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"I don’t want my character to be a fairy princess”: Qualitative accounts of women gamers’ avatar choices

Ford, R and Cole, JM (2018) "I don’t want my character to be a fairy princess”: Qualitative accounts of women gamers’ avatar choices. Psychology of Women Section Review. ISSN 1466-3724 (In Press)

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Abstract

The ease with which we can now create digital selves means that virtual environments such as video games can be playgrounds for experimenting with alternative identities. Extensive experimental research exists examining what determines our virtual selves’ (avatar’s) appearance and impact, but relatively few studies addresses this in detail using qualitative methods. There is also very little research which focuses specifically on female gamers and how they may experience avatar choices, which is especially important given the hostile environment they may face in public gaming spaces. The present study aimed to examine avatar decisions of women gamers with the use of semi-structured gaming interviews, where participants were interviewed while creating an avatar in a popular action adventure game. The data were analysed using inductive thematic analysis and three themes were extracted. The women interviewed expressed frustration having to “pretend to be a guy” due to lack of choice and motivation to avoid harassment online. However, when discussing environments where they were free to customise their character, participants both adhered to prescriptive norms for women to avoid being a “bigger girl”, while rejecting traditionally feminine appearance to avoid being “a stereotype”. Findings show that despite using avatars to be someone else, the women were often constrained in their choices by the male-centric context of gaming, and reactions to this context which involved eschewing femininity in their avatar choices.

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