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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 June, 2003, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
EverQuest exposes cost of sexism
Screenshot from EverQuest, UbiSoft
Players prefer to play elves rather than ogres
The online game EverQuest may be set in a fantasy world but it seems to share one feature of real life: sexism.

A study of the price people pay for high-level games characters shows that males command a slight premium.

The result is strange given that most EverQuest players are male and sex confers no advantage, or disadvantage, on in-game characters.

The author of the study puts the results down to the sexist attitudes that players unwittingly bring with them when they play.

Sex change

EverQuest gives game players, both male and female, the chance to throw off their Earthly restrictions and become a hugely powerful warrior, sorceror, priest or monk in the online world of Norrath.

Some people also use it as an opportunity to find out what life is like as a member of the opposite sex.

More than 90% of the players of EverQuest are male but only 80% of the characters in the game are male, suggesting some people are trying a bit of gender-swapping.

Prof Edward Castronova, an economics professor at the California State University, who carried out the study, said players tend to play females of the prettier races such as elves and humans.

"There are very few female ogres and trolls," he wrote in his study.

Screenshot from EverQuest, UbiSoft
Some EverQuest species are hard to sex
Many choose to play a woman in EverQuest because gender has no effect on the physical and mental capabilities of that character or on its ability to accrue experience and become more powerful.

Prof Castronova says this fact makes EverQuest a good laboratory for exploring attitudes to gender, free of the discrimination that dogs sexual relations in the real world.

Sadly, Prof Castronova's study shows that EverQuest, for all its fantasy elements, is not free of sexism.

By studying the price that people are prepared to pay to buy high-level or experienced characters from websites such as PlayerAuctions.com, Prof Castronova has found that people spend more on male avatars.

"People tend to buy avatars to short-circuit the laborious, and often tedious, process of building up the skills of a character," writes Prof Castronova.

Cost comparison

In the study of avatar economics Prof Castronova used the prices paid for 611 auctions that took place on PlayerAuctions.com between October 2002 and January 2003.

In these auctions, players paid an average price of $333 (200). The lowest price paid for an EverQuest character was $40 and the highest $2,250.

Curiously, female characters sold for less than a male character of equivalent level.

Screengrab from Player Auctions
Buy a hero or heroine here
"All else [being] equal, a female avatar sells for about $41 less than a male avatar, which is about 12 percent of the mean price of $333," writes Prof Castronova.

He notes that this price discrimination is better than the real world in which women's pay, in the US, is 28% lower than that for men in equivalent jobs.

"There is nothing in the game mechanics to explain this discounting, since male and female avatars have exactly the same capabilities," he said.

One explanation could be because of assumptions about the player behind the female character not being as good a player as someone playing a male.

He also notes that although the sex of a character determines part of its market value, other attributes of that character are more important.

"The value of a body is primarily related to what the body does, not so much what it looks like," writes Prof Castronova.

"Appearance matters," he said, "but, in a world where appearance can be chosen at birth, effectiveness in later life matters quite a bit more."

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