Of humans and avatars: how real world gender practices are brought into World of Warcraft

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Rosier, Kady N.
Pearce, Celia
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This thesis explores the idea of how people 'do gender' in their online use of avatars, specifically avatar choice. A secondary question of whether or not a chatterbot can be used as a potential interviewer will also be examined as a tool acquiring large amounts of interview data. Gender is one of the ways in which we structure our society, and is completely omnipresent. We cannot opt out of participating in our gender, as we are constantly performing and reaffirming it. Because of this, gender performance and choice spills over into all domains. This includes entertainment such as massively multiplayer online games, both in how the designers make the game, and what the players bring to the game. Deconstructing how and why people engage in these gendered practices and choices becomes an interesting avenue of research, because it allows researchers to partially separate the mental aspects of gender from physical attributes, as the players' physical bodies are not actually in the game. Through the lens of the popular massively multiplayer online game, World of Warcraft, this thesis will utilize a qualitative user research study to understand how gender affects avatar choices. Prior research identified areas where players brought real world gender norms into the games they played. This research study will extend previous research by having players identify why they made the choices they made for their avatars, and how they feel about those choices. The methodology for this study will also involve using a chatterbot as a way of gathering interviews. In normal person-to-person interview studies, recruiting and organizing meetings for these interviews can often be a difficult task. This thesis brings in the idea of using a chatterbot as a mechanism to gather more interviews in a shorter time span to alleviate the problem of getting these one-on-one interviews in some types of studies.
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