Syracuse University researchers have conducted a study that aims to suss out whether female avatars in games are actually women in real-life or just men role-playing as female characters.
Research that included work at Syracuse University considered 375 people playing a multi-player World of Warcraft quest. Researchers found that 23 percent of the men chose opposite-gender avatars, compared to 7 percent of women who played as male characters.
Researchers said the men stayed farther away from the group than female players did and moved backward more often. Men used female avatars tended to use more emotional phrases and smile emoticons than did men with male avatars. The hidden men also jumped much more often than women, perhaps to attract attention or to use the game as light entertainment rather than for serious game fighting.
The study, published in Information, Communication and Society, was the work of researchers from Syracuse University, Concordia University, Colorado State University, Hofstra University and the University of Toronto.
While this is interesting, obviously more research is needed on why men and women play in opposite gender roles online. Who much of it is "just having fun" and how much of it is about being more comfortable playing a gender based on sexual orientation or the fear of being harassed (in the case of female players)?