Performing self, performing character: Exploring gender performativity in online role-playing games

  • Heather Osborne University of Calgary
Keywords: Avatar, Identity, Massively multiplayer online role-playing game, MMORPG, Narrative role-playing game, Sexuality, Survey


Online narrative (fiction-based) role-playing games and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) provide a ludic structure in which role players enact the gender and sexuality of their avatars. To investigate how role players perceive and perform their avatars' gender and sexuality in online games, I invited role players from MMORPGs and narrative RPGs to participate in an online survey. This study examines how the online game environment mediates players' self-expression and their acceptance of minority identities. Qualitative analysis of the data collected suggests that players who demonstrate empathy with and examination of their avatars' genders and sexualities, and who experience a sense of belonging within the game structure, are able to form positive interpersonal relationships that allow them to accept others' expressed identities.