How do avatars affect the players experience within video games?

How do avatars affect the players experience within video games?


An Avatar is a character which a video game player embodies and controls in a fictional world of a game; this can be one character or many, so how do avatars affect the players experience within video games?

There are two types of avatar, specific and non-specific avatars. Specific avatars are premade characters made specifically for a game; they have a background, their own personality and traits, are generally seen and speak in the game and a player can interpret the character in their own way as reader would with a character in a book. ‘Specific avatars have a history, speak and are seen in game with their own personalities. With a specific avatar the player’s relationship with the avatar is like that of a reader’s relationship with a character in a novel so the reader of a novel or the player of a game can interpret the character in their own way. In game the player can control, help or guide the character instead of just reading about him/her.’(E.Adams). This shows that a character needs to have a good personality which the player can relate too and traits that fit the character and the game, for example you wouldn’t have a cave-man that could run really fast or have lots of health.

Non-specific avatars are generally the ones you create yourself to play as in the game, most games have a ready-made character for the player to play as, however there are some games such as the ‘Sims’ series and ‘World of Warcraft’ (WoW) that allow you to design and create your own character where the player can choose from a range of factors such as race, gender, body type, hair, face, clothing and other attributes as well as other details such as health and strength. It is thought that creating your own character makes you connect with it more as you can create it so that it resembles you or what you want to be. ‘An emerging line of research says that when the choice is ours, it’s often about building a better version of ourselves. Studies have shown that, in general, people create slightly idealized avatars based on their actual selves,” says Nick Yee, who used to work as a research scientist at the Palo Alto Research Centre but who now works at Ubisoft. But a compensation effect has been observed. People with a higher body mass index – likely overweight or obese – create more physically idealized avatars, which are taller or thinner. And people who are depressed or have low self-esteem create avatars with more idealized traits, such as being more sociable and confident.’(Jamie Madigan 2013) These studies suggest that people like or prefer to have the ability to create their own character as this gives players more involvement with the game and want to play the game more especially with the character they just created.

The look of an avatar can also have behavioural effects on players as players may react differently to different looking avatars. ‘A study which experimented with virtual reality had 2 players, one a volunteer and the other a research assistant in a virtual room both with different looking avatars and they found that players are more open and confident with good looking avatars than they are with ugly avatars.’ (Jamie Madigan 2013) This shows that people who avoid, shy away or maybe bully not so good looking people would still carry that aspect of themselves into the virtual world and still behave the same towards ugly avatars as they would with real people.

In game you can only see the full body of the avatar generally in 3rd person or strategy games such as in ‘FIFA’ games and ‘Command and Conquer’ games, so not only does the look, personality or the story of the avatar affect the player’s experience in the game but also the animation of the avatar can have an affect too as any unrealistic or glitchy movement would start to annoy the player and he/she will eventually lose interest. The main character which the player embodies can be seen in 3rd-person or strategy games, so this requires for the character to have smooth, realistic animations whether it be human or animalistic as any flaws in the animations would break the immersion the player has with the character and the game so animation is key for the player to feel involved and be properly in control of the game.’ (E.Adams 2013) Movement is part of the way an avatar looks and as important, because players would be able to see these movements as well as the avatars physical appearance and the two need to match for example something graceful looking needs to have graceful animations not robotic animations. The look and movement of an avatar can also affect the way players react towards avatars, for example something like a dark hooded figure in the distance is moving slowly, then players would not really want to approach it even though the figure could be something friendly and this can be the same in real life if someone was walking towards with their face covered and hooded moving sharply and rocking their shoulders from side to side you would normally tend to avoid them as they look like their up to no good.

How the player controls the avatar can also affect the player’s experience of the game. In point and click games the player simply points and clicks to where the player wants the avatar wants to go and the avatar will do so to his/her own accord making the player feel like a disembodied guide and may feel uninvolved with the game at times and with strategy games you are able to give lots of units specific orders so you feel more in control, these two types of game is indirect control. ‘The way the player controls the avatar can also affect the player relationship with the avatar. In point and click games the player simply points and clicks to where the player wants the avatar to go, the avatar will do so to his/her own accord making the player feel like a disembodied guide and may feel uninvolved with the game at times, but this gets better with strategy games as you give units specific orders so you feel more in control, this is indirect control. Direct control is the player actually steering the avatar through the world, running, swimming, jumping, fighting etc. the player becomes the avatar/character utilising the characters abilities which the player does not have making the player more involve with the game’(E.Adams). This shows that the way a player plays a game can affect the his/her experience with a game as a player will want to be involved with the game as much as possible which is usually achieved with the more popular 3rd or 1st person genres. However the way you play a game whether it be a point and click or an FPS (first person shooter) needs to suit the game itself or vice versa. The way you play does not particularly make a game bad, it’s just the audience’s preference, for example if there was a new action game which is unlike anything else before but you played it looking down on the character, audiences would probably want to play the game in first or third person perspective as they would feel more involved with the game and therefore have a better and more in-depth experience.


Games can also have health benefits especially for ill children, for when they play games it takes their mind off any troubles they may have, games can also help people of any age who have phobias ‘Avatars that look like the player can help with things like phobias, so if the player who has a water/swimming phobia can see a representation of him or herself in water then it could help the player to conquer their fear of water.’ (Jamie Madigan 2013). This shows that games with an avatar that looks like the player, when played the player may encounter real life obstacles in a game such as a river and the player is required to swim through it to get to the other side, but if the player in real life is afraid of water but sees themselves swim across in the game this may help them to conquer their fear of water. Game developers should make games that allow the player to create their own idealized avatar for both entertainment and beneficial purposes.



Having evaluated the impact avatars have on a gamer’s experience, I strongly believe that having a strong character to play as can affect a gamers experience with the game as the avatar should have characteristics that a player could relate or look up to. Most of the time it’s the way an avatar looks that can change a player’s behaviour towards playing a game, people may be judgemental on the way the avatar looks even though it may be a great game, which is why I think that game developers should allow gamers to create their own avatars with as much detail as possible so they can make an avatar look like themselves or create an avatar entirely different that they would like to play as and therefore be more involved with game and see their own creations within it, and I agree with that avatars looking like the player can have beneficial purposes for phobias but not as effective than training yourself in real life. Overall avatars do have an effect on a player’s experience of a game as they are the ones embodying the avatar and want to get as much as possible out of game through the avatar.



‘Fundamentals of game design, Third Edition, 2013 Ernest Adams’


‘Jamie Madigan (November 29, 2013) The Psychology of Video Game Avatars {Accessed 24th November 2015} Available at


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