I find the sociology and psychology of what kinds of characters people choose to play in RPG video games endlessly fascinating: do you prefer to do ranged damage or melee? Play male or female? Be attractive or ugly? Play as you are or how you wish you were? I want to read all the studies on all these things! So I found this to be very interesting:
[A recent study aimed at] determining whether or not socially conditioned gender norms are present in the way that we play online games [found that] …male players who play female characters behave very differently than female players playing female characters, most tellingly in the way that they move. For some weird reason, they tend to “move backwards more often” and are more likely to physically distance themselves from the rest of their party. They also use a lot more smiling emoticons, tend to select more conventionally attractive avatars (duh), and jump around a lot more than female players — 116 times more on average, as a matter of fact.
The research team thinks that this could be because many male players use female avatars so that other male players will be nicer to them (which is hilarious given the way that female players are treated in a lot of other multiplayer games), so jumping around is a way to hold their attention. Regardless, the effect is the same: men who are deliberately playing as women appear to adopt different strategies based on how they think women act, and those strategies appear to be nothing like what women do in the same circumstances.
The article goes on to say that the sample size is small and doesn’t take into account players who don’t identify on the gender binary, but the results are still intriguing. You can read the study for yourself at Information, Communication & Society