Dwarf acts like a lady: The importance of gender roles in understanding gender switching and player behavior

Rosa Mikeal Martey, Jennifer Stromer-Galley, Jaime Banks, Jingsi Wu, Mia Consalvo, Daniella Castillo

Abstract


As players craft and enact embodiment in digital games, the relationship between social interaction and gender (male/female) versus gender-role identity (masculinity/femininity) remains unclear. This paper examines differences in chat, avatar movement, and avatar appearance among male players who played male and female avatars. Initial analysis reveals that gender-based playstyles are distinct from gender role-based playstyles. Most importantly, men playing female avatars retain patterns typical of male players; however they depart from patterns typical of high-masculinity players. Specifically, gender-switching males tended to reject masculine behaviors in favor of flirting, using more punctuation, and deferring physical leadership. We interpret this to mean that male gender-switchers do not shed male behaviors and, instead of performing normatively feminine behaviors, work to counteract masculine behaviors – they try to act “not-masculine.” These findings have implications for gameplay scholarship where offline gender is unknown and for integrating gender roles as key to studying gender in games.

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