The strategic female: Gender-switching and player behavior in online games

Rosa Mikeal Martey, Jennifer Stromer-Galley, Jaime Banks, Jingsi Wu, Mia Consalvo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


As players craft and enact identities in digital games, the relationship between player and avatar gender remains unclear. This study examines how 11 in-game chat, movement, and appearance behaviors differed by gender and by men who did and did not use a female avatar - or 'gender-switchers'. Drawing on social role and feminist theories of gender, we argue that gender differences in behavior align with the social roles and norms that establish appropriate and inappropriate behavior for men and women. Thus we complicate questions of 'gender-switching' by examining not only player gender, but also player psychological Gender Role as measured by the Bem Sex Role Inventory to examine how gender does - and does not - manifest in digital worlds. Analysis revealed that men may not necessarily seek to mask their offline gender when they use a female avatar, but there is evidence they do reinforce idealized notions of feminine appearance and communication. Movement behaviors, however, show no differences across men who do and do not gender-switch. That is, selecting avatar gender may be less a matter of identity expression, and more a strategic selection of available multi-modal codes that players take up in their navigation of this digital space.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)286-300
Number of pages15
JournalInformation Communication and Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • avatars
  • digital worlds
  • gender
  • gender roles
  • identity
  • video games

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Library and Information Sciences


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