Home > Facebook, games, gender, social computing > Gender Swapping Reinforces Stereotypes

Gender Swapping Reinforces Stereotypes

At CHI 2011 in Vancouver, Nick Yee and colleagues presented a fun note about gender swapping on World of Warcraft: “Do Men Heal More When in Drag?
Conflicting Identity Cues Between User and Avatar
.” There are many gender-based stereotypes about people’s behavior on MMOs. For example, people assume that women are more likely to play healing characters. However, Yee found that women are in fact not more likely to heal than men. However, men playing female primary characters are more likely to heal a lot.  When gender swapping, players live up to their stereotype of gendered behavior, even if that stereotype is not true.

This fascinates me, particularly because Josh Berman and I found the same thing in our study of an online identity game we created in 1999, The Turing Game.  In the Turing Game, a panel of players pretends to be a particular identity–for example women. (Game types were user created, so people played lots of fun games like who is from Canada, who is under 30, who is a parent, and more.)  The audience asks questions, and votes on who they think is telling the truth. After the game, contestants reveal their real identities and discuss how everyone knew the truth or was fooled. In many of these post-game conversations, audience members would say things like, “I knew you were really a woman, because you use long sentences with lots of dependent clauses. Women talk a lot. Men say things like ‘I’ll be back.'”  The only problem with this is that Susan Herring can conclusively show you that men use more words per conversational turn online.  The stereotype is wrong. And just as Yee found 12 years later, gender swapping  reinforces stereotypes.

We are currently redesigning and reimplementing The Turing Game as a web game with Facebook Connect. Our challenge in the redesign is to figure out how to help these playful explorations yield deeper insights and less bandying about stereotypes (whether true or false).

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  1. December 21, 2012 at 4:11 am

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