Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

A large percentage of World of Warcraft players appear to be men, but there are quite few people who play female characters. The gender issue has always been interesting to me, but an episode a few nights ago was a special highlight. Jason started a new character and decided to pick a female character. I asked him why and he said that considering the number of hours he would be sitting there looking at his character, that maybe it would be more fun to have a female character. Jason, Sean and I grouped up and went on a quest. I noted to Jason that his character was pretty cute. As we jogged across the countryside, I noticed that she also had a nice bounce to her walk. In WoW you can type /flirt and your character will say flirty things and make flirty body motions to the target. I started flirting with Jason's character. Then something hit Jason. He suddenly said, "oh man, that's SO wrong..."

On the other hand, there is a very cute Gnome Warlock that I often quest with. I flirt with her too, but the guy who plays that character seems to enjoy the role playing.

I think that people's relationship to their online character is really interesting. It's clearly not the same for everyone. I'm on a normal server, but I'm sure that it's more interesting on the role playing servers. Has anyone studied this academically?


I'm not sure if anyone has academically this on WoW, but I know that it has been studied extensively on MOOs, and I bet that a lot of the same concepts carry over to WoW.

I have a friend that plays WoW as a female character. I once asked him why he played a girl, and his response was something like, "If I'm going to sit here for weeks looking at my character's ass, I might as well make it an attractive ass." And thought it was funny, and he had something of a point. Even if it is a bit odd to find a fairly blocky computer rendering of a girl attractive.

I played a female tauren in a pvp server. I played it originally because I wanted to be original. There are next to NO female Taurens out there. But ever character after that was a female because I noticed how generous everyone was when they thought I was an actual chick . I had people volunteering to quest with me, give me pages or gold. Never underestimate the power that tits (even animated ones) can have on the unsuspecting 13 year old horn dog.

you can't play WoW with my daughter anymore!

Ha! She should play a male Tauren. Then she'll be fine.

Funny you should raise this today--I just attended a msft-sponsored talk by Sherry Turkle. Her book Life on the Screen might be of interest...

I've been playing MUSHes for about 13 years now, and am female... but play almost exclusively male characters because 1) the roleplay for female characters in the genres I like isn't what I want to do and 2) it avoids a lot of hassle that comes from being a woman playing a game with teenagers.

Beyond that though, I've noticed how vastly different I'm treated when people think I'm male. Assertiveness comes across differently, assumptions people make about you and your motivations are different, etc. It's... I don't know, more dismissive if they know you're female, as if the rationale for a lot of things is more logical if they think you're male, but turns into a gender issue if they know you're not. Recently I started playing Sony's SWG with a female character, so it's been more striking.

Also, it's a lot easier to pick out men playing female than it is the reverse! Guys just can't do it as convincingly... one guy friend said it's because men are simplier. Not sure I'd say so, but it was a funny explanation.

The whole issue probably deserves some academic attention. :)

In case you did not already know this, Terra Nova is the blog to go to about multiplayer games:

They discuss these topics in (great) depth...

I don't play WoW, but in another MMORPG, I've been hassled a few times. From the experiences, I would assume they are mostly teens. Some would stop after I rejected, but some just don't understand no means no. Then I would be delighted to explore how blacklisting works. :P I would pity other female characters they encounter.

While some male players chose a female character so that they could have a nice looking character, I wonder how other hasslers respond when they found out that you are actually a male. I myself have no such experience since I'm well, a female, but I know sometimes it could get pretty nasty. I just wonder whether the response is more or less the same over the world, or is it more towards your maturity. (Come to think of it, mature people won't hassle other people.)

is there an eprints or other type of documents servers for papers on video game life and culture? I know there's also... ahhh man.... my memory is failing me... come on.... austrailian new media studies list... fibreculture that's it. that would probably be the best place to ask. I am sure someone has studied gender-crossing in muds, moos, mmorpgs, and irc, probably all the time. i might add i once went on an irc chat as a girl when i was younger and played female characters in fighting games for awhile. eventually i switched, but primarily i just remember enjoying being a "girl" for an hour or so.


siebing: in WoW you can ignore people. There are a lot of jerks, but you find the cool people and they introduce you to the other cool people. I've got my own little band of friends around the same level and we can usually find a group online when we need one these days...

Interestingly, a lot of the cool people seem to be moms in real life who play before their kids wake up and after their kids go to bed. ;-)

as a male player playing a female undead warlock, i can only say i picked her because she had these cool leather bands across her face, and then totally forgot about the gender thing until i ran across this thread here.

interestingly, in hindsight, i have seen some of both: unexpected rudeness and generosity. i'm not sure this can unequivocally be assigned to my marginally attractive limp, rotten zombie behind, but i'll definitely be taking a closer look at these issues in the future.


i saw an article recently with demographic information about character race selection. what i gather from those charts: orcs are pretty much played by old dudes. WE ORC!

Very interesting point. As a long time gamer, I personally never chose women, but I understand why others do. There isnt anything abnormal about this: and to me this reveals something important about the appeal of gaming.

It is to be another person. On another road. And for some, this may even be to be a woman for a while.

Bathroom Review

found the article on MOOS

Presenting the self in cyberspace: identity play in MOOS

The use of the Internet has increased exponentially over the last decade. Individuals across all continents are progressively engaging in cyberspace interactions at work, in education, and for leisure. These online interactions, unconstrained by the limitations of corporeal reality, offer the potential for unique presentations of the self. The general aim of the research described in this thesis was to examine self-presentation in cyberspace. The research focused on MOOs, multi-user, text-based, user-extensible online environments, as a likely site for identity experimentation and play in cyberspace.

Article is Mrs. Eve Young at the Univ. of Melbourne. She seems to be the person submitting articles to eprints from her univ. she's got 116 papers submitted

more gender and muds stuff, still haven't found any video games related ones though. seems like the game might change when you go from being BMWGRRRRLLLL47 on #sexchat or in mudland and actually having the problem of equipping said girl with the right dragon slayer vest to show off her figure etc. What does that say when u go beyond a female persona and actually begin dressing as one? I guess games, graphical, do present a new challenge. Gotta blend crossdresser and transsexuals into one category anyway:

ahh never mind
MIT puts out a game studies thing apparently:

but how does the game change when you go from simpling dressing a girl to designing a hyper-realistic body complete with bustling breasts and frame? and more importantly, how are women using this? after all plastic surgery is increasingly the norm.

Occasionally, guys /flirt with my female human rogue. Usually I just /blush and let it be, but I'm forthcoming with my male-ness when people ask or get aggressive. (My signature on the WoW forums is "I'm a dude, dude!") I also use Teamspeak for voice communication with my guild, going with my real name in a verbal forum where people usually stick to their online handles. Playing as a girl is an interesting exercise in gender identity, but I don't need people addressing me with a Greek goddess's name.

I have started a female human char on WoW. I joined up with a few people I knew from another game, and joined their guild the first day. My second chat, I made sure to clear the air. "I'm not actually female, and in fact, I'm a happily married man." I was surprised that nobody laughed. My other guildmates actually all chimed in that they too are male, we have only one actual female in the guild, but about 8 female characters. Much of the conversation revolved around the "might as well be cute" line.

That said, I can see this working for folks that play human characters, but certqainly not Tauren, orcs, etc... None of them are quite a "cute".

Nick Yee has studied this academically.


The RL gender distribution is 84% male vs. 16% female.
The in-game gender distribution is 65% male vs. 35% female.

I definitely agree that how people react to male playing as female (and vice versa) has a lot to do with their maturity. If your playing time has more teens hanging out then chances of meeting jerks are higher.

For females playing as males, most of the time the reason being to avoid jerks. Since they are seldom detected, I wonder does that mean females are better at pretending as males in online games than males pretending as females? And what about detecting? For guys that play as females, do you blow your own cover? Is it a male detecting you or a female?

I play both male and female characters on WoW, though with a leaning towards female characters. since I prefer RP servers I don't feel it matters as much. My favorite character of all time was a female gnome warrior. Because it was just too much fun to play. But then again, gnomes are all insane and cute. She liked blowing things up.

Sherry Turkle wrote a lot about this in about 1998 in her book "Life on the Screen". Groundbreaking stuff. Probably out of print but probably can be found on Amazon or Biblio.

WoW Gender-Bending

Given a hypothetical pool of 1000 players:
840 would be male players
160 would be female players

Of the 840 male players:
193 would be playing a female character
647 would be playing a male character

Of the 160 female players:
5 would be playing a male character
155 would be playing a female character

Joi, didn't you go to any marriage party? I've been in two. I remember to gift "rings" for both persons.

I know I don't know much about the gaming world, but I find the idea of flirting with an inatimate object fairly disturbing.

May be chois of gender of your hero depends on you prejudices and some you psychological peculiarity. I play both male and female too. Whem I play female I feel myself not so strong like when I play male...

It's fun to flirt with the Green Oozes before you kill them...

This year the Womengamers.Com crew attended the Game Developers Conference 2000 (GDC) in San Jose, CA. I attended two controversial roundtables headed up by Melissa Farmer, entitled "The Effect of Race and Gender on Today's Games." I commend Melissa for bringing these contentious and challenging issues to the fore, and was impressed with the intelligence, thoughtfulness, and openness to dialogue shown by the attendees. The following is a general summary of what was discussed.

I am pretty new to WoW type games, I play a male character, and I was suprised to learn so many males play female characters. I have definatly avoided using the /flirt command even though I play on an RP server. Even though I've been tempted to play a female character myself I wish there was a way to make people play the sex they really are.. heh, then there wouldnt be wierd situations..

I am working on an anthropology project covering the topic of gender construction in WoW. So I am studying it academically, more or less. I haven't found any academic papers relating to WoW itself, but there's more than a few about MUDs and MMOs.

I play WOW and I have met a wonderfully interesting character that says she's really being played by a female. In light of this string of discussion, how can I be sure? And if she is, how do characters "stage" a marriage in the game? If all this is true, she's a rare find.


My husband and I play one WoW together and he plays male characters and I play female characters. He wanted to play some female characters since his a friend of his does (his friend says it gives him something nice to look at). So my husband created and played some female characters and I tried playing my female character with him but when he started flirting with me online like he usually does, I could not do it. Feeling rather disturbed, I said I could not flirt with him online anymore if he does a female character so he immediately switched back to playing only male characters.

Also I tried playing male charcters but did not like it. I like being female in RL and in the game. Although, I am more fond of non-human characters since I am human in RL. Of course I had the brains not to put my husband in an uncomfortable situation and use my male character to flirt with him.

We tried also playing his female character against my male character. That did not work either.

After reading this thinking of starting a undead female. Most of my characters are male and it might be fun to try it as my death knight my girlfriend wants to make a male undead for her death knight anyway. I'm gonna act all manly and she is going to act all girly for a few laughs just many of the stupid things we do for kicks. Not gonna even try and fake it.