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


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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