Monday, December 10, 2012

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Take a Survey on Avatar Gender for Academic Researchers

Male versus Female avatars

Click here to take a 20 minute survey on avatars and gender being conducted by Jon-Paul Cacioli, a Lecturer of Psychology at Charles Darwin University in Australia, along with research assistant Amalia Badawi, who plan to share the results from their research with New World Notes and the public at large. Ms. Badawi has this to say on the importance of the project:

"Many people are using avatars more and more, such as in Second Life which, unlike MMORPGs, there is more freedom in choosing who your avatar is and what it represents, whether it is you, and ideal or some character you have always wanted to role play. This study will explore whether your personality factors may influence why you may choose to be (or not to be!) and avatar of the opposite gender. Maybe it is because you are open to trying new experiences, or maybe it is because you identify more with the stereotyped gender roles that are still lingering in our society...

"Hopefully by taking part in this study you may better understand the choices you make in choosing your avatar. We are aiming to publish the results of the study a peer reviewed psychology journal to better inform our understanding of the concept of the avatar. We hope that you will take part!"

I hope so too.

And if you do participate, please share any feedback you have on the survey in Comments, so they and other academics can take it into consideration for future research.


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Flashing Merlin

Asking you to consider only your main avatar is problematic when questions involve role play. No my main avatar doesn't rp, that's what my alts are for, so answering "Not at all" to "Do you role play?" ends up being a misleading answer, but the one required by their rules.

From the questions it appears they mainly want to know if you consider yourself/your avatar a weak disorganized loser, or a strong well organized success. I wonder how they expect that deals with gender issues? Do they expect to find that someone who plays the opposite gender considers themselves a loser, but their opposite sex avatar a success?

There were no questions like, Do you feel you were born in a body of the wrong gender? That's the sort of thing I hear from transgender people, so I wonder if this survey was asking the right questions to find out why people play the opposite sex.

I'm a male playing a male, so I'd like to hear the reaction to these questions of someone who does play the opposite gender.

Arabella Jones

Personally, I'm a little wary of such surveys. It's Australia, rather than the USA, but either way there are cultural and linguistic differences from where I live, and was brought up. Also, I'm not a city-dweller. That makes a difference. Pre-internet, certainly, I would have to have moved to a city to have stood a chance of socialising with people like me.

(Second Life is one of many ways in which the internet can be a virtual city.)

Also, since I choose to use a furry AV, what does that say about trans-gender issues? I'm already several great big steps away from my real-world self. I'm only a couple of mouse-clicks away from a Penis Of Unusual Size.


"Do they expect to find that someone who plays the opposite gender considers themselves a loser, but their opposite sex avatar a success?"

I think yes, it's very possible, and that is exactly what is happening to me in SL. I'm a woman in RL considering myself a loser - but my male alt avatar feels himself "the king of the world". OK, I'm exaggerating a bit, but mainly it's true. Moreover, I can experience and learn such sides of a man's life that I could never experience in RL - how he feels when competing with other males for the alpha male role, how he endures rejecting, how he handles his problems differently than my female self would. And yes, as far as I experienced, a man can get success much more easily than a woman. In SL, for sure.

Arcadia Codesmith

Gender identity and expression is such a fascinating field that it's a pity that people approach it with such a mountain of cultural baggage that they insist to their last breath is irrefutable and immutable natural law.

And not all of the baggage belongs to the ignorant bigots, either. There are plenty of well-meaning academics that are not nearly ruthless enough in expunging their cultural assumptions.

Adeon Writer

Where do enchanted stick figgures, sentient piñatas, and sexy airships fit in to this survey?

Pussycat Catnap

I'm all surveyed and analyzed and anthropologized out...


I want to do a survey on why people who do surveys of people that play online games think they need to do surveys of 'those geeks and freaks'...

"Asking you to consider only your main avatar is problematic when questions involve role play. No my main avatar doesn't rp, that's what my alts are for, so answering "Not at all" to "Do you role play?" ends up being a misleading answer, but the one required by their rules."
How about we do a survey on whether or not people even have a 'main' or how they define the concept of a main, versus an alt...

There's always this assumption that you "play mostly one character" and the others are just there for the sexret-sexxors...
- And I get tired of it...

I've got a ton of alts. I identify with them all. But this doesn't give ma split personality... It just means I know how to click the create account button...
- Some of them have different purposes than others, as you note for RP. Some are just there.

Asking a person to 'consider it from the POV of your main' or only in terms of the main is just weird. It presumes that the main is somehow different from the others on this.

Perhaps it would be better to just ask it as 'consider from the POV of yourself as a user of virtual worlds.'

Extropia DaSilva

I never roleplay. I am always just myself. My primary roleplays every time ve logs in to SL, since this requires constantly asking how that other person represented on the screen would behave in any given situation.

For me to roleplay I would have to be Extropia DaSilva pretending to be somebody else, which would entail third-order intentionality on my primary's behalf- the primary puppetering Extropia pretending to be whoever. Sounds like a tricky thing to pull off.


Firstly I would like to thank all of you who have participated in the study. I would also like to take this opportunity to address some of the points raised in the discussion taking place on New World Notes.
Unfortunately in research there are decisions that have to be made in order to explore data. I know many people have multiple avatars and they all serve different purposes. Some are for role play, some are simply to engage with the game/application but some are also to simply represent us online. We chose to look at everyone’s “main” as opposed to alts as often people do have an avatar that they identify most with, and would also be devastated to lose, as opposed to other avatars that mean less emotionally to us. However, I am aware that this is not always the case and many people would still be upset at losing anyone of their avatars. They often represent so much more than the time and effort we have put into them.
The study is not actually exploring gender issues or transgender. It is actually looking at why a male or a female may choose an avatar of the opposite sex. Is it because of personality characteristics? Or is it because they identify more so with the traditional stereotyped roles that are expected of that gender. And does this effect how others treat them? While society is changing, in many cultures males are expected to be strong and stoic while females are meant to be caring and empathetic. Even in modern society, such stereotypes still exist and influence many people. So the study is not exploring if you were born in the body of the wrong gender, however that may come up for some people.
Sometimes we also feel that we have many expectations placed upon us and that we need to act a certain way, other times we wish we were an ideal version of ourselves, and the avatar may be a way to help achieve that in some contexts. So yes many people may find their avatar is an ideal of who they wish to be, but that may have nothing to do with the gender selection. It may be more to do with the way people view their avatar – powerful, sexy, strong, demure, etc…
We do not expect that people who play an avatar of the opposite sex to consider themselves any less valued or worthwhile than someone who plays an avatar of the same gender. This may be the case for some people but also many people may play an avatar of the opposite gender as they are comfortable and confident in who they are.
While not always the case, many avatars are still sexualised as either male or female, and identified as such. Second life, unlike a lot of programs, does allow for the individual to be anything they desire, such as a glowing fog with tentacles and yes gender may not actually be assigned to such a creation. However in the case of furry’s, many do still feature characteristics that identify them with a gender group, or their user may identify them as being male or female.
In response to Pussycat Catnap, many researchers want to explore online games, avatars and related fields as we ourselves are interested in them. I very much doubt ‘geeks and freaks’ is a label that most would apply. Online games and social applications like Second Life are transcending all generations and cultures. They are no longer limited to the coders in the computer lab at 3am attempting to defeat the ASCII dragon through a dial-up connection and hoping for that perfect roll.
Once more I appreciate the time you have all dedicated to the survey. It is because of people who do take the time to answer questions about themselves and their avatars that this research is possible.
Kind regards

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