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Monday, June 18, 2018

Virtual Worlds and Gender Bending - Seersha Heart Reporting

Second Life celebrated fifteen years on June 15, 2018.  It is hard to believe the humble beginnings of this virtual world with a few prims and an ocean.  These days Linden Labs advertises Second Life as being a place you may make money with a business, go on adventures or create anything you may imagine.  Years ago, Second Life reported to users that a great deal of the female avatars were men in real life.  This falls within the promised activity to create anything you may imagine.  This phenomenon has been the subject of many forums and some studies in the greater gaming community.  What do we think about the person’s gender behind an avatar?  What are the expectations in Second Life as to the person behind the avatar?

An article in published an article recently titled “They’re All Men”.  Writing about MMORPGs [Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games], the author reformed the popular acronym.  Reframing MMORG, the author said these letters stand for Men Masquerading Occasionally as Really Pretty Girls.  Some gamers argue that by choosing a female avatar they are treated more nicely by males giving them certain advantages such as assistance in battle or locating rare items.  I am big World of Warcraft fan.  I don’t have any male avatars in WOW.  Instead I have a bevy female in multiple realms as various skill levels.  “Researchers from five universities across the US and Canada studied footage of 375 gamers playing a custom WOW quest.  They wanted to determine if difference in online behaviors in characters of different genders aligned with the societal expectations of conduct from men and women.”  A very complicated way to say the researchers wanted to see if there was mansplaining going on in world.  What they found is not surprising.  Men playing women behave differently that women playing women.  This difference is most apparent in the way they move their avatar.  In WOW men playing women tended to jump 116 times more often than women playing women.  They also tended to walk backwards much more frequently.

As with this study of men within WOW behavior, most in SL will claim they can tell a man in a woman avatar.  I went out in the community and asked several men and women if they believed they could tell the gender behind the avatar.  Most said yes, they could tell.  The traits I heard most often were opinions expressed about the breasts of the avi or the general promiscuity.

            In the online publication published an article “How Science Can Tell When Dudes are Pretending to be Women MMORPGS”.  This article began with stating the obvious, sometimes it is just “cool” to be a female avatar.  Sometimes we want to step outside of ourselves and be someone different.  This article also cited the US/Canadian study of 375 WOW gamers.  Men are much more likely to play women than women are to play men.  In the study 23% of the men switched genders to only 7% of the women.  This article quickly came around to the question I wanted an answer to most.  Does anyone really care the gender of the person behind an avi?

            The short answer is that no, most people asked the question if a person’s real-life gender identity was important said “no”.  The prevailing opinion I encountered both in person within SL and from reading forums is that demanding to know a person’s rl gender identity goes against what SL is all about.  Creating anything you may imagine means just that in a nutshell.  Many people I spoke with were quite adamant that a person’s real life is that person’s business.  If someone chooses to share information that is the choice of that person.  I learned a great deal from these responses.  I live in SL with a great deal of my private information available through my profile or through google.  [hears the tap tap tapping of keys on keyboards googling me 😊] I decided to share some of the gender issues I learned about while doing this story.

            One resident wanted to know if there are men available that will date a female avi who is a man in real life.  These are some of the responses:
      “Being female in SL is not an unspoken promise of being a real-life female.  And even if the user behind the avatar is female…there is no right for anyone to expect to get a verification or any RL information, to begin with.  If someone worries that the other person might have a different gender, they shouldn’t go dating in a virtual world…seriously.  After all its SL and if the time spend with a certain person is enjoyable…who cares who they are in RL?”  Syo Emerald
      “To me personally I don’t care and those who do yes are usually not worth his/her time.  Honestly if they are never going to meet what’s the difference?”  “Unless I am going to meet someone I don’t care what sex they are playing” Sephina Frostbite
      “I am a male playing a female avi and I’m open about it in my profile.  I’ve found guys really want nothing to do with me” Scarlet Waits
Another question posed about gender is does playing a woman in SL give any insight to how women feel in RL?  This was met with a resounding “No” to which I will add “duh”.  Some of the responses are worth sharing:
      “Not really.  Maybe a little?  SL is a whole little encapsulated experience.  Being a woman in SL will let you experience what is it’s like to be a woman in SL.”  RhondA Huntress
      “Nope not even close” Aislin Ceawlin
      “In RL, I’ve never had a guy try to grab my crotch from 100m away, while I’m clothes shopping, as their arms just ain’t that long, and their girlfriends/wives will beat the crap out of them if they try, just before the police arrive to drag them to jail.  And so on…No, female in SL is remarkably unlike Female in RL” Klytyna

I circle around to one of the original questions; is it even necessary to identify your RL gender in SL?  If you want people to know what is the best way to present yourself.  Here are some responses to that question:
      “Start by putting in your profile something like “Already in a relationship…NOT LOOKING!” come to think of it, that’s where you can end it too.  No one has any need to know your real gender…ever. [Unless YOU decide to tell them.”   Darrius gothly
      “Nothing wrong with it.  What is the point of having a second life if you can’t swap gender.  If you want people to know put it in your profile.  Just put it in a s a statement of fact without either apologizing or being aggressive about it [e.g. So if you don’t like it you can…<don’t do this).  Most people are pretty cool about this sort of thing in SL and for the rest you have Block, Derender and Shift+Ctrl+H” Ohjiro Watanabe
      “Unless told otherwise, I accept people as their avis are.  For the most part  all of SL is RP of a sort.  Very few of us actually look like the avatar we’re created.  There are a lot of guys in SL using female avis for several reasons…clothes, clothes and …clothes.”  “You really only need to “tell” if you’re going to be in a relationship.  For casual, it’s no one’s business but your own.”   Bobbie Faulds

In the end, what you reveal in SL is your business be it gender or another attribute of your RL.  I encourage you to always remember that each avi you meet has a human being behind that avatar.  Each person deserves to be treated with respect when you engage with them.  It is not deceptive to create a different gender than the one you have in real.  As always, it is deceptive to lie to real people in world.  If you tell someone you are a female in real life when you are not, this is deceptive and hurtful.  If you don’t want someone to know your RL gender, do not reveal it.  Don’t lie.  As everyone I spoke to related to me, most people in SL have been hurt at one time or another by someone’s lies.  It is fine to role play, it is fine to create whatever image you wish for your avatar.  It is your right to disclose what you wish about your real life.  If you decide to disclose, be honest.

Some avatars names have been changed at their request.  Resources used for this story beyond personal interviews may be located at these websites:

 Seersha Heart [saoirseheart resident]
Photos by Karmaghna Ulrik


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