In a sample of 2200 respondents across several MMORPGs (29% EQ, 23% SWG, 12% DAOC), the following gender difference emerged as to preference for 1st or 3rd person perspective. The answer choice "prefer both equally" is excluded from this brief presentation for clarity.
While there were differences between games (i.e. more EQ players preferred 1PP, and more DAOC players preferred 3PP), the gender difference was always present in every game. Exploring the data by age groups also revealed a similar pattern.
Past data had suggested that gender differences are driven by different motivations for participation. In very broad strokes, female players are more drawn to relationship-oriented activities while male players are more drawn to achievement-oriented activities.
The perception and use of an avatar - as the primary means of agency in online environments - might be expected to be shaped by the motivations for participating in the environment. In particular, goal-oriented users may be more likely to treat avatars as tools/pawns to achieve goals, thereby encouraging a preference for 3PP that objectifies and externalizes the avatar, whereas relationship-oriented users may be more likely to treat avatars as representations of themselves in a social environment, thereby encouraging identification and treating the avatar as the self through 1PP. This would also be supported by the age differences given that younger players tend to be more achievement-driven. In other words, I argue that more fundamental motivational differences are driving the gender and age differences.
To test this line of reasoning more directly, users who preferred 1PP vs 3PP were compared on their motivations for playing based on an assessment derived from a previous study. Users who preferred 3PP scored higher on Achievement (t=5.5, p<.001) and Grief (t=8.5, p<.001), and lower on Relationship (t=-8.0, p<.001) than users who preferred 1PP, which supports the hypothesis.
To tease apart the relative importance of age, gender and the motivations, a logistic regression was performed using 1PP/3PP as the categorical predicted variable. The Relationship motivation emerged as the most significant predictor (t=7.7, p<.001), followed by age (t=6.2, p<.001), Grief (t=-5.0, p<.001) and then gender (t=2.38, p=.002).
Thus, it appears that the observed gender difference is being driven by underlying motivational differences between users who play to form and sustain relationships and users who objectify the environment and other users for personal gain. In either way, what is clear is that motivational differences are linked with preferences for perspectives in these environments.
While causality can't be directly inferred from this data set, the opposite claim that default (or fixed) perspective shapes motivations for playing doesn't easily explain gender differences.
Thoughts? Comments? Other potential explanations for the gender difference?