. Twi'leks :) in the cantinas and on the battlefields.

I have also encountered several women playing male avatars. Several these women stated to me that they had chosen male avatars so that they would be taken seriously in combat roles. (Which I think is a pretty sad commentary on the mindset of the average male MMOG player.)

Again, my personal experiences only. I cannot give you information on the game at large.

Posted Oct 20, 2003 11:40:30 AM | link

Paul Cardwell says:

Then there is Mythworld in which sex is a secondary characteristic (derived from the primary rolls by a formula) in which rolls high in strength and size are male, in constitution and dexterity are female, and one soon gets a feel for what a mix should be. As a result, half the PCs will be male and half female (my current characters are exactly 50-50, but that is a statistical accident). Yes, that is what roleplaying is about, and in a tabletop RPG, it is obviously not an attempt to fool anyone, or gender confusion, but just another challenge to play.

Paul Cardwell

Posted Oct 20, 2003 1:08:02 PM | link

Justin says:

I tried Gender bending on a BBS in the mid to late 90's. I wanted to see what it was like and the persona was that of a girl I had feelings for but couldn’t do anything about so in a way it made me feel closer to her. It last a little over a year until BBS's where totally wiped out by AOL. It became almost and addiction. I was so good at it and got in so deep it was freighting at times. The rush of maybe getting caught was a plus as well. Recently out of nostalgia I revived the persona on There, but its nothing like the first time.

Posted Apr 11, 2007 9:18:25 PM | link