Fun-House Mirrors and Avatars

Happy Thursday, everyone!

I am back with more insight about gaming culture. This week, I am going to tackle the topic of avatar customization.  The topic itself is pretty direct.  We customize the appearance of our avatars in video games to fulfill fantasy, or to describe how we see ourselves beyond the confines of our physical selves.  But is there more to this?  Are we looking into a fun-house mirror to create avatars as better versions of ourselves, or perhaps to blend in with the rest of the players in the virtual world?

I think the answer is probably a lot more complex than I can easily explain, but here I go.  First, I want to address the easiest of these plausible reasons, fantasy.  When I play a video game, whether it is an MMO or a single player game, I tend to choose to be a mage, warlock, or some kind of other magician and I tend to keep the “look”.  The robe, or pointed hat with a staff.  For me, choosing an archetype or avatar has always really been about the fantasy of the game; the escapism.  I have loved the concept of magic since I was a child, and an adult I still love going to see professional magicians and I love science fiction. There is a fair argument that a segment of the population does the same thing.  However, research says it is a bit more complicated.

At the most basic level, research indicates that players generally create avatars that are a greater version of themselves.  This explanation though is overly simple.  Players are not making a better self; they are re-making themselves based on what they view as their ideal.  In the article I am using this week, “The Psychology of Video Game Avatars”, the writer points out that research regarding self-perception theory reliably shows that people tend to perceive who they are based on how they act.  This is an important idea when discussing the chosen design of avatars because people choose who they will be in these virtual worlds based on how they intend to act or be reacted to.  The author goes so far as to state, “Studies have shown that people unconsciously conform to the expectations of their avatar’s appearances.” This means, we know how we want to act, and we just need to be able to be the right looking ‘person’ to act in that way.

I know. Your mind is blown. Mine too.

So taking this all into account, what does it really mean?  Essentially, it means that people like to portray who they would like to be.  If a user is heavy, short, bald, or gaunt, they can project the image of who they would prefer to be, in a world of their own making.  In creating these avatars, they find a safe space in which they are able to unleash their personality with the confidence of who they want to be rather than who they are.  While the behaviors can turn to a negative place for those who choose to act poorly toward others, research indicates that using visualization techniques that are similar to avatar building are effective in treating phobias of particular items or activities.

Want to read more?  Check out my source below.

http://www.psychologyofgames.com/2013/11/the-psychology-of-video-game-avatars/

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