It’s all about the “rear”

It strikes me as being very interesting when researchers puzzle over things that seem so obviously clear. One of those “things” is about why people create avatars in games the ways that they do: in particular, why men create female avatars. There is certainly a lot of research going on about what the psychological process behind avatar creation is.

For instance, if you look at the demographics of people who play MMOs, they are still dominantly (80%) are male . Demographics of the gender distribution of the in-game characters, however, are about equal. Even if we were to assume that females only created in-game female characters, that can only mean one thing: a good proportion of men are making female avatars.

I know this comes to some people as a shock. It may raise questions, such as what kind of man would want to be a female in a virtual world, or whether there are some psychological mechanisms regarding cross-dressing. Then, some people have pointed out that the choice of a female character may be more a strategic one than a psychological one: since most of the players of MMOs are male, you may have a better chance at getting help/socializing when you present yourself as a female.

But then, if you think about men and the sometimes simplistic way in which men’s minds works, this may be a better explanation: they just want to look at a good piece of ass. MMOs require a lot of time; most of the time is spend looking at the rear side of your character. If you were a guy, wouldn’t you want to look at a nice curvy butt? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that two of my colleagues, JV and CC, have also commented on this (on separate occasions!)

Also, researchers at PARC found that when people design avatars, they spend a lot of attention on the hairstyle. From the rear-view perspective, this also makes a lot of sense; wouldn’t you spend a lot more time customizing looks on something you can see over something you can’t?

What should game designers take from this? Well, maybe they should think about how attractive avatars look from behind just as much as they spend time working on the front end. More variety in capes, hats, hair accessories would be appreciated. Maybe they could come up with accessories that you can actually see from behind, like a backlace instead of a necklace. There is also something to be said about rear-view physical attractiveness. Given that players of MMOs must have diverse sexual orientations, it couldn’t hurt to make male character’s rear ends and back muscles more appealing as well. Maybe future characters could have tails, and kind of like hair, people could have different ways of presenting their tails.

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