For Science: Men roll more female characters than women roll male toons, new survey shows

    
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Do you play MMO characters who reflect your gender in real life? Apparently, the answer depends a bit on which gender and how old you actually are. That’s according to a new report out of Quantic Foundry, whose Gamer Motivation Profile we’ve covered extensively over the last few years. Nick Yee and his fellow academics have parsed the results of a series of extra surveys it ran last year, with responses from nearly 3000 people (69% male, 27% female, 4% non-binary). It turns out that while roughly one in three men prefer playing female toons – skewing more toward older men than younger, intriguingly – less than 10% of women choose male toons.

“Overall, players are most likely to prefer playable characters of the same gender. This is true for players who identify as male, female, and non-binary. Notably, female players have the strongest preference for playing a character of the same gender (76%), whereas non-binary gender players – while still most likely to prefer non-binary gender characters—prefer non-binary gender characters only slightly more than female characters (38% vs. 33%).”

Yee offers a few theories for the split: It’s harder for men to “transgress gender norms” than women in western society (so anonymous games provide that outlet); female toons might be treated better or incorrectly considered weaker by other players; or the male players might just be using the toons as outlets for objectifying and controlling female bodies.

Ultimately, that means that even in a game with a heavy majority of male players, there’s still a huge demand for female characters. Hint, hint, industry. It also means that “in a typical core PC/console game, about 60% of the female avatars you meet are played by a male player.” But you probably knew that.

Finally, Yee points out that while the median age for the current sample was 24, this current batch of data is consistent with studies from 20 years ago in MMOs.

“For example, back in 2001, I found that among EverQuest players, men are about 4-6 times more likely to play a female character than female players are to play a male character. And in 2003, with a broader MMO sample, I found that it’s older men who are more likely to play female characters in MMOs. In 2005, specifically with a sample of WoW players, I estimated that 55% of female avatars in WoW are played by a male player. With the MMO surveys, it was never clear if these patterns were unique or idiosyncratic to MMOs. The broader cross-genre data here shows that these patterns are likely consistent across many genres and have been remarkably stable for at least 2 decades.”

Our community took the Game Motivation test back in 2016 and then again at the top of 2021 to see whether our gamer type had changed in those five years. You can check out our coverage of other Quantic reports right here:

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Jim Bergevin Jr

I have always rolled both, more or less of equal proportion. For me it is less identifying with the gender or character and more about creating something that is it’s own entity, like a character in a story. I’m not even that much of a role-player, but have been an amateur writer since I was a kid. My gaming characters are just extensions of those characters that were part of my stories.

vgees
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vgees

FFXI was the first MMORPG in which I played a female character. I had heard about guys doing this and was curious because I had never really considered it before. There were some weird interactions with other players, but I found that it just suited me better.

I do enjoy the expanded cosmetic choices, but today I do it because it is a lot closer to the real me. Not only that, today in FFXIV at least, playing across your gender seems to be more accepted.

Turing fail
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Turing fail

Just listened to the podacast where this issue was revisited, and it occurred to me that one of the reasons I enjoy games so much is that they are some of the few situations in life where I have so much control over what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do it.

I design my characters as representations of me in the game world, and the closer they are to me, the more immersive my experiences, the more complete my escape from the drudgery of IRL.

So why shouldn’t women- who as a group are denied the same levels of agency that men enjoy in most societies- want to represent themselves as themselves in games to better enjoy a world that could be- that should be- if only for a while?

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Zero_1_Zerum

I usually play as a female in single player games if there’s an option for it, or I can make a player customized character. I like having a pretty character to look at … And I’m interested in seeing how the writers treat female characters in the story. I mostly play RPGs, so I’m seeing what “role” they made for the player as female.

But, I usually play as male in multiplayer games. I don’t want to stand out and want to avoid any and all possible awkward situations. Heck, most of the time, I find a full face helmet or mask, so no one can even see what my character looks like…which, come to think about it, might make him stand out more.

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MaynardKeenanX

TaIking wow; hideous maIe troIIs and orcs made my choices super easy

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Ardra Diva

Vertebrates start off female… women have no Y chromosome, but men have an X. Maybe it’s just that simple.

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Ken from Chicago

More woman are grossed out by the concept of being a guy than vice versa?

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NeoWolf

I am somewhat baffled by those who state they only play their gender because they cannot relate to the other. It is such BS reasoning.. I mean can you relate to being an Elf, or a Gnome or Tauren or a Drenai or a Dummer or a Khajit or a (place name of appropriate other MMO species here???) of course not!

And yet you still make characters of them, and why because you like the look of them. it is ALL about the aesthetic and think it would be cool to play them, why does gender have to be different? its such nonsense.

The opposite gender may have their genitals in a different place and a slightly different silhouette, but they aren’t aliens.. they are not SO different you cannot relate any more than a species that lives a thousand years and has pointy ears or a furry tail is unrelatable.. use your imaginations its ROLE PLAY, no one is scoring you on accuracy lol

Play what the heck you want to play, don’t be worried about what “others” think.. remember MMO-RPGs, you aren’t supposed to be playing “you?” the player, you are playing a made-up and entirely fictional character of your creation. There is no need/reason OR requirement that means that has to be you, your gender, and your personality. Anyone playing MMORPG’s AS themselves is SO not getting the genre to begin with.

And if someone is genuinely struggling with it, I would HIGHLY recommend you go do some Pen and Paper roleplaying first, and get used to playing made-up characters that are NOT you first, it will 100% help!

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Ken from Chicago

That’s just it, in survey after survey, despite the wide variety of races available to play, by far, the race most likely to be played in mmos is:

HUMAN.

For the love of all that’s good and decent, why would you choose the most boring choice? You’re already human. It’s like people choosing which superhero they’d be and choosing Batman. Then again, the most popular ice cream flavor is vanilla, the most boring flavor. Why? Chocolate is right there.

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Bryan Correll

Real vanilla is actually a quite complex flavor. We just take it for granted like salt and black pepper.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

I’ve almost always rolled human characters first over any alien species. Even in SWTOR, all but one character is a human – that other one is a cyborg without overwhelming cybernetics. I do eventually roll other species, especially if there are racial bonuses that come with them.

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Sukoa Dokusha

I technically play female characters as a male myself, but that’s because I define myself as an androgynous, more ‘effeminate’ male in the real world. Every male model in every game ever comes in two flavors: the Incredible Hulk, or a gnome. The other option is just better as long as I’m able to ignore certain, uh… assets.

In XIV in particular, I’m able to crank… sliders… to the lowest, wear loose or heavy clothing (or armor because boob armor doesn’t really exist), and I even have a plugin that changes the pronouns NPCs refer to my character as to the male versions. As far as the MMO space goes, that’s the best option I have.

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Utakata

I wonder though, if this balances things up in the game world that more reflects female to males populations in real life. Meaning there’s more an even split when it comes player character genders because of this.

…also G.I.R.L.: Gnome in Real Life. <3