My Avatar Can Beat Up Your Avatar, and It’s Sexy Too!

Apparently appearance and gender have a major impact not just in the real world, but also in the virtual world. According to studies presented in “Expressing My Inner Gnome: Appearance and Behavior in Virtual Worlds” by Shyong K. Lam and John Riedl, appearance and gender of avatars have major implications on online interactions. In games, players with male avatars, regardless of the users gender, fight more while players with female avatars tend to heal more. Here the gender norms in the virtual world mimic those in the physical, real world. Generally, taller avatars are allowed to take more control of situations than players with short avatars. Even attractiveness plays a large role in the situation. Users with attractive avatars are treated differently than those that have comparatively less attractive avatars. The conclusion: Even fantasy worlds on the Internet are affected by shallow superficialities.

What does this say about human beings? We treat people differently and approach situations based on attractiveness, height, and gender without actually knowing anything more. This is primitive if nothing else. You might allow a taller person to be more assertive in a situation in the real world because of some primal fear of the strength their size implies. However, why would that carry over into World of Warcraft? They cannot hurt you in the real world, and I do not believe height increases any sort of power level in the game. As for the attractiveness bit, well, the motivations are not tough to smoke out behind that one. People are simply drawn to what allures them, I suppose.

However, what took thought was the gender aspect. Why would players with male avatars, regardless of the player’s actual gender, be so much more likely to fight? Is it because men and women playing as men are conforming to a gender norm—perhaps in part. What I believe is that in a game like WoW, people have the opportunity to act on the fantasy of becoming a warrior. This is their time to be a fighter. So they choose a character that embodies that image of a warrior in their mind. The gender norm informs the fantasy.

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