Online gamers conforming to gendered stereotypes

Posted on October 3, 2016

A new study from the University of South Australia has identified that players of the popular online game World of Warcraft conform to gender stereotypes based on the avatars they are controlling.

Alyssa Pearce, as part of her PhD studies, carried out conversation analysis from semi-private WoW chat channels. The chat log data was analysed looking in particular at gender stereotypes known to exist in video games using conversation analytic techniques.

The study showed that players adopt language to match their characters according to gender.  For example a player controlling a strong male character may be protective or “macho”, and a player controlling a female character may act like a damsel in distress or overly flirtatious.

Analysis of "Birth of Venus recreation" in Alyssa Maria Pearce (2016): Exploring performance of gendered identities through language in World of Warcraft, International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction, DOI: 10.1080/10447318.2016.1230965

“While there is certainly plenty of research about how games are making us obese, violent, and anti-social, there isn’t so much on games themselves as a site for meaningful interaction.” Pearce states, adding “In terms of gender identity specifically, sexism in the gaming industry is still quite pervasive; from overall storylines, to character armour designs, to the general attitudes of gamers. In an environment that has the potential to be quite biased and adhere to rigid gender stereotypes, how players use language to perform gender is both complex and fascinating.”

Although a recent study identified that female sexualisation in video game playable characters is finally decreasing, this new study suggests how important appropriate representation is in video games to shape player behaviour, and the important role game developers have in potentially influencing player behaviour.  Or it could be that regardless of the title or content, players will adopt gender stereotypes they either relate to, or aspire to become, in an anonymous setting.

Do you adopt gender stereotypes during online gaming banter?

Pearce’s paper entitled study “Exploring performance of gendered identities through language in World of Warcraft, International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction” has been published in the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction.