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Dec 14, 2005

Comments

1.

Nick> In other words, could avatar appearance itself be used as a form of social engineering in virtual environments? And if so, are Alliance and Horde players being socially engineered in different ways?

I imagine the answer to that is "yes." :-)

2.

Nick >many social interactions on Alliance side are parallels of the classic Behavioral Confirmation study - men interacting with who they believe are attractive women
I was following you up until this point - I don't get the jump. Do players associate the attractiveness of an avatar with the attractiveness of the player? In my experience, not so much - in fact, female night elves may often be assumed to be male players, based on your data in other studies. In the Behavioural Confirmation study, the pictures were presented to the subjects as a representation of the person (actual world body), not as an avatar. Am I missing something? [I usually am :-) ]

3.

It's true that most female avatars are being played by male players, but whether most players are acutely aware of this fact as they interact with female avatars is a different story.

Anecdotally, female avatars are treated differently than male avatars, and that's the point I think. Players interact with attractive avatars differently than they do with unattractive avatars (part of this ties into gender of the avatar), and if this is the case, then behavioral conditioning kicks in.

Players treat female Night Elves very differently than they treat say ... male Dwarves.

4.

Players treat female Night Elves very differently than they treat say ... male Dwarves.

Or female dwarves, for that matter. I believe I've read that female dwarves are the least played gender-race combination, but I can't seem to find that info now...

FWIW, I'd love to see actual statistics to back up the idea that female avatars are treated differently than male avatars. I play female avatars nearly exclusively, but I have played male avatars in the past, and I have never seen a difference in how other players treat me. When playing a female avatar, I've never had a stranger give me something for free. However, I have male friends who play female avatars and try to act "female", and they have stuff given to them for free all the time. A guy friend of mine, who plays a female gnome, was given a gold the other day "just for being cute." Personally, I think how you are treated has a lot more to do with how you act than with how you look, especially in a game like WoW where gender-bending is so prevalent.

5.

Samantha LeCraft> Personally, I think how you are treated has a lot more to do with how you act than with how you look

I also suspect this is true... and yet, would someone who "acted cute" but wore a male avatar be tossed gold pieces to the same degree?

Behavior (especially communicative behavior) definitely seems to be an important factor, but appearance still seems to matter as well, even when we know it's just a shell that could contain anything.

--Bart

6.

Nick >Players treat female Night Elves very differently than they treat say ... male Dwarves.
I agree, and this has been true since the early days of text-based MUDs. I guess I am wondering how much of this is attributable to the avatar, and how much to a perception of the attractiveness of the player. Essentially, I wonder to what extent players are making assumptions about the gender/attractiveness of the player behind a Night Elf, or whether the conditioned behaviour is simply triggered by the avatar's appearance.

I agree that both levels will have some effect, but my sense is that the perception of the player might ultimately override the perception of the avatar. Would the belief that an orc was played by an attractive female overide the unattractive qualities of the avatar with respect to the social interaction with young [het] males (my experience says yes). The flip side is also true - the FHBs (Fabulous Hot Babes) of TinyMUDs were treated with some suspicion by experienced players, as they were assumed to be (unattractive) males. I'm curious whether this might be different for those who score high on your "immersion" factor vs. those who don't.

In the end, I guess I am just suggesting that there are two separate issues - perceived attractiveness of avatar vs. that of the player - which are probably correlated, but I am not sure how strongly. In the BC study, I would imagine there was a near-perfect correlation.

7.

Samantha says, Personally, I think how you are treated has a lot more to do with how you act than with how you look.

It's not what you look like or what you do, but summarily what your appearance is. I'm going to go off the deep end of hypotheses here and propose this:

Male players attempting to be "female" end up playing into the stereotype most male players expect of female players, and thus the free-gift gravy train rolls out.

So the differentiating factor (other than just plain bad luck) probably has to do with expectation management. In theory, you could manipulate them into giving you stuff by acting cute.

Bart says, I also suspect this is true... and yet, would someone who "acted cute" but wore a male avatar be tossed gold pieces to the same degree?

If they did the male version of cuteness and fired off the same, "Oh, it's a person that might like me more if I gave them free stuff" signals in their brain...

yes.

8.

I don't really recall the study mentioned but I do remember an intro deviance class where it was mentioned that the characteristics an individual found attractive can be determined by the individuals etnicity and race. Sort of vexing that I can't remember the authors off the top of my head, but there was some survey etched into my brain about how black and white women percieved lithe versus fat white and black women differently. Black women actually tended to suggest that larger black women were more popular and happier than average, although they didn't rate large white women very highly.

Anyway I don't think class and race selection in MMOGs are good forums for social engineering, or really anything other than a reflection of ones social conceptions and the status position one is comfortable with and experiences in real life. I would say that gender is probably the least important factor in WoW simply because people don't believe that they can percieve it. Most experienced players are firm believers in the mangina stereotype, that is, all players are male until proven otherwise.

9.

Samantha: "When playing a female avatar, I've never had a stranger give me something for free. However, I have male friends who play female avatars and try to act "female", and they have stuff given to them for free all the time."

I'm curious how you present yourself online. A trend I've noticed is that females who abbreviate, misspell, and lack punctuation get treated like "one of the boys." Those with better written communication skills tend to have their genders questioned with the usual "r u fem irl."

Just a tendency mind you. Nothing concrete, I'm sure.

10.

So assuming that male players act nicer to pretty female avatars, is there anything that female players act nicer to?

Richard

11.

Would the role playing aspects potentially skew any correlations you might make here? How much behavior is due to a predisposition to treat certain avatars in certain ways and how much is due to an obligation to role play a behavior towards certain avatars in certain ways?

12.

In my experience, the Horde have something I would like to refer to as "competitive camaraderie", while the Alliance seem to be much more friendly, carebearish and sometime immature attitude.

13.

The number of people actually role playing in these games is pretty low in comparison to the number of players. Consider the way higher number of MUDs compared to the number of MUSHes. So Trip's idea is probably neglible.

I have played female characters on MUDs and even though I acted exactly the same way on my male characters and discouraged flirtacious behavior, I did notice preferential treatment.

14.

Richard asked: "So assuming that male players act nicer to pretty female avatars, is there anything that female players act nicer to?"

The original BC study has an interesting methodological confound. Snyder et al. actually did not actually propose a gender difference. They were arguing that attractiveness period caused what they found. And this is how the study is typically interpreted.

Other reviews of the attractiveness literature show that attractiveness does have social advantages for both men and women. So technically, everyone treats attractive people better (although this may be augmented by romantic/physical attraction).

Samantha said: "Personally, I think how you are treated has a lot more to do with how you act than with how you look, especially in a game like WoW where gender-bending is so prevalent."

I've played most MMOs since EQ and have always played a male character - prolly about 10-12 altogether - until I rolled a female human warlock in WoW (I'm not sure why). On the first day that I played and got to level 3, I was approached by a male avatar and was given low-level armor. He even asked me what color I would like the "shirt" item to be. And then he made it on the spot. No stranger has *ever* given my male avatars free stuff. And it couldn't have been something I was doing cause I was just standing there when he approached me.

But that's just one case and I do agree that it would be cool to have actual stats on this ... the problem is that the most natural field study to run prolly won't get past our human subjects review boards.

Speaking of which - when I wrote my first IRB proposal about virtual worlds 2 years ago and called our local IRB person to describe the project to her, she thought I was joking and actually started laughing.

15.

I’m not sure that the paraphrased study on attractiveness says anything more then people will treat people in nicer manner if:

A) They want something from them.
B) They were treated nicely to begin with.

As far as using appearance as means to socially engineer people with certain disposition into a game role, I suspect that there are to many different motivations for choosing a characters looks which would contradict the predisposition you would be trying to attract.

Differences in racial and class abilities are probably a much more effective way to do this and as long as they exist would probably trump anything you could achieve with appearance.

16.

The Horde also has rather extreme sexual dimorphism. Male and female undead are about as different as male and female humans and elves(the more sexually dimorphic of the Alliance races), but Troll, Orc, and Tauren females look VASTLY different than their male counterparts... more so than the vast majority of the worlds' (Azeroth and our own) mammals. I assume this was Blizzard's attempt to make Horde females more attractive, and thus more popular.

Apparently to little success.

17.

I'd be interested if the study showing people who were treated as attractive were friendlier was done with other combinations of sexes? Such as male (looking at photo of other male) female (looking at photo of male) and female (looking at photo of other female)? Were the results the same?

My best guess is - the results were the same but by less of a percentage.

Are the male Alliance more attractive than male Horde also? (not a WoW player)

18.

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