Why men choose female avatars in video games


It’s also about roleplaying. When I used to play Everquest (late 1800’s), I had a couple of female characters for the novelty of the experience. I also discovered that when the dude players think you are female, they are friendlier and more helpful and generous.


“It’s all about the butts” – pretty much, yeah. Those who believe video games are a form of wish fulfillment only have it partially right.

If you’re a straight guy and you’re going to have to stare at someone’s behind for 10-12 hours, it might as well be an attractive lady’s rather than some bulked-out dude’s. It’ll be interesting to see if the same holds true when virtual reality allows guys to strap on digital bosoms.


I dunno that a relatively small group of habitual wow players playing wow is the right group to extrapolate to male gamers as a whole. I know plenty of guys who prefer (and have preferred) to play female characters in games where seeing the buts is either not usual or impossible. 1st person games, or old isometric rpgs. And then there’s the whole Fem Shep is the best Shep thing. Or shit, pen an paper games. While plenty of the (especially younger) ones seem to be more interested in putting a female character in prurient situations, a lot of the people I know who do this cite story implications or the like.

I guess what I’m saying is I’d like to see a broader cross section of games and gamers studied before I buy this.


I play as female avatars every now and again (assuming I’m given the choice and said avatars are reasonable looking and aren’t just absurd fetish objects).

The reason is simple: I don’t believe a person’s physical sex has any intrinsic bearing on who they as a person are. I believe any and all significant behavioral or cognitive differences are culturally and experientially imposed.


If this is true, and it might be addressed in the actual study and not Slate’s write-up, then heterosexual men would be more likely to choose female avatars than homosexual men. That could be interesting to follow up on.


The butt theory could also explain another consistently puzzling statistic: Why do men gender-bend so much more often than women?

I don’t quite buy that. EQ had a similar split and that game was played mostly first person.

I was once in a group where I was the only female player but all the characters were female. During a break we talked about that and all the men chimed in with why they’d picked female characters. One was a stay at home Dad who found it caused fewer questions when he went afk to check on a sleeping baby. One really hated the male models for the race he wanted to play. One did it for a change because he had a bunch of male characters. One did it because if he was going to stare at something for that many hours he wanted it to have boobs. I suspect the reason to choose a female avatar vary nearly as much as the men making the choice.


But because male avatars aren’t created by female designers for a female audience, women may not have the same incentive to gender-switch. (And no, the equivalent is not an obscenely muscular male avatar in a tank top holding a machine gun.)

Quick question:

This write-up essentially asserts that heterosexual men are stereotypically attracted to a stereotypical female beauty, but stereotypical male beauty is not stereotypically attractive to heterosexual woman.

So is it that the sexual attraction of heterosexual women is more nuanced than their male counterparts, or is it that stereotypical male beauty is less attractive to women than stereotypical female beauty is to men (i.e. societal beauty norms conform to the male perception of what beauty is, but miss the mark on female perceptions), or is it just a cheap shot by the author?

All of these seem possible, and I’m at a loss to decide which is (most) correct.


I don’t think that the point is so much that the heterosexual women aren’t attracted to sterotypical male beauty but that the video game models are more influenced by straight male wish fulfillment rather then beauty… IE what men wish to look like verses what women want men to look like.

It would be interesting to see how gay male players feel about the male avatars.


Homosexual men might find the barrel-chested, machine-gun toting dudes attractive because this particular version of male beauty, which can trace its way through Hemingway and Picasso to Michelangelo and Greek mythology, has been determined by a history dominated by the male perspective.

That is to say, yes female avatars are designed by what excites men, but also male avatars might do the very same thing.

Because of this, I think the question of what the stereotypical male beauty might be were it allowed to be dictated by women is an obtuse issue, and I’m not sure polling homosexual men would necessarily untangle this knot.

Logic fail here:

The researchers found that the men were more than three times as likely
as the women to gender-switch (23 percent vs. 7 percent). When selecting
female avatars, these men strongly preferred attractive avatars with
traditional hairstyles—long, flowing locks as opposed to a pink mohawk.
And their chat patterns shifted partway toward how the real women spoke:
These men used more emotional phrases and more exclamation points than
the men who did not gender-switch. In other words, these men created
female avatars that were stereotypically beautiful and emotional.

This would only be true if the researchers also measured what sort of language the two groups used when they did not gender-switch.

If they did not do this, it is equally plausible that men who prefer more emotional phrases and exclamation points are more attracted to gender switching to begin with!!!

Same here:

In fact, it’s all about the butts. Because players see their avatars from
a third-person perspective from behind, men are confronted with whether
they want to stare at a guy’s butt or a girl’s butt for 20 hours a
week. Or as the study authors put it in more academic prose,
gender-switching men “prefer the esthetics of watching a female avatar
form.” This means that gender-switching men somehow end up adopting a
few female speech patterns even though they had no intention of
pretending to be a woman.

One of the reasons I do not play male avatars in WoW is because the male avatar art is hypermasculine and as a result all the toons look like they played baseball in the late 1990s. The clothing for the females is more ridiculous than that for the males, but the male models are far more distorted from normal body types than the female models are IMO (nice examples here: http://borderhouseblog.com/?p=541).

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While I certainly don’t dispute (or doubt) this logic, at least as being in operation much of the time (MMORPGs complicate things; because of the social-metagaming effects; but definitely in single player), I have to wonder if relative levels of acclimatization to dubiously realistic body models also has an effect.

I don’t just mean over-the-top chainmail-bikini-barbie stuff (though female avatars do tend to be even further removed from reality than the male mysteriously-nimble-despite-being-musclebound-about-350lbs-and-coated-in-steel types); but some sort of subtler effect.

I ask because I’ve been hitting the Bethesda RPGs pretty hard lately (a little bit of Oblivion, mostly for the Shivering Isles, and the arguably superior Dark Brotherhood questline, Fallout NV basically for all the reasons, and Skyrim for when I really want to get my Dovahkiin on) and it’s oddly difficult, even with considerably futzing on all the sliders, to get a male avatar who doesn’t look just… kind of weird, while the female ones seem to fall into ‘yeah, that looks like someone and/or a plausible wood elf’ much, much, more easily. I can’t really put my finger on why; but spinning a male avatar that doesn’t push the ‘eh, something’s off here’ button enough to be distracting is really tricky, while avoiding that with a female one is trivial (except Kahjit, the cats-with-human-breasts thing is just weird, while the male ones look less discordant and have the sense of serious-muscle-under-fur-and-possible-laziness that cats possess).

I don’t know if this is just their engine and/or art team, or whether cultural exposure to massive amounts of airbrushed women in media makes it easier for me to be lulled by just one more woman-as-designed-by-artists, or whether my roleplay-fu is not entirely strong and some aspect of years of experience in being male makes me extra sensitive to relatively minor weaknesses in character rendering.

My sample set is small and biased, definitely; but it is something that has puzzled me(doubly so because the male NPCs all pretty much look fine, it’s just generating a PC that gives me hell). For some reason, getting verisimilitude sufficient to not nag at me is just easier with female NPCs in those games, while the male NPC attempts just don’t turn out terribly effectively (except for my larcenous, salmon-crazed, battleaxe-wielding Kahjit, of course. He’s ok.)

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Personally, when I end up with a female MMO character it’s usually for the face. Usually, the only male character faces I’ll actually relate to are on the quirkier races. On humans or near-humans they typically all end up looking either like Fabio, or grizzled war veterans.


You can believe whatever you want but the fact is that female avatars are most definitely treated differently in online video games. I’ve experimented with this and it’s amazing how much help you can get from a male player with a female avatar, a skimpy outfit and a few well placed giggles.


For what it’s worth, those are the old character models that date from the game’s release almost ten years ago. The tech has advanced a long way since then, and the game is slated to receive brand new character models with the upcoming expansion this fall.

It’s also worth noting that the Warcraft series has a very strongly established “style”, dating back to the earliest games in the series, largely shaped by the work of Sam “Samwise” Didier. The character design philosophy he shaped for Blizzard’s games purposefully exaggerates certain features - most notably gigantic hands and hulking musculature on the male characters - in a way that is evocative of (and probably directly inspired by) old-school Metal album covers and the like.

The same influences likewise occur on the other side of the equation - most of the female characters would look right at home in a collection of classic vinyl dustjackets, with all the objectification and sexualization that implies.


I didn’t state that female avatars weren’t treated different. In fact, I specifically mentioned just the opposite. Your comment consequently confuses me.

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I’ve never gender switched when playing a MMO. But I know people who did back in the old days of MUDs, and they would make bank from people giving them things for free, all by having a girly name.

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of the character story I want to play out. Sure, I could be the hulking brute of a guy with a two-handed sword. Or a wiry thief-boy, or a bearded wizard, or whatever. But maybe a badass bow-wielding huntress is the character I want to bring to life this time around. It probably doesn’t help that I mentally get into the backstory/characterization aspect more than is strictly necessary to play these games (even if it leads to me failing to optimize my numbers). As has been mentioned above, the art design frequently plays a part in my choices, and yes, that logic of “well, I’m going to be looking at this character for many, many hours of gameplay” is a factor. Variety -is- the spice of life, and I’m an absolute sucker for a well-made character generation system.


I’ve never sought preferential treatment from others while playing a female avatar, but I too know people who did, in everything from MUDs to modern MMOs.

Personally I find it shameful that such players intentionally exploit others in that manner, and I find it sad that the two first thoughts a person has about a man playing a female avatar are that they must be doing it for 1) sex or two 2) profit. It doesn’t mean those perceptions are wrong in many cases, but I do lament that they’re as disproportionately strong as they are. What a sad state of affairs.

For what it’s worth, I generally choose a gender that suits whatever character I’ve designed in a RPG (including MMORPGs), so I end up making about 1/3 of my characters female. I’ve never noticed the “guys help you more” thing on any of my characters. Then again, even with female characters I don’t typically go for girly girls with pink outfits and names like Bubbles69 or whatever. I don’t make them all librarians either however. One of my characters was take on a James Bond femme fatale who was dumped immediately after the movie ended and realized that her previous employer (and company!) was dead/gone and had to start their own villainous outfit.

In fact the only time I’ve really noticed different treatment was on Secondlife back in the day, and that was just because it was someone looking for cybersex. It was also the only time I’ve been asked if I was a girl in real life, because apparently he was afraid of turning cyber gay.