I’ve been reading some really interesting research recently about MMO avatars and their relation to their players.
Avatars occupy an interesting place in our psychology, because we control their actions and experience the MMO world through them, as if we were them. But of course we are not them, and other players can only interact with us via the avatar as kind of a filter or façade, always one step removed.
The “Proteus effect” describes a phenomenon where people actually change real-life behavior based on the behavior of their avatar, especially one that looks like them. In one study, people who watched a digital representation of themselves running were actually more likely to exercise after leaving the lab.
Looking at choice of gender for an avatar can also reveal interesting details. For example, male and female WoW players heal about equally. However, female avatars heal more often than male avatars. Which means that male gamers with female avatars are healing more and women with male avatars are healing less, perhaps feeding into the stereotype of women as healers (a very maternal role when you think about it ~_^)
A recent study looked at this gender-bending concept and discovered that men play female avatars much more frequently than women play males ones (23% vs. 7%) and that the gender-switching male players selected conventionally attractive avatars and used more emotional phrases in chat.
However, avatar movements were correlated to player gender, not avatar gender. Male players moved their avatars around in certain ways regardless of the gender of their avatar.
All this got me thinking about how I choose my avatars.
I clearly have chosen mostly female toons, 2/3 to be specific, across alignment, class, even personality of the character. (And yes, my healing character -the Twi’lek- is female.)
But I take a very role-playing approach to character creation. Not one of these characters resembles me in real life. I specifically chose their races and classes to create interesting character stories. The Chiss Jedi who never backs down from a challenge (he gets it from his mom, the bounty hunter). The cyborg Agent who uses her enhanced brains (and her looks) in her dedication to the Empire.
They are mostly conventionally attractive. We all enjoy staring at aesthetically pleasing things for hours. In fact, I regretted the decision to give the Twi’lek Jedi a little extra weight because she looks so awkward when she runs. I sure wouldn’t want to watch myself run, either!
However, none of my characters wear “chain mail bikinis” because it doesn’t fit with their characters. I have also yet to engage in any companion romance options at all, because I created other romance options for them: my two Jedi are married; my bounty hunter can’t be bothered; my Agent has a thing for Hunter; my smuggler has a thing for anyone female.
But who knows what my next toon will be? The Cathar trooper is low-level, so I could do companion romance with her. I’d love to do a Sith–maybe she or he would wear skimpy clothing!
I think of TOR as an RPG where other people also happen to be playing. But when I do interact with other people, I don’t do it as my character, in a role-playing way. I have no idea if others can tell I am female (no voice chat), or if I act differently towards players depending on which character I’m playing.
Guess that means more research is needed! Back to gaming!!