MMORPG玩家之间争论不休的话题之一就是异性虚拟角色的使用。这种行为出现频率很高，但并非人人都乐在其中。有些人将此视为减少性别老套的机会，也有些人将其视为欺骗和 骚扰的工具。玩家的担忧是可以理解的：不论好坏，虚拟性别转换有可能改变游戏的体验和设计方式。但我们对这种现象究竟了解多少呢？为了扩展我们的知识，我们将分析其中 的不同研究，包括它发生的频率，发生的原因，以及对玩家产生的影响。我们将通过三篇文章讨论这项研究，并以这个问题为开端——谁会这么做，它的发生频率是多少？
据不同研究结果显示，这一举动相当普遍：在119名MMORPG用户有57% (Hussain and Griffiths, 2008)受访者，在50名《EverQuest》玩家中有60%(Griffiths, Davis and Chappell, 2004) 受访者曾经扮演过异性虚拟角色。除此之外，在4512名台湾地区的《Fairyland Online》玩家中，有三分之一至少拥有一个异性角色(Lou, Park, Cha, Lei & Chen, 2013)。
玩家性别似乎会对这一行为产生影响。关于MMORPG玩家的研究显示，68%女性和54%的男性会使用与自己相异的性别角色（但该研究并没有提到相关频率） (Hussain & Griffiths, 2008)。此外，《Fairyland Online》的女性玩家比男性玩家更有扮演异性角色的倾向(Lou, Park, Cha, Lei & Chen, 2013)。虽然这些数据看似表明女性玩家在游戏中切换角色的 现象更为普遍，但其他研究却得到了相反的结果：在《魔兽世界》这款游戏中，53.3%的男性和18.5%女性拥有异性角色 (Yee, Ducheneaut, Yao & Nelson, 2011)。这表明，根据 每款游戏的特点，男性和女性切换性别的比例也会有有所不同。
在拥有异性角色的玩家中，男性切换其虚拟角色性别的比例似乎更高。男性《EverQuest》玩家拥有更多异性角色（平均1.25个），女性的这一数据相对较低（0.44个）(Yee, 2001)。《魔兽世界》的情况亦是如此，男性（0.33）比女性（0.09）拥有更多异性角色 (Yee, Ducheneaut, Yao & Nelson, 2011)。这也许是因为男性更易于发现切换性别所得到 的优势，使用多个异性虚拟角色有助于他们更有效地获益。
虽然MMORPG玩家通常拥有一个以上的角色，他们一般会更偏爱其中一者。这个“主要”角色使用频率就会更高，完成更多任务的机率也更高，并因此收获更多经验，更快升级。但 是，异性虚拟角色却并非这个主要角色的最佳人选。例如，拥有异性角色的《Fairyland Online》玩家更可能以相同性别的角色作为主角(Lou, Park, Cha, Lei & Chen, 2013)。 除此之外，Yee在2011年的调查结果也显示，仅有13.3%的《EverQuest》玩家拥将异性角色作为主角。在这个群体中，男性玩家以异性角色为主角的比例（15.7%）明显高于女性玩 家（2.5%）。在2009年，Huh和Williams针对6122名《EverQuest》玩家执行的一项游戏内部调查及其搜集的数据也得到了相似的结果：15.5%玩家以异性角色作为游戏主角，有此倾 向的男性玩家比例（17.4%）高于女性玩家（8.2%）。最后，《魔兽世界》中的男性玩家使用异性主角的比例（29.3%）也同样高于女性（7.5%）。这可能意味着男性玩家已经将异 性角色的使用从性别探索扩展到了活动层次。
网络RPG通常会给予玩家许多自由。他们可以选择打怪或是探索地下城，遇到新人或增强自己的团队，使用相同或不同性别的虚拟角色。虽然最后这种举动在今天看来是再正常不过 的事情了，许多MMORPG玩家却难以解释其中原因。网络论坛对于这一普遍现象的话题就是：为什么？为什么玩家要反串异性虚拟角色？他们从异性角色中看到什么？这能够提供什 么好处？我们不难想象其中原因。也许是因为男性角色夸张的肌肉令男性玩家不那么舒服，也许是因为女性玩家是为了避免其他玩家的性骚扰。困难的地方就在于试图系统地证明 性别切换的真正原因。在最近几年，许多科学家开始研究这一课程。以下就是他们一些最有趣的发现：
在2001年，Nicholas Yee针对成百上千名《EverQuest》玩家展开了多项选择和自由回复的调查，发现27.4%受访者出于角色扮演的原因而使用异性角色。有些玩家称角色扮演的关 键在于扮演一个与自己截然不同的人物，切换性别只是其中一种方式而已。还有些玩家表示自己选择异性角色 是因为感觉“符合”自己所创建的角色。
据Yee调查显示，有11.8%的《EverQuest》玩家选择切换性别以便获得一些优势，但玩家可从角色性别中获得多少优势的情况则不尽相同。男性和女性玩家都认为大家会更认真地对 待男性角色。这可能会影响到玩家的表现，因为MMORPG包含了一些团队合作活动，例如分配任务和讨论团队战略。另一方面，有些玩家认为，使用女性角色可以让自己获得更好的 待遇，甚至是来自其他玩家的免费道具。这些礼物之后就会转移至自己的主要角色。这种欺骗行为可能让人们鄙视这些“使诈”切换性别的玩家。
女性角色得到的优待有时候会让她们在交易领域获得一些优势，这类玩家会发现他们的顾客接受更高的价格或者免费出售自己所得的道具。这也许能够解释为何在《Fairyland Online》中，女性角色更可能从交易中获得好处，以及为何女性角色要以更高的价格出售药水。但Lou及其同事认为，这可能与女性玩家更关注游戏的社交层面有关。这可能会让药 水对她们来说没多少价值，但对更为成就导向型的男性玩家来说却仍然很重要。
使用异性角色也会因游戏情况而对玩家表现产生不同影响。在《EverQuest II》的女性玩家中，这种影响是消极的：女性玩家使用同性主角所完成的任务，明显比那些采用男性主 角的女性玩家更多。这未必就意味着女性玩家在使用女性角色时更喜欢或更擅长这些活动。另一个解释或许就是使用异性主角的玩家较不关注传统MMORPG目标，这种效应在女性之 间更为强烈。但在一款不同的游戏中，其结果却可能截然不同。在《Fairyland Online》中，比起使用异性角色的女性玩家，采用同性角色的女性玩家升到50级的时间更久。这表 明并不仅表明使用男性角色会令女性玩家发挥不同表现，而且这种行为还会让她们在升级中获得极大优势。另一方面，这可能也只是意味着更有经验的玩家更可能使用异性角色（ 这可能是因为他们更有冒险精神）。
先不考虑其他因素，虚拟角色的性别本身似乎就能够影响玩家表现。在最近针对120名美国大学生的试验中，实验人员要求参与者从一个平等分配虚拟角色性别的随机系统中选择一 个角色。在接受自己的角色之后，参与者就必须在两名异性虚拟角色面前解决一道数学题。不管参与者生物层面上属于什么性别，男性角色的表现总是明显优于女性角色。这表明 参与者对自己行为的期望至少有一部分是建立在自己角色性别的基础之上的，这一点就能够影响其表现情况。
虚拟角色性别对表现的影响似乎与玩家对任务的看法有关（例如任务是更适用于男性还是女性）。在2011年的一项试验时，142名德国大学生接受了电子游戏描述，并创造了自己想 使用的一个虚拟角色。之后他们要选择自己虚拟角色的性别，然后接受两个游戏场景描述，并开发出另外两个虚拟角色。最初，受试者更倾向于选择自己本身的真实性别，但遇到 特定游戏或场景时，情况就会发生变化。无论他们本身的生物性别或性别角色倾向（更为女性化还是男性化），他们都会为更为男性化的游戏（例如《侠盗猎车手：圣安地列斯》 、《孤岛危机》、《Urban Chaos》）创造男性角色，并针对更为女性化的游戏（例如《模拟人生》、《My Animal Hospital》）创造女性角色。除此之外，受试者还会为追击场景 创造带有男性特征的角色，为目击采访场景创造女性特征的角色。显然，玩家认为更为男性或女性的角色更适合某些特定的挑战。如果不能获得任何好处，玩家就更偏爱那些代表 自己生物性别的角色。
不同调查发现特定个性类型和使用异性角色之间存在关系。例如，《EverQuest》中拥有异性角色的玩家更为开放性，这种开放性表明他们富有想象力和好奇心，容易被美丽和新颖 的体验所吸引。对这类玩家来说，外形可能是其定制角色过程中的重要影响因素。《EverQuest》中拥有异性角色的玩家的责任心较低，这表明他们对系统性的工作和成就并不是很上心。这类玩家可能更喜欢探索角色定制所能提供的不同选项，而不是仔细地分析如何创建更有竞争力的虚拟角色。这种行为会增加他们创造和使用异性角色的机率。有项10年前 针对1040名《魔兽世界》玩家展开的调查却发现了不同的结果。拥有异性角色的玩家较为内向，即他们更为保守和害羞。拥有这种特质的玩家对满足自己个人喜好的角色定制更感 兴趣（例如选择一个种族或性别，让角色形象看起来更棒），而不是根据游戏需求来选择角色。拥有异性角色的玩家还有较高的情绪稳定性，这表明他们更为平静，富有安全感和 自信。这类玩家与另一名异性角色在艾泽拉斯（国家名称）中同行时不会那么不自在。
找到玩家为何使用异性角色，这是一个复杂的问题。其中原因可能因人、游戏或场景而异。但其中最盛行的使用原因，可能与积极目标有关，例如提升游戏经验或减少性别刻板印 象。这可能就是玩家接受这种行为的关键原因。不幸的是，其中也不乏消极使用异性角色的现象。例如隐藏我们的真实性别以欺骗或骚扰其他玩家，这可能会对MMORPG的未来产生 重要影响。开发者应该移除与角色定制相关的功能，或者迫使玩家显示自身的性别认证。无论好坏，切换性别正成为一种普遍做法，玩家和开发者都应该想想这种现象未来会对游 戏产生什么影响。
使用异性虚拟角色已经成了一种普遍现象。鉴于于游戏所提供不同性别定制机会，出现这种情况并不令人意外。玩家可以借此尝试不同的外观造型和行为，并在探索自己新个性 的同时创建虚拟角色。这些虚拟角色不但是玩家辛勤创建的产品，还是他们自身的扩展版。但我们会向角色倾注自己的多少特点呢，我们又能从中得到什么？我们究竟知不知道自 己的这一杰作如何影响我们自身？它究竟是我们保留在游戏记录中的自身行为，还是其他元素？
心理学家似乎认为从他人的视角出发，有可能改变我们的想法和行为。有时候，仅仅将我们自身置于他人的位置来思考问题就已经足够激发效果。那么在一个虚拟环境中具体化一 个角色的沉浸体验又能产生什么影响？这正是一群调查人员在设计一系列分析人类虚拟化身的影响时所产生的想法。在这些试验中，他们给予参与者一个拥有独特“生理”外形的 虚拟角色。看到他们自己在虚拟镜子中的形象时，受试者必须与另一名由一个演员控制的角色互动。结果显示，拥有迷人外形的虚拟角色的参与者，明显会站得更靠近其他角色， 并且在受访中能够透露更多信息。在一项涉及金钱共享的相似任务中，使用更高大角色的受试者所分得到钱远超过拥有那些矮小角色的受访者。数据分析还显示，那些身材较矮的 个人比起正常身高、以及个头较高的受访者正可能接受不公平的待遇（72%）。结果显示，那些拥有理想外形的虚拟角色可以让玩家呈现更有自信的行为，至少在虚拟世界是如此。 调查人员认为这是因为虚拟环境中的人倾向于做出自己认为其他人所期待的行为，这一现象就是所谓的普罗透斯效应（游戏邦注：即如果我们的虚拟化身很高，我们可能会更自信 ）。
上述试验可能证明了普罗透斯效应的存在，但实验定结果却并不一定能够反映现实世界的情况（在这种情况下指的是虚拟世界）。最近有项研究以现了MMORPG中出现这种现象的又 一证据。2009年Yee\Bailenson和Ducheneaut收集了来自三个《魔兽世界》服务器的数据，其中涉及76843名个人角色的相关信息。在分析数据之后，他们发现更高的虚拟角色一般 可呈现更高级的发展情况。这也许可以表明角色身高对于其升级情况的积极影响。此外，在那些富有吸引力的角色中，高个与矮个角色之间也存在较大区别。结果还显示，当虚拟 角色个子较高时，富有吸引力的角色级别比没有吸引力者更高。有趣的是，这种关系在矮个角色之间却是相反的，即不具吸引力的角色在升级过程中的表现超过了富有吸引力的角 色。这表明角色的吸引力对升级具有积极影响，但仅限于角色的身高。作者认为发生这一现象的原因在于，吸引力虽然可以让角色起起来更自信，它也会让矮小的角色看起来更有 趣，而这却是无助玩玩家升级的特点。另一个解释可能就是，拥有额外的理想属性可能会让玩家更清楚自己的虚拟形象。由此来看，富有魅力可能会让角色身高对用户来说更明显 ，从而触发普罗透斯效应。
假如虚拟角色的形象有可能影响玩家行为，那么我们就不难推断由某一属性引发的效应与角色的性别一样重要。最近的两项调查似乎能够支持这一观点。2009年关于《EverQuest II》玩家的调查显示，拥有异性角色的女性玩家比那些拥有同性角色的女性玩家、男性玩家（无论其使用哪种性别的虚拟角色）更少使用文本聊天方式。作者认为女性玩家会根据 自己角色性别的需要来采取行动——男性的行动多于语言。在另一项调查中，《魔兽世界》中女性虚拟角色治疗的机率更高，而男性角色在PvP战斗中的注册比例更高。这表明，无 论玩家的真实异别是什么，他们都倾向于根据虚拟人物的传统性别角色来行动。在这种情况下就是女性助人，男性战斗。这一效应还得到了最近一项针对《Uncharted Waters Online》玩家观察的支持。在分析游戏角色数据库和聊天截取的文本之后，调查人员发现男性角色比女性角色更可能寻找间接帮助。这一行为与传统的男性行为期望一致：男性并 不需要帮助（所以他们真正需要帮助时会很含蓄）。虽然这还不足以构成结论，但之前的结果已指出我们已经有足够的基础相信虚拟角色性别可能影响玩家行为。换句话说， MMORPG用户似乎会根据自己所想的他人对角色性别的期望而采取行动。
虚拟角色的异性可能影响玩家行为这一事实也许还是减少性别刻板性的重要启示。我们都看到了，切换性别允许玩家下以异性眼光来看待不同问题。这可以让他们更好地理解自己 必须面临的挑战和优势 ，从而呈现更具现实感的另一种形象。虽然我们找不到关于性别切换与人们对异性态度的影响这种著作，有些调查人员研究了虚拟化身对其他老套类型的影 响。例如，在2006年的一个试验中，使用年长角色的参与者在虚拟世界中会明显呈现对待年长者的积极态度。但是，角色的年龄与其他两个考量因素（问卷调查表的态度和故事中 的老年角色的描述）并不存在明显的联系。在另一个试图找到具体化特定种族角色效应的试验中，他们要求参与将自己想象成照片上的一位黑人或白人模特。一群参与者还得到了 基于真实模特的虚拟角色。他们的任务包括在虚拟镜子中自我观察，并与其他角色互动，仿佛自己正在进行一项工作面试。拥有黑人模特的参与者对传统白人明显呈现出积极态度 。作者认为这可能是因为具体化一名不同种族的人，一般会鼓励那种刻板化的态度。除此之外，参与者还要将自己想象成另一名没有什么特殊的人，无论他们是白人还是黑人。这 表明将自己想象成不同种族的人并不足以激发种族态度的可衡量变化。最后，其他衡量要素——自尊程度和两个关于信念和对非籍美国人的态度的应用调查却并没有发现什么明显 的结果。这两项调查表明在虚拟环境中具体化一个不同的角色可能影响对队的态度，但结果太不一致了，所以无法作为结论。换句话说，我们需要更多信息以便使用虚拟化身作为
使用虚拟角色所能昨生的心理影响可能超过了我们的预期。这可能悄悄改变玩家的态度，信念和行为。有时候甚至是发生在他们根本不知道的前提下。但这未必是一件坏事。普罗 透斯效应为教育和医疗领域创造了一个不同的机遇。基于游戏的虚拟角色可用于减少校园中的种族刻板印象，或者帮助没有安全感的人呈现更高的自信（至少是在虚拟环境中）。 但在我们推广虚拟角色的益处之前，还需要额外调查。以缓慢而安全的步伐推进科学，试图跳过其中的步伐可能会给玩家、开发者和调查人员带来不确定性。拓展阅读：篇目1，篇目2，篇目3（本文由游戏邦编译，转载请注明来源，或咨询微信zhengjintiao）
Avatars of the Opposite Sex. Part 1 of 3: Everybody does it!
By Hugo Aranzaes
One of the most debated topics between MMORPG players is the use of avatars from the opposite sex. The practice has become a frequent occurrence but not everyone is happy about it. Where some see an opportunity for reducing stereotypes between genders others see a tool for deceit and harassment. The player’s worries are understandable: For better or worse virtual gender swapping has the potential to change the way games are played and designed. But how much do we really know about this phenomena? To expand our knowledge we are going to analyze different studies regarding how frequently it happens, why it happens and what effects does it has on the players. We are going to do this in a three-part article and we are going to start with the following question: Who does it and how frequently?
According to different studies, the practice is fairly common: 57% of 119 MMORPGs users (Hussain and Griffiths, 2008), and 60% of 50 EverQuest players (Griffiths, Davis and Chappell, 2004) had used, at some point, a character of the opposite gender. Additionally, one third of 4,512 Taiwanese players of Fairyland Online owned at least one character from the opposite sex (Lou, Park, Cha, Lei & Chen, 2013).
The player’s gender seem to influence this practice. The mentioned study on MMORPG players showed that 68% of women and 54% of men tend to use characters from the opposite gender (although it doesn’t say how frequently) (Hussain & Griffiths, 2008). Also, female players of Fairyland Online were significantly more likely to have a character from the opposite gender than their male counterparts (Lou, Park, Cha, Lei & Chen, 2013). Although the numbers seem to suggest a higher prevalence of gender swapping between female players, on other studies the numbers invert: In the specific case of World of Warcraft, 53.3% of men and 18.5% of women had characters of the opposite sex (Yee, ucheneaut, Yao & Nelson, 2011). This suggests that, depending on each game characteristics, men and women are more or less likely to swap genders.Female players seem to feel more comfortable using characters of the opposite sex in airyland Online.
Between players that own characters of the opposite sex, men seem to show a higher ratio of gender swapping for their avatars. Male EverQuest players show (in average) significantly more characters from the opposite gender (1.25) than female (0.44) (Yee, 2001). The same happens with World of Warcraft, were men show a higher proportion (0.33) than women (0.09) (Yee, Ducheneaut, Yao & Nelson, 2011). Maybe the advantages that gender swapping has for men are easier to discover and the use of multiple opposite sex avatars allows them to profit from it more efficiently.
Although MMORPG players usually have more than one character, they tend to show preference for one of them. This “main” character is used more frequently and may have a higher probability of finishing more quests, acquire more experience and, therefore, go through a faster leveling up process. However, avatars from the opposite gender aren’t apparently the most popular alternative for main characters. Fairyland Online players who owned characters from the opposite sex, for example, were more likely to have one of the same gender as main avatar (Lou, Park, Cha, Lei & Chen, 2013). Additionally, according to Yee (2001) only 13.3% of EverQuest players had a character of the opposite gender as their main avatar. Also in this group, male players were significantly more likely to have a main character of the opposite gender (15.7%) than female players (2.5%). On 2009, Huh and Williams applied an in-game survey and collected behavioral data from 6,122 EverQuest II players. The results were pretty similar: 15.5% of players used a character of the opposite gender as main avatar, and male players showed a higher tendency for this (17.4%) than female players (8.2%). Finally, for World of Warcraft players, men were also more likely to have main characters of the opposite sex (29.3%) than women (7.5%) (Yee, Ducheneaut, Yao & Nelson, 2011). This could mean that male players have extended the use of their opposite sex avatars to activities beyond gender exploration.
Interestingly enough, homosexual EverQuest II players were more likely to use a main character of the opposite gender (22%) than heterosexual players (16.8%) (Huh & Williams, 2009). This could be a reflection of more flexible attitudes towards gender roles, even in virtual worlds.
Male players apparently use female avatar’s for more than just gender exploration.
Since characters of the opposite gender are used less frequently, their chances for acquiring experience and leveling up are reduced. This tendency is reflected by the reviewed studies: Only 12.6% of EverQuest players had a character of the opposite gender as their highest level avatar (Yee, 2001). The higher tendency of men for having a main character of the opposite sex is reflected in the fact that male players of the same game were significantly more likely to have a character of the opposite gender as their highest level character (14.6%) than female players (3.2%) (Yee, 2001).
Gender swapping has become a common practice in MMORPGs. This means that, for better or worse, players should expect to interact with avatars that doesn’t necessarily represent their user’s gender. The expansion of this practice also suggests that more MMORPG players are finding different motivations for gender swapping. It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, heterosexual or homosexual, if you play EverQuest or World of Warcraft, gender swapping has,
apparently, something to offer.
Online RPGs tend to give their players a lot of freedom. They can choose to fight monsters or explore dungeons, meet new people or strengthen their team, use same or opposite sex avatars. Although this last practice seems to be a normal occurrence these days, many MMORPG players are having trouble finding an explanation for it. The prevalent question among the online forums on the subject is: Why? Why would a player choose an avatar of the opposite sex? What do
they see on the character of the other gender? What does it has to offer? It’s not hard to imagine a reason though. Maybe the exaggerated muscles of male characters are making men uncomfortably aware of their body image. Maybe women are just trying to avoid sexual harassment from other players. The difficult part is trying to scientifically prove what causes gender swapping. In recent years though, many scientists have started to study the subject. These are some
of their most interesting findings:
On 2001 Nicholas Yee applied several multiple choice and free response surveys to thousands of EverQuest players. He found out that 27.4% of them used a character of the opposite sex for role playing reasons. Some players talked about how the point of role playing was to create a character completely different from yourself, and that gender swapping was just one way to achieve this. Others said they chose the opposite gender because it “felt right” for the character they were creating (Yee, 2001).
The same study showed that 25.6% of players picked characters of the opposite sex because of their appearance. Some just liked how the model looked, while others found it difficult to identify with the avatar of the same gender. Finally, a couple of male players manifested a particular appeal for attractive and aggressive female characters (a.k.a. the “Tomb Raider Effect”) (Yee, 2001).
Lara Croft’s attractive & aggressive style has influence female character development for many years.
Apparently, only 7.1% of EverQuest players used characters of the opposite sex for gender exploration. While unpopular, this practice allowed some of the players to discover how differently male and female avatars tend to behave. For example: Participants reported that female avatars showed closer relationships, while women noted a more direct interaction between male characters (Yee, 2001).
Female EverQuest players were significantly more likely to use characters of the opposite sex for gender exploration (21.1%) than men (6.2%) (Yee, 2001). For female MMORPG users, this sometimes meant finding out how differently they would be treated if they used male avatars, while at the same time avoiding unwanted sexual advances from other players (Hussain & Griffiths, 2008).
Occasionally, gender swapping helped players gain a more realistic perspective towards the opposite sex. Many men playing as female avatars experienced sexual harassment from male characters. Afterwards, some of them showed a better understanding of what female players go through in this type of situations (Yee, 2001). On the other side, female players indicated that using male avatars allowed them to recognize the difficulties men have to deal with, like not being allowed to ask for help or facing less friendly attitudes (Yee, 2001).
According to Yee’s study, 11.8% of EverQuest players choose to swap genders to obtain some kind of advantage. There are several conditions in which players can benefit from their avatar’s gender. Both men and women, for example, reported that male avatars seemed to be treated more seriously (Yee, 2001). This could greatly affect player’s performance since MMORPGs tend to involve several teamwork activities, like distributing tasks and discussing group
strategies. On the other hand, according to some players, using a female character allowed them to receive a better treatment and even free items from other players (Yee, 2001). These gifts were (in some cases) then passed to their main avatars (Hussain & Griffiths, 2008). This type of deceiving practice could be promoting a negative attitude towards ender swapping between “tricked” playersThe preferential treatment sometimes received by female avatars could provide some sort of advantage in the field of trading. Players could find their customers accepting higher prices or just sell the items they obtained for free. This could explain why, in Fairyland Online, female characters were more
likely to obtain profits from trade (Lou, Park, Cha, Lei & Chen, 2013) and why women sold healing potions at higher prices when they were using female avatars (Lou, Park, Cha, Lei & Chen, 2013). Lou and his colleagues, however, think this could have something to do with how female players focus more on the social aspect of games. This would make healing potions less valuable for them, while remaining important to the more achievement oriented male players.
Female avatars tend to be better traders in Fairyland Online.
The use of avatars of the opposite sex tend to influence performance differently depending on the game. Between women who play EverQuest II, the effect was somehow negative: Female players using main characters of the same gender showed significantly more fights with monsters and completed quests than female players who opted for male avatars as main characters (Huh & Williams, 2009). This doesn’t necessarily mean that women prefer or are better at these activities when using female avatars. Another explanation could be that players with main characters of the opposite sex have a tendency to focus less on traditional MMORPG objectives, and that this effect is stronger between women. In a different game, however, the results were quite different. On Fairyland Online, female players using characters of the same gender required significantly more time (an additional 19.24 hours) to reach the level 50 than female players using characters from the opposite gender (Lou, Park, Cha, Lei & Chen, 2013). This suggests not only that women using male avatars behaved differently, but that this gave them a considerable advantage in the leveling up process. On the other hand, it could just mean that more experienced (and therefore, better) players were more likely to use characters of the opposite sex (maybe because they were also more adventurous).
Avatar’s gender and the placebo effect:
Putting other factors aside, the avatar’s sex alone seem to be able to influence the player’s performance. In a recent experiment, 120 university students from the United States were asked to choose an avatar through an aleatory system that was actually programmed to equally distribute avatar’s genders between the subjects. After receiving their characters, participants had to solve mathematical problems in the presence of two avatars from the opposite gender.
Regardless of the participant’s biological sex, male characters performed significantly better than female characters (Lee, Nass, & Bailenson, in press). This suggests that participant’s expectations towards their own behavior are at least partially based on their avatar’s gender, and that this can influence their performance.
The avatar’s gender effect on performance seems to be associated with how players see tasks as either more male or female friendly. In a 2011 experiment, 142 German university students received video game descriptions and then were asked to create an avatar they would like to use on them. Afterwards they were requested to choose their avatar’s biological sex. Then they received two game scenarios descriptions and were asked to develop another two avatars. Initially, participants were more likely to give the avatars their real gender, but this changed when they had to face a specific game or scenario. egardless of their biological sex or gender role tendencies (more feminine or masculine), participants created male avatars for the games previously rated as masculine (GTA: San Andreas, Crysis, Urban Chaos) and female avatars for those identified as feminine (The Sims, My Animal Hospital) (Trepte, Reinecke & Behr, 2011). Additionally, participants created avatars with masculine attributes for a pursuit scenario and chose feminine characteristics for a witness interview situation (Trepte, Reinecke & Behr, 2011). Apparently, players believe that more masculine or feminine characters tend to be better prepared for specific types of challenges. When no advantage is gained, players seem to prefer that avatars represent their biological sex (Trepte, Reinecke & Behr, 2011).
“My Animal Hospital” was identified as a feminine game, while “Crysis” was perceived as more masculine.
Different researches were able to find a relationship between specific personality types and the tendency to use avatars of the opposite sex. EverQuest players who owned characters from the opposite gender, for example, scored higher on Openness (Yee, 2001); a trait that describes imaginative and intellectually curious individuals with an appeal towards beauty and new experiences. For this type of players, appearance might have an important role during the avatar customization process. Having characters of the opposite gender in EverQuest was also associated with low levels of Conscientiousness (Yee, 2001); a trait characterized by a reduced importance given to methodical work and chievements. Players on this category might have preferred exploring the different options character customization had to offer instead on carefully analyzing how to build a more competitive avatar. A behavior that could have increased their chances of creating and using characters of the opposite sex. A study executed ten years later on 1,040 World of Warcraft players showed, however, different results. Ownership of characters from the opposite gender was associated with low Extraversion (Yee, Ducheneaut, Nelson & Likarish, 2011); a personality type that involves more reserved and shy individuals. Players with this trait may have been more interested in customizing their characters to satisfy their personal preferences (like choosing a class or gender that made the avatar look better) instead of adapting them to the game demands. Having opposite sex avatars was also associated with high Emotional Stability (Yee, Ducheneaut, Nelson & Likarish, 2011); a trait that includes more calm, secure and confident individuals. This type of players probably felt less uncomfortable with the idea of walking through Azeroth with an avatar of the other opposite gender.
Discovering why players use an avatar of the opposite sex is a complex problem. Reasons to do it vary depending on the person, game or scenario at hand. The most popular usages, however, seem to be directed towards positive objectives; like improving the playing experience or reducing stereotypes. This might be the key for the general acceptance of the practice between players. Sadly, negative usage is also part of the phenomena. Hiding our real gender to trick or harass other players could have an important impact over the future of MMORPGs. Developers could end up removing some features related to avatar customization or forcing the players to show some proof of their sexual identity (as weird as that might sound). For better or worse, gender swapping is becoming a common practice, and both players and developers should try to figure out what implications this has for the future of gaming.
Visit us next week for the final part of our series, when we try to find out what effects could gender swapping have on the players.
The use of avatars of the opposite sex has become a common practice. This shouldn’t come as a surprise after seeing the different opportunities gender customization has to offer. Players can try different physical appearances as well as behaviors, and build fictional characters while exploring new aspects of their own personalities. It’s normal then for players to feel tempted to identify with their avatars. Not only are they the product of hard work but also an extension of their own selves. But how much from of us are we transmitting to our characters and how much are we receiving? How aware are we of the way our creations are affecting us? Is it really our behavior what gets registered on the game records, or is it something else?
Psychologists seem to think that taking the perspective of someone else has the potential to change how we think and behave. Sometimes, just the act of mentally putting ourselves in someone else’s place is enough to provoke the effect. What could be the impact then of an experience as immersive as embodying an avatar in a virtual environment? This is what a group of researchers had in their minds when they designed a series of studies to analyze the effects of virtual embodiment in people. In these experiments they gave participants an avatar with a particular “physical” appearance. After watching themselves in a virtual mirror, subjects had to interact with another character controlled by an actor. The results showed that participants with an attractive avatar stood significantly closer to the other character and revealed significantly more pieces of information during an interview (Yee & Bailenson, 2007). In similar experiments involving a money sharing task, subjects using taller avatars split the money significantly more in their own favor than those embodying short characters (Yee & Bailenson, 2007; Yee, Bailenson, & Ducheneaut, 2009). Data analysis also showed that individuals in the short condition were approximately two times more likely to accept an unfair offer (72%) as participants in the normal (31%) and tall conditions (38%) (Yee & Bailenson, 2007). The results of suggest that embodying an avatar with desirable physical attributes makes the player show a more confident behavior, at least in the virtual world. Researchers think this happens because people in virtual environments tend to act in correspondence with the behavior they believe others expect them to have, a phenomena known as the Proteus Effect (Yee & Bailenson, 2007). Since they think more attractive characters are expected to be more secure, participants behaved accordingly in the virtual environment.
The mentioned experiments may have proven the existence of the Proteus Effect, but laboratory results doesn’t necessarily reflect what happens in the real world (or, in this case, the virtual world). A recent study however might have found additional evidence of the occurrence of the phenomena inside MMORPGs. In 2009 Yee, Bailenson and Ducheneaut collected data from three World of Warcraft servers, obtaining information about 76,843 individual characters. After analyzing it they found out that taller avatars tend to show higher levels of development (Yee, Bailenson, & Ducheneaut, 2009). This could indicate a positive effect of character’s height on the level achieved. Also, among attractive characters, there is a higher difference between tall and short models. Results also showed that, when the avatars are tall, attractive characters tend to reach higher levels than unattractive ones. Interestingly, the relationship is the opposite between short avatars; where unattractive characters tend to outperform attractive characters in the leveling up process (Yee, Bailenson, & Ducheneaut, 2009). This suggests that the avatar’s attractiveness has a positive effect on levels, but only when the characters are tall. The authors think that this happens because, while attractiveness helps tall avatars seem more confident, it makes short characters look rather playful, a
characteristic that wouldn’t be beneficial for the leveling up process (Yee, Bailenson, & Ducheneaut, 2009). Another explanation could be that having additional desirable attributes would make the player more aware of his virtual appearance. In this case, being attractive could be making the avatar’s height more noticeable for the users, triggering a Proteus Effect.
Tall and attractive avatars seem to make people feel more secure about themselves.
If the avatar’s appearance has the potential to affect the player’s behavior, then it’s only logical to expect some sort of effect from an attribute as important as the character’s gender. A couple of recent studies seem to support this idea. A 2009 research on EverQuest II players revealed that female users with main avatars of the opposite sex engaged in text chatting significantly less than female players with same main characters of the same gender and male players (regardless of their character’s sex) (Huh & Williams, 2009). The authors think female players were acting according to what was expected from their avatar’s gender: Men talk less and act more. In another study, female World of Warcraft avatars showed a significantly higher tendency to heal, while male characters registered significantly higher ratios for PvP activities. This suggests that, regardless of the player’s real gender, they tend to behave accordingly to the avatar’s traditional gender role (Yee, Ducheneaut, Yao & Nelson, 2011). In this case: Women help and men fight. The effect is also
supported by a recent observation between players of Uncharted Waters Online. After analyzing the game´s avatar database and a sample of text from chats, researchers found out that male characters were significantly more likely to seek help indirectly than female characters (Lehdonvirta, Nagashima, Lehdonvirta, & Baba, 2012). This behavior is congruent with traditional gender expectations for male behavior: Men don’t need help (so they have to be subtle when looking for it). Although far from conclusive, the previous results indicate that there is enough base to believe that the avatar’s gender could be influencing the player’s behavior. In other words, MMORPG users seem to act according to what they think is the behavior others expect from their characters gender.
Is this the face of a healer? Well actually, it is.
The fact that the avatar’s sex can influence the player’s behavior could have important implications for the reduction of gender based stereotypes. As we have seen, swapping genders allows the player to take the perspective of the opposite sex in different types of situations. This can let them acquire a better understanding of the advantages and challenges they have to face (Yee, 2001), promoting the construction of a more realistic representation of the other. Although we couldn’t find works about the effects of gender swapping on attitudes towards the opposite sex, some researchers have studied how virtual embodiment affects other kinds of stereotypes. In a 2006 experiment, for example, participants that used a character of an older person in a virtual environment associated significantly more positive traits with the elderly. However, no significant relationships were found between the age of the avatar and two other measures: An attitudes questionnaire and a description of an old character in a story (Yee & Bailenson, 2006). Another experiment tried to find out the effects of embodying an avatar of a particular race. They did it by asking participants to imagine themselves as a black or white model seen on a photograph. A group of participants were also given an avatar based on the same model. Their task consisted on watching themselves in a virtual mirror and interact with another character as if they were going through a job interview. Participants with black models showed a significantly higher tendency to associated positive words with traditionally white names. The author thinks this happened because embodying an ndividual of a different race tends to encourage stereotyping in a way that overwhelms any positive effects that would have come from taking the perspective of the other. Additionally, subjects that were only asked to imagine themselves as the other showed no differences in preference, regardless if they were on the white or black condition. This suggest that imagining ourselves as someone of a different race is not always enough to provoke measurable changes in racial attitudes. Finally, no significant results were found in the other measures applied: A self-esteem scale and two questionnaires about beliefs and attitudes towards African Americans. (Groom, Bailenson & Nass, 2009). Both of the experiments indicate that embodying a different individual in a virtual environment could affect attitudes towards other groups, but the results are too inconsistent to be regarded as conclusive. In other words, we need more information in order to be able to use virtual embodiment as a weapon against stereotyping.
Seeing ourselves as an older person could improve our attitudes towards the elderly.
Using a virtual character may have a bigger psychological impact than we expected. It could potentially change players’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviors; sometimes even without their knowledge. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. The Proteus Effect opens different opportunities for education and therapy. Avatar based games could be used to reduce racial stereotypes in schools or help insecure individuals show higher levels of confidence (at least in a virtual nvironment). But additional research is needed before we start promoting the benefits of virtual characters. Science advances with slow but secure steps, and trying to skip some of these could only bring uncertainty to players, developers and researchers.