Your Avatar And You (Or My Metrosexual Avatar And Me)

EVE Avatar

My EVE avatar is a metrosexual creep. He's awesome.

A couple of weeks ago I received a nice email from a chap called Jon-Paul looking for some help to gain exposure for an online survey he’s carrying out. He’s studying clinical psychology at Deakin University in Melbourne and is conducting a study on body image in the virtual world to see how the physical properties of our avatars correlate to our own real life perceptions. Having a keen (amateur) interest in psychology, especially in online environments, it was right up my alley.

Personally I find the whole concept of online avatars fascinating. They are, after all, the ultimate embodiment of anything and everything we want to be and give us the opportunity to represent ourselves in any light we wish. There’s the obvious (and surprisingly common) ability to misrepresent our gender, the ability to make ourselves more handsome or beautiful, more muscular or fit, or heck, more evil and disgusting. We can become the cute little Elf that sings happy-clappy songs, the gigantic, drooling Ogre that smashes down anything in it’s path or the mature and noble Human who sweeps in to the save the day. Physically speaking, we can become anything we want.

This connection between our virtual desires and our real life feelings is an interesting one. As someone who is rather tall, I refuse, just plain refuse, to play short characters online. I don’t know what it is but I cannot and will not ever play something like a Dwarf or a Gnome as I truly detest being shorter than people. On the contrary though, I don’t have any problem creating ugly, bald or flabby characters and, in fact, quite enjoy bucking the trend and creating unconventional hook-nosed, balding, beautifully camp Warriors. I guess that says a lot about me.

No doubt a lot of how we represent ourselves online is to do with our physical insecurities in the real world. Just as I don’t like being short, I’m sure someone who is concerned over their weight wouldn’t create an obese avatar online, instead they would wish to reflect themselves as a digital manifestation of their ultimate physique. With that theory then, I guess I must be incredibly good looking and very comfortable with my sexuality if I get a kick out of roleplaying sleazy, unattractive, bi-sexual hunks. Either that or I’m a hugely disturbed individual.

Anyway, it’s a very interesting subject and if you fancy helping out Jon-Paul then you can find his online questionnaire here. I’m sure he would appreciate as many volunteers as possible so go head and make his day by giving it a whirl (although bear in mind that he does advise anyone with serious body dysmorphic disorders to stay clear). To sweeten the deal, if you complete it you can also enter yourself into a prize draw for a $100AUD Amazon gift voucher. Now I have no idea how much one hundred Australian dollars is in real (read British) money but heck it’s better than a kick in the face or a slap on the balls.

I’ll publish his findings (if he sends them through to me) once the study’s concluded.


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  1. ironyca says:

    I followed the link to the survey only to find out he only wants dudes (booh, I was really excited to take it – oh well) I guess he is focusing on the male aspects of this.

    You mentioned height, which is funny, I prefer short and thin characters. I, on the other hand, can’t identify with anything big and bulky. I’m certain this is also tied to a physically bounded identity that I need reflected virtually to connect with the avatar.

    Really interesting stuff, looking forward to the results, although, as it’s a phd, it could take years.

  2. Stropp says:

    “I’m sure someone who is concerned over their weight wouldn’t create an obese avatar online,”

    As an overweight person, I did once, in City of Heroes, try to create a character for roleplay called Fatboy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get him looking superfat, which is what I wanted. I could only get big and bulky.

    I’ve also looked at doing that several other times, in other games. Unfortunately, nearly all character creators limit players to that subset of physiques reserved for beautiful people or those slightly overweight. If you do get ‘ugly’ features, they tend to be limited to facial characteristics.

  3. vortal says:

    I guess I just make anything that I think looks cool. As a roleplayer I may have several types of characters in my head already visualized to the finest detail. I tend to pencil sketch these, then paint them when I have time. I merely use the character creation screen to try and make them as close to my concept as possible. I have not problem being a huge ugly bulky monster, but I tend to go with elves for some reason (I need Help). I also tend to make more bestial characters, like Worgen. I would also choose Lizardmen if this was an option in any MMO (something like Iksar). I like the idea of a vicious and savage beast, killing with shear brute force or through arcane methods.

  4. bhagpuss says:

    People connect the characters they play in MMOs with their self-image? Really? How odd.

    I play short characters, tall characters, thin, fat, human, humanoid, animal, mechanical, male, female, young, old… They are characters, they aren’t me, or any part of me. In fact, I think of each of them as being individuals with their own existences, and I don’t mean in a roleplaying kind of way.

    I do have certain aesthetic preferences, so I would, over time, probably tend to pick characters that have some degree of visual consistency. There are also practical and gameplay considerations – for example, very short characters tend to be a lot less hassle to maneuver in tight spaces. Other than that, though, they could look like pretty much anything.

  5. Fumbles says:

    Yeah um, I fall in the same category as bhagpuss, My avatars have no rhyme or reason to them beyond the fact I prefer smaller races due to game world designers forgetting to make sure their large characters can fit everywhere.

  6. Christopher says:

    The ‘character as avatar’ vs ‘character as toon’ debate goes back to pen-and-paper RPG days. I’ve always found it interesting because diehard adherents on both sides are often utterly incapable of comprehending the opposite viewpoint in any meaningful manner (which is why so many threads and discussions on the topic quickly devolve into flames and name-calling).

    I’ve also noticed they tend to have fundamentally different approaches to whatever game their playing. Even if they’re not RPers, the avatar people will generally prefer that you interact with them exclusively in the context of their character, which makes sense because they view their character as an extension of themselves. The toon people would rather you use their realID, because then you don’t have to keep track of which alts belong to whom.

    I could go on for a while, but it’s late and I have to work in the morning. Just something interesting I thought.

    • Tesh says:

      As a… what is that, “toon person”, I detest RealID. The two don’t always go together. Again, the whole point of playing a character is that it *isn’t* me, so why in the world would I want to tie that character to my real world ID… not to mention the security concerns.

    • Gordon says:

      I’m possibly somewhat in the middle. I like to play a role and not be perceived as a real person yet I still limit my avatar’s physical dimensions (height) based upon my own real life issues.

  7. There’s a lot of motivation behind characters, and I don’t think you can really boil it down to something so simple. For example, like bhagpuss and Tesh, I have a lot of characters I play. I do have my personal avatar (probably shown here), which is decidedly non-humanoid.

    Given a preference, I do like ironic characters, though. I like big, heavy spellcasters or small, slight fighters. In Phantasy Star Online I made my (female) character as small and slight as possible, so it looked like a little girl was beating things up. My only real alt in WoW was a gnome Warlock that I gave the most innocent looking face. My friends always tease me about playing dwarf characters, given I have a fairly long beard in the offline world.

    It should be interesting to see how the survey results go. I suspect that there will be a wide variety of viewpoints, harkening back to the old “character as tool” or “character as myself” debates from tabletop gaming as Christopher mentions above.

    • Gordon says:

      “I suspect that there will be a wide variety of viewpoints, harkening back to the old “character as tool” or “character as myself” debates from tabletop gaming as Christopher mentions above.”

      Indeed… it will quite possibly prove no concrete connection whatsoever other than some people see their avatar as extension of themselves and others see them as completely unique and unrelated characters.

  8. Syl says:

    If the game allows it, I play myself, not a character. And I create my avatar in as close a likeness to my real self as possible. No idea what that says about me though, maybe I’m a narcissist? ;)
    I guess we all approach MMORPGs differently; to me it was always about myself diving into a story and magical world or adventures, escapism, immersion and all of that. hence my avatar is my alter ego and not just “some alt”.

    • vortal says:

      I agree. To me all my characters (even the more alien ones) have become an alter ego of myself. They are all Batman and I am Bruce Wayne.

    • Dril says:

      I tend to go this route as well. Most of my characters end up being like me in most aspects (I sometimes change the hair/eye colour, for example, but I can never make characters with short hair. I have no idea why, but I just hate the idea of my characters, male or female, having short hair.)

      Any character I play is, well, me. Or an aspect of me, because otherwise I couldn’t play it, could I? My characters aren’t individuals so much as a collective that, taken as a whole, probably represents me fairly well. For example, on my Death Knight tank I was the cynical, harsh (and probably unfair) bastard I wish I had the nerve to be sometimes in real life, whereas on my healers I tended to just get on with things, be less outspoken and be a follower.

      Interesting how playing different characters affected how I portrayed myself.

      • Gordon says:

        “Interesting how playing different characters affected how I portrayed myself.”

        Very. Often I find myself playing the type of persona that I wish I had in real life i.e. tough old bastard etc. I suppose that’s just all part of the escapism.

    • Gordon says:

      That’s really interesting. Does it mean you always play human characters or races that are physically similar to yourself?

  9. Telwyn says:

    I’d agree with Baghpuss and Fumbles on this one, with my RP style from pen and paper days I always come up with a character concept based on the setting and my preference for character to play. I’ve never consciously put any of myself in those characters and I rarely repeat much from character to character.

  10. [...] wrote a post called Your Avatar And You (Or My Metrosexual Avatar And Me) at We Fly Spirfires talking about this study he participated in that dealt with how the physical [...]

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