Playing City of Heroes over the weekend I came across an odd conversation from two fellow players from Spain. They were talking about a female character who had admitted to them that she was a man in Real Life (RL is that place where players go to eat). They were shocked by the news, and wondered about the player’s sexual preferences, amongst other things. I was thoroughly amused by this discussion. Call me cynical, but every time I see a female character wearing nothing but a tiny bikini and calling herself “Naughty Gal” or “Babelicious”, I assume that the player is in fact a 47-year-old guy from Hull named Bob.
These musings were confirmed by the excellent Daedalus Project (via Terra Nova). The project is attempting to study the psychology of MMORPGs through the use of polls and qualitative research. The first results are now online, collected from World of Warcraft (WoW). Taken as a whole, some of the statistics are rather surprising. For example, male players tend to be in their 20s, while female players average 28-40 years old. About 60% of male players are single or single and dating, while 60% female players are married, engaged or separated. But some of the most interesting figures are the gender bending-ones. In WoW, 84% of players are male and 16% female. Of the total of those male characters, 23% play with female characters, while only 3% of all females play males.
It is difficult to know why exactly there is so much gender-bending online. I believe that some of it may be due to gender-baiting, a term invented by William Gibson to refer to males impersonating females online to elicit positive responses. Or the answer could be encapsulated by the words of Francis from PvP: “If I’m going to be staring at an ass in tights all day, it might as well be a nice ass!“