An avatar is a personalized graphical illustration that represents a computer user, a character or an alter ego that represents that user (techopedia.com). Avatars are found in internet forums, but, more popularly, in video games. The users control the physical appearance of their avatars, and they are meant to represent the user as accurate as possible. People practically go through an avatar customization process every morning. They decide what to wear, how to style their hair, and are able to make more significant alterations to their appearances by adding tattoos or piercings. However, these changes are very limited, and larger changes would take either a lot of money, time, and/or dedication. Therefore, people use avatars as a method of showing how they want to be perceived in the eyes of their peers.
Creating an avatar is actually more psychological than people think. Multiple studies have taken place to connect the dots between how people want to be viewed and their online virtual avatars. Nick Yee, a former research scientist for the Palo Alto Research Center stated, “Studies have shown that in, general, people create slightly idealized avatars based on their actual selves (psychologyofgames.com).” So, people create their avatars using their appearance as the base, then “fix” what they think is wrong with themselves when customizing their avatar. Yee elaborates that people who are overweight, or obese, tend to create avatars with physical idealizations. These people make their virtual selves appear taller, thinner, or more muscular. Then, people with lower self-esteem or suffering from depression add more idealized traits to their avatars. Traits such as outgoing, more sociable, or conscientious, wanting to do what is right. Another study shows that when people create these more appealing avatars, they develop an attachment to these virtual representations of themselves. In turn, the users enjoy the game better than if the avatar is preconceived and cannot be fully customized.
Seung-A “Annie” Jin, and assistant professor at Emerson College’s Marketing Communication Department, conducted a number of experiments to test the connection between avatar creation and game enjoyment. She found that students who created Nintendo Miis to be more physically attractive developed a stronger connection to their Miis than students who created Miis with more accurate appearances. Then, while playing Wii Fit, the users with more attractive avatars enjoyed the game more than their counterparts. The game felt more interactive and immersive to the students with the idealized avatars. Jin noticed that the developed connection between the students and their avatars was strongest when there was a large disparity between the users’ view of their ideal and actual selves (online.liebertpub.com).
Of course the level of avatar customization varies from game to game, but overall users tend to create avatars in the image of their idealized selves. These idealized avatars also make the game more enjoyable for the users due to the special bond formed during the customization process.
By: Dylan Geller