What do avatars say about who you are? This video really got me thinking…
So do our avatars actually give us a small glimpse into our soul? Apparently it does work as an indicator of some character treats, and even offers space for the personal development of the socially shy. Yet, there is much that still needs more research.
Let’s start at the fount of wisdom on the issue of avatar and identity: The Daedalus Project. Daedalus features in Greek mythology and was the father of Icarus, the first hang gliding casualty in human history. I’m still trying to find out how this relates to the projects goal of researching the “psychology of mmorpgs”.
Either way, the “The Daedalus Project” is run by Nick Yee, the top scientist in the field of MMO psychology research, and he has devoted a reasonable chunk of his resources to finding out what our avatars say about us. One of his most interesting findings was that extraverts (outgoing people) are much more likely to behave in an online game like they would in real life, while introverts (non-outgoing people) on the whole behave rather differently in online games than they do in real life. At the same time he found that introverts feel they behave more like their ‘real selves’ online than they do in real life. This raises some interesting questions about if an online environment gives introverts a place to explore their true identity in a safe way. Here is one miracle story taken from Yee’s research. Note that EQ stands for EverQuest.
Last year, I was elected as the leader of the guild I’m part of. At first, I was a bit concerned about my ability to organize 100 some people from all over the world, but the experience made me feel very empowered, and I’ve recently made the decision to pursue a career in design, something I’ve always wanted to do, but was afraid to. It’s hard to describe very eloquently why EQ helped me feel like I could do it … but it has. It’s given me confidence in myself and that gave me the push I needed to make a “scary” real life decision. [f, 34, EQ]
Great anecdote, but does it generalize? Can online multiplayer games help give people more confidence outside of the game world? And if so, how can we harvest this? More research please.
You probably already know before starting a game if you are an introvert or extravert, so this finding probably doesn’t tell you much. Yee also found that certain character classes correlate with certain playing motivations (socializing, competition, etc.). As these findings cannot be generalized to other games I’ll leave it to the WoW players among you to click on through here for the details.
More interestingly, Yee suggests that MMO behavior (including avatar styling) might be used as a sort of personality test in the future. Especially introverts would benefit from this as they show their true potential online. I’m not sure how you could stop people from faking it through such a test, but that’s a concern with regular personality tests as well. It’s an interesting idea and could use … more research?
At least there is one thing you can tell from an avatar that doesn’t need any more research: Gender. Most people assume a female avatar represents a real life female gamer in the living room. The female avatar will be treated more courteously and considered less able than male avatars. Women often pick male avatars to avoid this gender stereotyping. Men on the other hand strongly prefer to spend most of their days looking at a female avatar instead of a male one. Such gender bending ensures that many female avatars you meet online are actually played by men. Is there a link here with emancipation? More research please.
All in all, it’s clear there might be some interesting discoveries ahead of us if we could only take a closer look at what our avatars truly say about us.