28 April 2014

Going Online to Act Out Stereotypes?

From Jesse Singal’s interview with Ubisoft research engineer Nick Yee in the Boston Globe:
We start off by asking players what they thought men and women stereotypically prefer to do in these games, and...people, both men and women, strongly stereotype female players as preferring supportive roles in the game, that female players prefer to heal [rather than fight]....

We actually had access to “World of Warcraft”’s server data....We had thousands of players fill out surveys. We knew what their gender was in real life. We went and grabbed their data in “World of Warcraft,” and we found that that stereotype was false, that men and women actually heal about the same amount in “World of Warcraft.”

Where there was a finding was in the avatar gender. Female avatars heal more than male avatars, and the effect was entirely driven by gender-bending [playing a character of the opposite gender]. When men gender-bend, they play a female character, they heal more, and when women gender-bend, when they play a male character, they heal less. So, again, we have this notion of virtual worlds allowing us to transcend kind of our social categories and social norms in the real world. But what’s happening is that there’s a stereotype. It turns out to be false, but via play, we create this virtual world where women do appear to prefer to heal, where via play, this false stereotype becomes true.
Yee’s new book about videogames and virtual worlds is The Proteus Paradox.

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