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DiscussionFeb 24, 2023 8:00 am CT

What effect does the range of gender customization in a video game have on your interest in that game? How do those options impact your choice of in-game avatar?

Looking at my roster of characters in World of Warcraft and Diablo 3, I have almost exclusively chosen to create characters with female-presenting avatars. Then again, apparently only 9% of women prefer playing male characters — so I’m not exactly an outlier in that regard (comparatively, 29% of those who identified as male indicated they preferred playing as a female character).  

In my guild, most of the women follow this trend, playing characters with feminine-presenting avatars, whereas the men are typically split with about 2/3 in favor of using masculine-presenting avatars. Some play a combination of both! When asked why, the responses seem to vary between “I want to play with an avatar I feel represents who I am” to “If I’m going to look at a butt for 20 hours per week, it should be one I like looking at.”

We also have people who are trans or questioning their gender on our guild roster — in some cases, playing a different gender in-game lets them try it on in a low-consequence environment before presenting that way in real life. In a slightly different vein, our roster also includes male-identifying members who are gay and lean more towards avatars that are beefcakes in much the same way that many guys like to play avatars that are attractive women.

With World of Warcraft patch 10.0.1, Blizzard updated the label for gender options to Body 1 and Body 2 — though they are still noticeably masculine presenting (Body 1) or feminine presenting (Body 2) and the emotes and dialog options are still strongly gender coded based on those selections. There are currently no options to play a butch-body-type but female presenting character, however. If you preference is to play a nonbinary character that doesn’t strongly present as either male or female, your best option would be to play a Dracthyr who limits their time in Visage form.

Gender dimorphism in character designs can certainly impact how players approach their character(s). For extreme examples, look at Tauren and Draenei — the Body 1 characters are big and imposing, but by comparison the Body 2 characters are svelte and petite. Meanwhile, earlier versions of Diablo had only one avatar option per class — the Sorceress was always female, the Druid was always male.

So now I leave it to all of you. When a game associates mechanics like classes or skills with your gender selection, which one do you prioritize more? Do you choose the character you play based on who you are, who you would like to be, or something different entirely? And have you ever caught yourself subconsciously associating someone’s in-game avatar with gender stereotypes? Sound off below!

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