The Psychology of Avatars

Image of Final Fantasy XIV gameplay. This is my Avatar!

May 2, 2013 — When people create and modify their virtual reality avatars, the hardships faced by their alter egos can influence how they perceive virtual environments, according to researchers.

A group of students who saw that a backpack was attached to an avatar that they had created overestimated the heights of virtual hills, just as people in real life tend to overestimate heights and distances while carrying extra weight, according to Sangseok You, a doctoral student in the school of information, University of Michigan.

"You exert more of your agency through an avatar when you design it yourself," said S. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory, Penn State, who worked with You. "Your identity mixes in with the identity of that avatar and, as a result, your visual perception of the virtual environment is colored by the physical resources of your avatar."


I found this article rather interesting. I'd like to tangent a little bit from their research and go a bit further into the psychology of Avatars.

I've been playing Video Games the whole of my life. If my avatar was facing a challenging puzzle, and I can't quite figure it out, it actually became easier for me to understand it when I put myself in that world and asserted their limitations.

It also is worth noting that the emotional attachment to an avatar attributes to higher addiction rates for Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Games(MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft, Everquest, Rift, Final Fantasy XI / XIV, and the like. When you care about what happens to your character, you are more likely to keep playing and building their gear and reputation with in game factions.

There are some people who immerse themselves so deeply that they actually Role Play their character with other players, and also the game itself. It sounds strange, but I've done it a little bit and it's a lot of fun to try and think on that different level.

But the Psychology of Avatars also plays a lot into emotional and even physical stresses in the real world. Obviously, when you play games a lot you don't get as much exercise, and it tends to go hand in hand with poor eating habits as well. I've been through this whole song and dance personally, and I avoid attaching myself emotionally to a character as much as I can because it does have some serious real world implications. 

There has been more than one occasion where I realize I'm putting more time and effort into a virtual character, than my own life. It's a very hard habit to break, especially when you grow up with it. I think a lot of gamers can testify to this problem, and a good chunk of them may not even think it's a problem at all. It's not easy admitting you put more stock into a game, than yourself.

No matter how you perceive this subject I think we can all agree it's an interesting Psychological subject. I try not to say problem, because it can have beneficial consequences as well. Perhaps it would be best for you to think of the implications of this in your own life, as I can't say how important it is to you.

Just another interesting thought, is all.