[MUD-Dev] The Price of Being Male

Marian Griffith gryphon at iaehv.nl
Mon Jun 30 23:08:21 CEST 2003

In <URL:/archives/meow?group+local.muddev> on Mon 30 Jun, Richard A. Bartle wrote:
> On 29th June 2003, Edward Casronova wrote:

>> But what I had to ask myself was: How can that not be evidence of
>> systematically different treatment of women by men?

> OK, here are some other possibilites, none of which I necessarily
> agree with but all of which could answer your question:

>   1) Perhaps fewer women are into the whole power-gaming thing
>   (that you describe as the reason people buy higher-level
>   accounts). This reduces the demand for female avatars, which in
>   turn reduces the price.

If this is (part of) the explanation then the number of female
avatars offered for sale should be decreasing steadily over time as
those who create such characters for sale find that with the same
amount of effort they can create a more valuable character.

On the other hand it may be a supply problem, with a higher turn
over rate for female characters, though I can not see many female
players selling their characters.

>   2) Women in the real world are paid less than men, on
>   average. Perhaps they can't afford to pay as much for their
>   characters, so the price falls until they can?

This assumes that women are the primary buyers of the female a-
vatars.  It also does not quite exclude the fact that those ava-
tars are considered less valuable. If they are equally good, why are
not more male players picking up those bargains?

>   3) Perhaps the people who manufacture characters so they can
>   sell them on eBay skew the market by their own preferences for
>   what character genders they play?

That could easily be checked by looking at several games. If the
same price differences happens on several games this is an unli-
kely explanation. Especially if it is professional they would go for
the most valuable character (and given the significant price
difference that would mean a male character)

>   5) According to your Table 1, 10.4% of female users have a male
>   main avatar and 18.3% of male users do.  According to Table 2,
>   20.1% of all characters in the auction are female.  Assuming
>   that this reflects the general preferences of the player base,
>   perhaps it indicates an over-supply of female characters, in
>   which case the price could be expected to be lower than for male
>   characters.

Without better demographics of both player and buyer population this
argument actually could go either way.  It could also point at
under-supply, depending on who puts a female avatar up for sale.

>   6) The price of a level for high-level characters is more than
>   for low-level characters, but your regression rules may not
>   fully capture the impact of this. According to Table 3, a higher
>   proportion of female characters are offered for sale at a
>   lower-level than for male characters (27.4%, as opposed to 20.1%
>   female avatars overall). This may be because male players who
>   were experimenting with cross-gender play tired of it, but the
>   reason doesn't really matter; if you're not weighting the effect
>   of levels properly, the lower price of female characters could
>   primarily be due to the influence of their level.

>From the little I have read of the article I had the impression
that prices were compared for characters of similar level and
equipment.  I may of course be wrong about that, but that would rule
out this explanatin

>   7) Perhaps female players rate a character's appearance higher
>   than male players? They'll pay premium rates for an exotic
>   female dark elf, but they rate other races much lower than do
>   male players. If they won't pay for female characters in
>   general, the price will drop, although it's "balanced" by the
>   extra they'll pay for the few combinations they do like. Again,
>   the mathematics you use only approximates the effect, though,
>   and may do so badly.

While this may true, it does not quite explain, why male players do
not pick up such bargain characters instead. The point of the
article was that men were willing to pay more so they would not have
to play a female character.  That is in a sense discriminatory and
not discredited by this explanation.

>   9) You don't include equipment as a factor (except by not
>   accepting characters that have been stripped of it), linking
>   this to level instead. Perhaps you should have included it?
>   Maybe the equipment that typically comes with female avatars is,
>   for some reason, not as attractive to potential buyers as that
>   which typically comes with male avatars?

Given that there should be no meaningful difference between male and
female equipment (or the abilities of the characters).  This is an
unlikely explanation of the observed price difference.

>   10) Perhaps more women are TOS-abiding than men, or believe that
>   buying characters is wrong anyway, or regard auctions as some
>   kind of competitive male thing. This would mean that fewer of
>   them would be available to buy avatars, therefore anyone who
>   wants a female avatar can expect to pay less to get one.

But it would also mean *far* fewer would be available for sale.

One point that supports the original conclusion is the observation
of many female players that their female avatar is not taken
seriously as male ones. I remember at least one female player who
complained that her high level fighter character was not allowed to
'tank' monsters. My own experience from the time that I regularly
played muds, was that as a female player, I was not listened to by
groups, even when I was the most experienced and capable player
around. I was certainly not the only girl who had encountered such
sexist attitudes during gameplay either.  All this suggests that
indeed a strong gender bias affects how players perceive avatars,
and that the lower price for female ones is because they are seen as
less capable.  When games are set up so that the gender of the
avatar makes no difference for its abilities this is discrimination
against females and it does indeed put a price tag (with a
considerable margin of error) on it.

> Although your suggestion may indeed be true, as things stand it
> isn't by any means the only explanation or even the best
> interpretation of your data. To find out why there's a price
> differential between otherwise "equal" male and female, we really
> need to ask the players who bought one character why they didn't
> buy a different "equal value" one they could have got cheaper.

> I guess we'll have to wait until Nick Yee runs a survey to find
> out if your suspicions of sexism are correct!

I think that this is going to be a subject of lots of sociological
study, as it should. There is indeed a risk of the attention
grabbing headline running with the story. Better quantifying and
better blind testing of the data should allow more confidence in the
results (and make it more difficult to discredit them).  The various
alternative explanations of course should be examined to see if, and
by how much, they contribute to the price difference but the
opportunity to study valuation of male and female labour in a
situation that is free of factual differences in ability is quite

Yes at last You. I Choose you. Out of all the world,
out of all the seeking, I have found you, young sister of
my heart! You are mine and I am yours and never again
will there be loneliness ...

Rolan Choosing Talia,
Arrows of the Queen, by Mercedes Lackey
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