Changing Behavior in Virtual Worlds

World of Warcraft and Second Life  are an example of massively multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPG’s that involve social interactions among players getting to know eachother, accomplish tasks like defeating powerful enemies, and exchanging goods and services. This sort of social interaction also raises the question  of how avatar appearances impacts those interactions. For example, would a two-foot-tall, purple haired gnome behave and get treated differently than a six-foot-tall, muscular looking giant ogre that is to say even if the same person controls both avatars? In real life, attractive people dominate social interactions and are less reserved to sharing personal information about themselves. Researchers are trying to find whether that same behavior would occur with more atractive avatars in a virtual world.

According to Tony K. Lam and John Riedel in the article “Expressing My Inner Gnome: Appearance and Behavior in Virtual Worlds”, their research led to the conclusion that “participants assigned [with] more attractive avatars did indeed behave more intimately when interacting.  Compared to participants with less attractive avatars, they moved closer to the confederate’s avatar when asked to do so and revealed more information when prompted to introduce themselves during conversation”. In other secondary studies with a similar set up, both Lam and Riedel found that participants with tall avatars were much more confident in tasks involving negotiations than those with shorter avatars. Research has also shown that players that gender-bend showed a relationship between player gender and avatar gender in the virtual world. In World of Warcraft, for example, healing and player versus player (PvP) combat showed that healing was preferred by females and PvP was more associated with males. In other words, male avatars conducted more PvP combat and performed less healing than female avatars regardless of player gender. The result pinpoints that even in a virtual world, behaviors tend to follow to the expectations associated with the avatar’s gender but not with the player’s gender.

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