Gendered Avatar Identity


This research has brought to light not only information about the interaction of gendered avatars in World of Warcraft, but also about the attitude towards gender in online environments in general. There are two distinctly separate factors to a gendered online identity: the gendered appearance of the avatar itself, and the gendered identity put forth by the individual behind the avatar. These two factors exist separately, but they interact with each other in various ways to create many of the gendered issues surrounding avatars in online environments.

Although only a short foray into a developing realm that begs to be better understood, hopefully this text will serve as a call for more research in the area where gender and online environments intersect. Often, when the subject of online gaming (particularly World of Warcraft) comes up in conversation, it elicits feelings of distance, or at least a desire to create distance between those outside the community and the players themselves. Throughout her interview, Katie was able to capture the problems with stereotyping an entire group of people by the games that they play simply because the negative tendencies of a few players overshadow the actions and attitudes of the majority. She acknowledges the problematic attitude of individuals outside of the World of Warcraft community toward those who do take part in the game when she said, “A lot of times, people like to attribute that [the tendency to live vicariously through an avatar] to basically those who annoy them, they think that the only boobs they’ve ever seen were pixilated, and that sort of thing.”

The overarching problem here is that the tendency to stereotype has seeped into the internet. Donath (1998) writes about the impossibility of meaningful online interaction without the gender factor. The problem with stereotyping is that it is not necessarily an accurate representation of traits, but also that the stereotypes themselves are applied liberally to a variety of individuals as though they had a collective identity. All of the individuals interviewed for this study had a different reason for choosing the gender of their avatar. This is in some ways the most profound discovery in that it provides us with a foundation on which to consider all subsequent responses given by interviewees–individuality is the overriding factor in situations that revolve around gender.

Obviously, this case study is a small one, and most certainly statistically insignificant. Even so, it will hopefully bring the issue of gendered online identity back to the world of scholarly research (a place from which it seems to have strayed in recent years). Technology is ever-developing, and online environments are developing with it. Studies dealing with these ever-developing online environments should be doing the same instead of existing only in outdated texts for us to look back on and remember how scholars used to think about the future development of gendered online interaction before it was technically possible to create very realistic-looking avatars.

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