Gender Roles and Behaviors in MMO Games

Aion: An Elyos and and Asmodian in Aerial Combat. The Elyos on the left looks like a human with white feathery wings. She has navy blue armor and a glowing, fuchsia sword. The Asmodian on the right has dark feathery wings, heavy dark armor with red and orange glowing accents, and he wields an axe.

Aion: An Elyos and and Asmodian in Aerial Combat

There are some interesting findings from a recent paper from the Virtual World Exploratorium group, “Looking for gender (LFG): Gender roles and behaviors among online gamers”, to be published in the Journal of Communication, that reveals a few interesting differences between female and male MMORPG players, including:

Female players fall into two distinct categories: stereotypically feminine players, typically brought into the game by a partner, and very hard-core players.
The hard-core women are more intense than their male counterparts: “The top 10% of male players played an average of 48.86 hours per week, while the top 10% of female players played an average of 56.64 hours per week.”
Female players are healthier offline than the males. This is especially true among older players.
There are a surprisingly large number of bisexual females playing, but not males. While male bisexual players stuck to the national average, females were about five times higher than the national baseline rate.
Females under-report their playing time more than males.
  • Female players fall into two distinct categories: stereotypically feminine players, typically brought into the game by a partner, and very hard-core players.
  • The hard-core women are more intense than their male counterparts: “The top 10% of male players played an average of 48.86 hours per week, while the top 10% of female players played an average of 56.64 hours per week.”
  • Female players are healthier offline than the males. This is especially true among older players.
  • There are a surprisingly large number of bisexual females playing, but not males. While male bisexual players stuck to the national average, females were about five times higher than the national baseline rate.
  • Females under-report their playing time more than males.

If you’re interested in more details, you can read the full paper at this link.

What do you think about these research results?

[Via Terra Nova]

About Brinstar

Brinstar is an Editor (on hiatus) at The Border House blog. She is a cisgender, temporarily able-bodied, Asian, culturally-mixed woman from the United States. She is a longtime gamer and works in the videogame industry as a community manager. You can find her blogging about games at Acid for Blood and on Twitter at @Brinstar.
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19 Responses to Gender Roles and Behaviors in MMO Games

  1. Melponeme_k says:

    So we aren’t the fatty fat McFattertons that our male gamer counterparts swear we are?

    Considering that most us females don’t admit to our gender unless we have to, I wonder what the margin for error was in this report.

  2. Mantheos says:

    I think it’s proving that girls make up a significant portion of the gaming market, something I did not know before coming to this site. Thank you, Brinstar, for informing me of that in a previous post. I think that If people get more information and become aware that more girls play videogames, then it can break the “fatty fat McFattertons” (where did you get that?) stereotypes.

    I’ve met a lot of women gamers, and more than a few were attractive. But I must clarify, I have become great friends with girl gamers who are not supermodel-like (I’m sorry i didn’t know how else to phrase it). Heck, I’m in college and have met a wide variety of people in general. It really has broadened my horizons.

    I won’t lie, when I meet an attractive female gamer, there is a part of me that thinks, “Yay! A hot girl who plays video games!” But there is also a part of me that feels happy and refreshed because I get to play video games with someone who’s different. One can only take so many 12 year olds playing Call of Duty…

    • koipond says:

      Mantheos, just to let you know that kind of thinking doesn’t help. I hear that you’re trying to be, “wow, that’s awesome” but if you take a moment there you’ll see that you spent less time talking about the fact that women make up a larger portion of the market and more time on the “wow, they are kinda hot too.”

      As for the results, I’m not particularly surprised. What surprises me more is the blinders that a lot of publishers, marketers and male gamers have when it comes to results like this.

      • Mantheos says:

        You are correct. I do focus on that more. Being a guy, I do tend to think a lot about attractive girls. I blame the testosterone.

        But I am also surprised that game developers do not know (or won’t admit) that there are more female gamers. I didn’t know the statistics beforehand, but then again, a purpose of this site is to educate.

        • Brinstar says:

          Mantheos, I think what koipond was trying to get at is the fact that your focus is kind of self-directed and selfish. You’re focusing more on your pleasure in admiring attractive women who are gamers, rather than focusing on being happy in the fact that women are enjoying games. And it’s that kind of focus that kind of detracts from your supportive position because it feels more like you’re deriving more happiness from looking at attractive women (objectifying women and denying their agency) than from there being more women gamers (which acknowledges womens’ choices to be gamers and their agency).

          • koipond says:

            Merci Brinstar. What I was getting at with more 101 language attached.

          • Mantheos says:

            I understand. Sorry for sounding so superficial. I tried clarifying that looks are not the most important thing to me (personality is), but that was poorly worded and probably lost in my whole paragraph about attractive female gamers. My apologies.

          • koipond says:

            Mantheos. The whole point we’re trying to make is that commenting on women gamers by comparing them to what you find important is what is undermining what you’re saying. You could try to phrase is a bajillion different ways and because it’s in relation to what you want it will always ring false.

            It’s not about you and what you want, it’s about the fact that (as usual) the stereotypes and “norms” that get shoved down our throats about women in gaming are false.

  3. Lake Desire says:

    i wonder how they qualify “healthier.” thin =/= healthy.

    • Lake Desire :
      i wonder how they qualify “healthier.” thin =/= healthy.

      Oh no it does not. I am currently at the lowest weight I’ve been in ten years. I’m a long long long way from healthy — I’m losing weight because I’m sick. Pain and meds and brain issues all come together and I manage to eat once a day or so. Twice if it’s a good day. Sometimes eating is too much work physically — the muscles in my face hurt — and sometimes I just can’t figure out how to do it — executive function problems in psych jargon.

      People tell me how great I look and I want to scream at them. None of this is great.

      Sorry. I’m having a really bad week. Year. Something.

    • Twyst says:

      when i read it, i had assumed healthier = healthier attitudes and inter-personal relationship-wise, but it was all assumption without basis. Interesting to see the different assumptions people make regarding health.

      • koipond says:

        I read that too. Better at inter-personal relationships and on taking care of themselves rather than some sort of societal standard.

        However, considering that there is only one female contributor (going by names, which may make me wrong) I may be wrong and disappointed.

  4. Simon B. says:

    I miss this study in my files, thank you very much. I think will read it entirely in a couple of days with a lot of attention. I was wondering if some of you have got interesting critics about this study or is everybody happy with it?

  5. dubbc says:

    Fail sampling target for statistic study. Players habits and populations are bias due to EQ1. Why dont they use UO? Accessible data sample doesn’t mean representable study.

    • Simon B. says:

      Could you develop a little bit more? I really don’t understand why EQ2 players habits and population should be biased due to the first game. I think EQ2 is more similar to WoW in population and habits.
      Moreover, UO is typically a MMORPG from another generation, and it would have not be very representative of the current MMORPG generation (and I aso assume that less female player has been involved in UO, but that’s only an assumption).

  6. Alethea says:

    “Female players fall into two distinct categories: stereotypically feminine players, typically brought into the game by a partner, and very hard-core players.”

    Almost all of the female MMO players I know do not fit into either of these categories (I play two MMOs with two different groups of friends). I only know one woman who fits the first category and maybe one or two who fit the latter.

    • Amananta says:

      Very interesting study!
      I sort of fit into both the categories there Alethea – I started playing WoW because real life friends prompted me, and four and a half years later I find myself obsessively checking leader boards in an effort to stay on top. I’ve always considered myself to be fairly competitive, for a woman. Perhaps I shouldn’t even qualify that statement with “for a woman”.

      • koipond says:

        Habits like that are hard to break, aren’t they? Especially when you hear that phrase bandied about the place. Just another small reminder about how people are socialized. Women don’t compete, right? That would be unladylike.

  7. Schala says:

    “”Female players fall into two distinct categories: stereotypically feminine players, typically brought into the game by a partner, and very hard-core players.”

    Almost all of the female MMO players I know do not fit into either of these categories (I play two MMOs with two different groups of friends). I only know one woman who fits the first category and maybe one or two who fit the latter.”

    The study says 27% of female gamers are brought into the game by partners, while it’s true of 1% of male gamers. However, this doesn’t speak of their casual-hardcore way of playing, only that they didn’t go towards it on their own initially.

    They didn’t seem to measure how many were hardcore players. This usually depends on the game – if it’s frustratingly hard, the only ones catered to and playing for long will be hardcore, if not, many will be casual.

    While Hypothesis 5:

    “H5: Male players who play with a romantic partner will be more aggressive than men who do not play with romantic partners; female players in a romantic playing couple will be less aggressive than females who do not play with romantic partners.”

    Sounds like its measured weirdly. Physical aggression in a game that consists of killing enemies? Can we measure aggression between serial killers? If they measured real-life aggression, I wonder on what measure and with what question they did so. And would add that the desirability bias WOULD come in and make men overestimate and women underestimate their aggressivity.

    “I think EQ2 is more similar to WoW in population and habits.”

    Yeah sure, 150k people versus 5 million. Equal in population…

    The study has some problem of self-selection with 2000 women for 8000 men answering the survey. Putting in question wether counting “the top 10% hardcore” doesn’t count more female hardcore players, simply because the less hardcore didn’t respond to the survey at all (or do they really represent only 20% of EQ2 players?).

    They’re basically counting 40 women as playing on average 8 hours more than the average of 200 men. Since in the MANOVA they only counted 400 women and 2000 men.

    BMI doesn’t account for bone weight not always correlating to height, hence, BMI is failing to consider that “large-boned” people are still healthy at a higher BMI than 25, while “small-boned” people (like me) are still healthy at a lower BMI than 18.5 (I sat at 16.5-17.0 BMI for years, with no ill effect).

    It might be something else than bones, like, I had very little muscle mass at any time. Any amount even before we get into “athletic people” would make someone seem less healthy. A difference of 10 lbs at 5’6″ makes for a difference of 1.8 BMI points or so (115 = 18.5, 153 = 25). Basically, it purports to count fat, while it counts fat+muscles+bones. It’s a bad measure for most.

    Hence their health measure is faulty because of the tool used.

    “However, it was telling that the females underreported their time
    at a rate nearly three times that of the males. With games expected to be male spaces, these females had difficulty expressing the extent of their involvement, even on an anonymous survey.”

    I found the “people underestimate their play time” measure lacking some. Saying that men on average underestimate actual average play time by 1 hour and women by 3 hours, simply tells me men are slightly better at estimating their play time. It’s not people thinking “Hey, this is masculine, I’ll underreport my playtime”. If it was like playing 25 and saying 15, or playing 50 and saying 20, it would be social desirability. As it stands, the difference is way too little to say anything. They’d been better to estimate amongst the hardcore gamers (who play way more hours) if the same phenomenon occurred.

    “Our data suggest that female players—not males—are the real ‘‘hardcore’’ MMO
    players. From a political economy perspective, we might ask why game developers
    are not more actively catering to this group.”

    Well, MMOs have shifted from catering to hardcore to catering to both hardcore and casual – because it increases their subscription numbers. They won’t typically shift back to catering to more hardcore players, regardless of sex.

    “In families with only one computer, for example, how
    might access to MMO playtime be negotiated, and how are women faring in such
    transactions?”

    They buy another computer. Unless you’re having 50$ a month discretionary income, you can buy a decent playable computer in a very timely manner. Computers able to play most current MMO can be acquired for as little as 200$, you don’t need a 5000$ alienware rig.

    “Inaccuracy was thought to be simple noise in the data. This can no longer be the case because not only do players systematically underestimate the time they play but also do so differently by gender.”

    Complete BS based on the data they gathered. It really is noise in the data if its less than 5-10 hours off. And not everybody counts their time (and certainly playtime per week is not available for players to see in games), accurately or not. They merely estimate. I say often that I play 8+ hours a day (everyday or almost), but some weeks I play less and end up playing only 30-40 hours, others I play more and end up with 80 hours. I don’t count it meticulously, because it’s immaterial to me.

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