Gendered Avatar Identity

Significance of Gendered Avatars

There are some differences in both the logic behind the use of male and female gendered avatars, and their interaction with other avatars within their online environments.  It makes sense that this type of relationship would exist between individuals and their avatars in strictly role-playing environments since the purpose of those environments is to create an alternate reality for individuals to exist within socially. These environments (although they may have numerous purposes) are specifically geared toward those individuals who want to play as their character rather than be represented by it. Sherry Turkle is an expert when it comes to social interactions through technology. She has been publishing work in that (and related) areas since the early 1980s and holds numerous honors in association with her work. She supports the notion that the anonymity provided by a digital interface allows the user to achieve his/her desired portrayal of the self separate from any physical attributes they might themselves possess in real life (Turkle, 1995, p. 185).

That is not to say that all individuals choose to take advantage of this separation. In the video below, Sean tells us that he has no desire to create a female avatar to represent himself. He says, “As a guy, why would I play as a girl?” When asked why he would not want to play on a female avatar, Sean cited a desire to “Play to win” as one of his reasons. This implies that if he were playing as a female he would not be playing to win and exemplifies the point that Katie makes just a few seconds before in the video below (as well as in other video segments)–that female avatars are stigmatized as not being in the game to play for themselves. Kelly and Jay’s comments on the subject confirm that female avatars are sometimes used as tools for soliciting help from other individuals in the game. Though a larger sample is needed, female players of female avatars do not seem to use the sexuality of their avatars to their advantage, but male players of female avatars sometimes do.

As early as the mid-1990s, when most of the academic work on gender in online environments was published, there were discussions about whether or not gendered online identity was a positive or negative development. Then there was the realization that these identities will develop whether or not technology “allows” for it. Judith Donath’s research proves that even strictly textual environments are riddled with gendered problems and complications.

Many of the accounts of online game-play recorded by Turkle are told from the point-of-view of someone deeply immersed in the online environment. This is an important distinction to make. It’s one thing to live a life in-game and try to separate it from your real life completely, but those are not the instances that are particularly interesting. The key is the interaction between the avatars online and players who are well-versed in the gender conventions of the real world (even if they do not necessarily subscribe to them). This allows for connections to be drawn between the gender conventions of the real world and those same conventions in online environments; implications can also be made about the influence of the environments themselves on the real world, and the anonymity they provide individuals who choose to represent themselves there.

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