League of Gendered Game Play Behaviors: Examining Instrumental vs Identity-Relevant Avatar Choices

Rabindra Ratan, Tracy Kennedy and Dmitri Williams


Previous research on gender swapping in online games suggests that the relationship between player sex and avatar gender tends to be more instrumental for males and more identity-relevant for females. This article examines this pattern of behavior in League of Legends (LoL), currently the most played PC game in North America and Europe (Gaudiosi, July 2012). The analysis is based anonymized survey responses and linked gameplay server data from over 15,000 players, provided by the game developer. Results yield some typical gendered patterns: male players tend to focus more on combat activities, whereas women focus on more social game activities. Moreover, female players are more likely to choose same-gender avatars than male players are, but females who gender swap engage in more masculine and fewer feminine behaviors. These results are consistent with previous findings and support the general claim that males tend to have an instrumental relationship with their avatars, while females tend to have an identity-relevant relationship. However, one finding contradicts this generalization: male players who rated themselves as shy are more likely to choose female avatars than male players who rated themselves and competitive or bold. This suggests that for some males, identity does play a role in their choice of avatar. Building on these findings, this paper discusses how gender is embodied and represented in similar ways in both real and virtual spaces, situating gender as an ongoing constructed performance.