"Our findings support feminist theories suggesting that although gender is a powerful social category, there is a range of ways it can be performed, Consalvo maintained."
Toronto, May 7 - Even when men take female avatars in some video games, they do not try to mask their gender and instead reinforce gender stereotypes through their gestures, a study showed.
Men may not necessarily try to mask their offline gender when they use a female avatar, but our study shows they do reinforce idealised notions of feminine appearance and communication, said Mia Consalvo, a professor at Concordia University in Canada.
Avatars can convey a player's sense of humour, displeasure, intrigue and interest through cues like gestures, movement and language, which can reveal real-life identity, Consalvo noted.
In the study, researchers examined the online behaviour of 375 participants as they played a custom-built quest in World of Warcraft - a massive multi-player game set in a fantasy world where players battle warlords, dragons, demons and each other to gain strength and abilities.
Twenty-three percent of the study's male participants chose avatars of the opposite gender, and seven percent of its female participants did the same.
As they played, their online movement, chat and clicks on interactive objects were recorded.
The researchers found that male gamers with female avatars used more emotional phrases and employed smile emoticons more often than those with male avatars.
They were also more likely to choose an attractive avatar.
It was with respect to movement that the male gamers with female avatars ultimately gave themselves away: they moved backwards more often and stayed further away from the group than women playing with female avatars.
Movement is less conscious than chat, so it can be an easier 'tell' for offline gender, Consalvo explained.
Men playing with a female avatar also jumped an average of 116 more times than their female counterparts.
Frequent jumps may show that the gamer intends the avatar to play a less serious role in the game.
Ultimately, the study has implications for gender theorists and gamers alike.
Our findings support feminist theories suggesting that although gender is a powerful social category, there is a range of ways it can be performed, Consalvo maintained.
The study appeared in the journal Information, Communication and Society.