A content analysis by a faculty member and former graduate students in the Virginia Tech Department of Communication published in the May 2014 issue of the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research finds that the landscape of commercial online "massively multiplayer" online games is dominated primarily by white and male characters.

Prompted by previous research finding that white and male characters were disproportionately prevalent in video games, graduate students T. Franklin Waddell, Rommelyn Conde, Courtney Long, and Rachel McDonnell  with Virginia Tech Gaming and Media Effects Laboratory (VT G.A.M.E.R. Lab) co-director James D. Ivory to conduct a content analysis of 417 unique characters appearing 1,356 times in 20 hours of recorded content from four popular commercial "massively multiplayer" online games. The study was conducted to determine whether character demographics in online games where users could generate their own characters tended to differ from the demographics of previously-studied video games where most character demographics were determined by game studios. Waddell, Conde, Long, and McDonnell have since graduated from Virginia Tech; Waddell is currently a doctoral student in the College of Communications at Penn State.

The systematic content analysis found that as with previous research on game character demographics, the demographic makeup of the analyzed online game characters tended to be heavily white and male. Trends were similar for both computer-controlled characters and user-generated characters. The authors conclude that "the distribution of race among characters in our sample badly fails to represent the ethnic diversity of MMO users" (p. 11), and "while MMOs are something new compared to the video games that came before them, their representation of gender and race may not be new at all" (p. 12).

The article is freely available from the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, an open-access online journal.  For more information, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it