Players and Avatars: Against Identification

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Much study of MMOGs as well as other videogames presumes an affinity between players and their avatars. Gee has developed the concept of 'projective identity' and Bailensen, Yee and others have done extensive work exploring the Proteus effect, which suggests humans are deeply influenced by the avatars they choose, and likewise how such avatars become extensions of themselves in games and virtual spaces. Some of my own past work has explored how women strongly identify with female avatars, 'gender-swapping' at rates much lower than similar male players. Yet what of games that don't employ avatars, or rely on multiple or non-human avatars for players to employ? What of players who simply do not characterize game avatars as extensions of themselves? How can we speak of identification such instances? Is it still a useful concept to investigate?This talk reviews some of my past research about players, identity and avatars, to offer a starting point for argument. But the heart of the talk explores instances of games where avatar presentation and use depart from our traditional conceptualizations --either by their absence or their opposition to humanoid facsimiles. By doing so this talk challenges game studies' easy reliance on avatars as proxies for identity in games, and asks what happens when players fail to use or access such embodiments in their gameplay. It suggests alternative ways to understand player agency and identification in games, and moves beyond avatars as the principle means for doing so.

Text of Players and Avatars: Against Identification

  • 1.Players and Avatars: Against Identification Mia Consalvo MIT

2. okay maybe not againstallidentification 3. but game fiction plays an important role in nudging players towards or away from different kinds of identification, with and without avatars 4. 5. Story 1: Women inWorld of Warcraft(andAge of Conan) 6. How do women reflect on their avatars and gear? 7. Methodologically speaking

  • Female players of WoW and Age of Conan
  • 14 players interviewed
  • Age range 20-45 years old
  • Playtime averaged 8-15 hours a week

8. Women MMO players

  • WoW & AoC players: all had a female main
    • Clara I really identify more with them [female characters] than with males.

9. Women MMO players

    • Kyouran If Im able to choose the gender and appearance of the character Ill be living through vicariously, it might as well be one that I would actually like to embody in one way or another.

10. Women MMO players

    • Noelove I picked a Tauren after looking at all the other characters, because I found her body style to be incredibly similar to my own. Im very curvaceous, Im tall I thought she kind of represented me best.

11. Male characters?

  • Designs described as:
    • Odd
    • Horrible
    • Too beefy
    • Ugly
    • Too comic book stereotypical

12. 13. Desire for greater customization options in WoW

  • Barbershop a start
  • Not extensive enough to make a real difference
  • Body type changesrelative to class choice
  • Also desire shift over life of the avatar

14. But players not willing to switch games just for greater avatar choices 15. the issue of gear (or its lack) 16. Audri its a high fantasy game, and if you look at high-fantasy art and you know anything about it, the women are always skimpily dressed. Thats just how it is. Its never bothered me. 17. Raven I sort of feel like it should bother me.But it doesnt. 18.

  • Itsy Bitsy There are times when Ive just endlessly bitched and moaned about things that looked horrible but Im not going to wear something thats going to be statistically and performance-wise inferior to something else Its like wearing gym clothes to the gym and work clothes to work.


  • Louise I take satisfaction in wearing something that I was able to make or obtain through some amazing feat of skill.

20. 21. 22. Women and Avatars

  • Functional as well as aesthetic considerations
  • Representationally, conflicting views
  • Some level of identification is going on we bring our own interests and demands to our avatars, which helps shape them as well

23. Story 2 The Caretakers ofFaunasphere 24. A Casual MMO Game

  • Big Fish Games/Faunasphere
  • Gender, age, gameplay, beta/new players
  • Fiction and player activities

25. 26. 27. Data

  • 671 survey responses
  • Usage data from BFG
  • Interview with Community Manager
  • Forum post collection
  • Player base primarily USA & Canada, but also UK, Australia, some Western Europe and South America

28. Who Played

  • Gender:93% female
  • Age:26% 45-54
  • 22% 55-64
  • 21% 35-44
  • Education:31% Some college
  • 20% Bachelors degree

29. Prior Experience

  • Prior MMO experience: 61% No prior exp.
  • Of those with experience:
    • 39% have tried/still playWorld of Warcraft
    • 32% have tried/still playSecond Life
    • Smattering of heavy players of other MMOs, other choices such asRunescape, Travian, Free Realms

30. Not so casual

  • Playtime:
    • 41% play several times a day
    • 37% play daily
    • 14% play several times a week
  • Playtime per session:
    • 51% play for more than 2 hours at a time
    • 27% play 1-2 hours per session
    • 11% play 41-60 minutes per session

31. Against typical player types?

  • Favorite activities in game:
    • #1: Completing goals [quests]
    • #2: Breeding Fauna
    • #3: Leveling up Fauna
    • #4: Decorating Faunasphere
    • #5: Interacting with friends

32. Gaming Fiction/ Categories of Analysis

  • Player activities tied to a games fiction
  • Our categories also tied to fiction
  • What happens in a game with a different fiction?
  • Caretakers, powerful avatars, and issues of identification

33. 34. 35. 36. Caretakers, not avatars

  • I spent the last hour with my Fauna, watching them play and feeding and denning them and saying goodbye.
  • I spent a little time with each of them. I had them all do their tricks for me and fed them well and made them as happy as I could.
  • During the last 5 minutes I started throwing all my food from inventory on the ground (did not want anyone to starve) lol and I cried.

37. Player Reactions

  • Your fauna werent simply a bunch of pixels, they were your children. You gave birth to them (hatching), you fed them, you cared for them (dens), you taught them things, you shared their foibles with friends as well as their eggs.
  • It was heartbreaking, sort of like when you have to put a pet to sleep.

38. Player Reactions

  • look at the premise of the game, its about naming and raising pets. In the real world, a good person would never just walk away and abandon their pet, and thats what BFG made us do. They gave us creatures to love (even if they are only pixels) and then told us they were taking them away from us.

39. 40. From avatar to caretaker

  • The fiction of the game pushed players to see themselves as the disembodied care giver
  • Avatars not positioned as source of identification for players
  • Players still highly invested in avatars/pets, and the game

41. 42. 43. Story 3: Social games: Or, how invested am I in my Facebook avatar while Im busy using my friends? 44. The project: whats social about social games? 45. The researchers 46. The Challenge

  • Test as many social games as possible to identify major mechanics, as well as unusual/interesting additions

47. 80+ games/50 FB for Charts 48. What do I mean by social?

  • Opportunities for interaction(s) by players
      • Types of interactions
      • Quality (meaningfulness) of interactions
      • Opportunities to communicate
      • NPC interactions offered
      • Importance of interactions to overall gameplay
      • Cooperative/Competitive styles
      • Facilitated for pre-existing friends and/or strangers

49. Types of Interactions Found

  • Friend bar lends silent presence of friends/family
  • Giftings different roles
  • Visiting
  • Challenge & competition
  • Communication

50. Surrounded by your friends

  • Majority of games displayed your friends as a part of your interface, usually at the bottom of your screen
    • Pictures of your friends/neighbors greet you as you start the game
    • Theres always a slot to invite another friend to join you
    • Many games now auto-populate the interface with friends already playing the game
      • Less tedious than having to invite friends, wait for them to accept, install game, make progress

51. Surrounded by your friends

  • Friends are ranked, and you are ranked amongst your friends
    • You can see how your friends are advancing (or not)
    • You can check your progress relative to your friends
      • Encourages more casual as well as intense/overt competitiveness, particularly as friends get started, or as levels become tougher to achieve (the TL Effect)
    • Streamlines how to visit friends/gift friends

52. Surrounded by your friends

  • Many games include a starter friend that is initially more advanced than the player
    • A goal for the player to aspire to
    • One possible way to devel