Return to gender: Gender swapping and the convergence of gambling and video gaming

I’ve always found the gender differences in game playing of great psychological interest. For a number of years, my research unit has been examining various online gaming environments including both gambling (e.g., online poker sites) and video gaming (e.g., ‘meta-verses’ such as Everquest and World of Warcraft). One study we published specifically examined online video gaming found that the majority of gamers (57%) had gender-swapped their game character, and that females (68%) were more likely to gender swap than males (54%). We argued that gender swapping enabled gamers to play around and experiment with various aspects of their character or avatar that are not easy to do in real life. For others it was just fun to see if they felt any different playing a different gendered character.

Most of the press coverage that our research received on that particular study concentrated on the fact that females (as one of our participants said) were tired of the “annoying and ridiculous habit of creepy guys hitting on their female characters”. Other women reported that if they made their character a woman, men tended to treat them far better. This provided support for our earlier research suggesting that the female persona has a number of positive social attributes in a male-oriented environment. However, lots of other reasons for gender swapping didn’t make it into all the media reports. Other reasons included that female characters had better in-game statistics, specific in-game tools were only available with a female character, and/or the class of character was only available in one gender. What makes our findings interesting is that in most instances, the gamer had the opportunity to choose the gender of his or her character and to develop other aspects of their character before they began to play. Choosing to gender swap may have had an effect on the gamers’ styles of play and interaction with other gamers. This is certainly an area our research unit will be looking into further.

The idea that many men gender-swapped for strategic reasons mirrors our research into gender swapping in online poker. For instance, one of our studies into online poker, we found that one in five female players (20%) and one in eight players (12%) reported they gender-swapped playing online poker. For males, gender swapping was a tactical move to give them a strategic advantage, whereas for females it was much more about acceptance or privacy in what they perceived to be a male-dominated environment.

From my point of view, the most interesting development is the convergence between online gaming and gambling. Game developers are constantly looking for new ways to increase revenue. Conventional wisdom says that two things have the power to drive consumer technology – sex and gambling. Since 2006, a number of servers aimed at the adult gaming market have launched services that pay videogame players every time they kill within the game they are playing. On one level, this activity is akin to some types of online gambling like online poker. If gender swapping is done for strategic advantage then more and more players will engage in it – especially if it brings them financial rewards.

One of the legal implications of being paid to kill within the confines of a computer game is that the activity is defined as a skill-based (as apposed to a chance-based) activity and is therefore – in Great Britain at least – exempt from the regulations set down in the 2005 Gambling Act. However, it is likely that more and more gambling companies will start to utilise videogame technology within their products (and vice-versa) and this will then become an issue that the Gambling Commission will almost certainly have to re-examine in terms of the gambling legislation.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Digital impact, crossover technologies and gambling practices. Casino and Gaming International, 4(3), 37-42.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Gaming convergence: Further legal issues and psychosocial impact. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 14, 461-464.

Griffiths, M.D., Parke, J., Wood, R.T.A. & Rigbye, J. (2010). Online poker gambling in university students: Further findings from an online survey. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 82-89.

Hussain, Z. & Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Gender swapping and socialising in cyberspace: An exploratory study. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 11, 47-53.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 175-187.

Wood, R.T.A., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2007). The acquisition, development, and maintenance of online poker playing in a student sample. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10, 354-361.



About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on December 8, 2011, in Gambling, Gender differences, Online gambling, Popular Culture, Psychology, Video games and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

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