When you're adventuring as a player-designed character in an open-world, online role-playing game, you can be anyone. Chances are, however, you'll still play like, well, yourself.
One of the cool things about online and gaming avatars is that they afford us the possibility of playing someone, anyone else for a few hours. And for every gamer who tries to create a perfect replica of themselves in a digital world, there are many more who prefer to play as someone as far different from themselves as possible.
Also, there are dudes who like to play as women so they can watch digital lady butts shimmy around the screen for a while.
But the larger question here is, can we, scientifically, tell the difference between a man and a woman playing as a female character? Based on this study, it seems like the answer is, largely, yes, we can.
Here's what happened -- researchers across the United States and Canada from five separate universities analayzed the behavior of 375 gamers playing a custom World of Warcraft quest. Their goal was to analyze player behavior based on gender, with a focus on how they follow or buck gender roles created by societal expectation.
And what they discovered is that there are certain behavioral differences. For one thing, men are much more likely to play as the opposite gender than women. 23 percent of men played as women, while only 7 percent of women played as men.
And that's not the only way a player's true gender is revealed. Compared with women gamers, males playing with female avatars tend to move backward more often, jump with greater frequency, stay away from other party members, and choose more traditionally attractive avatars. Interestingly, it says that these male gamers often utilize a larger number of emoticons to "act female," in order to, effectively, throw other players off the proverbial scent.
There's no denying the implication -- enforced gender roles can, more often than not, dictate behavior, whether we intend them to or not.
What I'd really like to see is further analysis, because what we're talking about now seems to be primarily a cisgender-oriented study. What about gender outliers? Transgender, intersex, gender queer, drag performers and other folks who don't quite fit comfortably in the gender they were assigned at birth? How does their interpretation of gender roles versus expectation impact the way they play online?