[MUD-Dev] The Price of Being Male

Sasha Hart hart.s at attbi.com
Fri Jun 27 02:27:21 CEST 2003

[Rayzam cut and paste from
34264776316268, which was quoting bits from Edward Castronova]

> US economist, Edward Castronova, has discovered that female
> avatars, from worlds such as EverQuest, trade online at an average
> 10 per cent discount to their price were they male-designated.

It takes an awful lot of interpretation to get from this to

The returns are via Ebay. How many people is it realistic to suppose
are actually selling characters on Ebay? Now how many are working to
sell characters from the beginning?

Suppose that Ebay price differences are an important, realistic, not
perverse index of 'how much a player's time is worth' (e.g., by
adopting a crude instrumentalism that regards the value of
everything as its literal market value, and the market value of
everything as the price you will tend to get on Ebay). Lower prices
for female avatars are very different from lower prices paid to
female sellers.  Less preference for a female avatar per se does not
constitute sexism since female avatars aren't people but (at best)
ciphers standing for people. Disliking the word 'women' doesn't make
you a misogynist, though we might wonder what was wrong - but not
wanting to have 'woman' on your character sheet is even more
arbitrary. This is 100% about labeling and appearance in a game (and
of course the value of these will be affected by any resultants,
like a judgement that goblin characters are too short).

So it looks like there is some sort of preference, at least among
boys and men (who make up a majority of EQ's population), for male
avatars. This could be about similarity to self, discomfort with
cross-gender play (perhaps perceived as deviant, exploitative,
misleading, resulting in ridicule or potentially leading to easily
discerned breaks in character). They could easily be about how well
a male character is perceived as fitting into the game, e.g. because
it's in a genre which is usually about heroes crushing skulls. I
don't see how any of them (particularly self-similarity) are
particularly implausible, nor immoral or indicative of real

It is not even vaguely plausible that it is because men 'like being
with other men' or 'like to appoint male successors' because an
avatar isn't a man, nor a successor, but a game-piece. People don't
choose the little car in monopoly because they think cars are good
company, and they don't choose the little hat because they like to
appoint hat successors. Nor does the same apply to half-elves or
assassins. A ten percent discount is easily within the range one
might expect one race or class to have relative to another, whether
for economic or innocently preferential reasons (I'll leave out
anti- goblin discrimination, though the rhetorical strategy applied
here could be amusingly applied in that direction).

You still have to spin the tale of cultural woe yourself, and the
content of such a tale will be mostly made-up (whether or not it
also happens to be true).

The real wage gap[1], by contrast, is large, consistent, and highly
resistant to controlling for plausible sources of difference: amount
of work done, education, seniority, childbearing, and so on[2]. A
wage gap for real work done has important ramifications, and we have
no explanation for this one. So one explanation that works decently
is that there is discrimination being applied (though the size of
the gap is so variable that it is clearly not the same prejudice
being uniformly held by all and having a uniform impact on wages; a
handful of specific professions are missing the gap entirely, and
certain specific levels of income etc. show a reversal, though for
interesting reasons which don't effectively discount discrimination
there or in general). In any case, it is important and it is obvious
and there is no other plausible explanation for it. None of these
are true of Castronova's apparent speculation given here.

  [1] I am judging by my own explorations in US census data (GSS),
  which are not authoritative and certainly don't count for the
  whole world without qualification. Also, I give no actual numbers
  since this level of technical detail is totally irrelevant, I have
  them filed away, and you can go get them yourself from the horse's
  mouth.  But look for yourself, and I am pretty sure will see the
  same things I saw. Of course, even provided this my conclusions
  are /in the limit/ only as good as the data.

  [2] I have seen it claimed that you can make the gap disappear by
  controlling by common-sense variables like these. Controlling
  several of the variables actually increasedd the size of the gap
  (for example, try looking at education; men seem to get a much
  bigger advantage from jumps in education level than women, so the
  gap increases). Another part of the problem is that while
  controlling for A (only looking at people who meet criteria A)
  might turn up a smaller gap than total population, and the same
  for B, only looking at people who meet A & B may actually show a
  larger gap. In other words, just because each criterion reduces
  the gap doesn't mean that their union reduces the gap by an amount
  equal to the sum of A's and B's reductions.
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