The term “character” is usually used when describing the many different characters that we use in video games. In higher education settings we refer to these characters as avatars or virtual reality avatars. Now that this distinction has been made and justification done, avatars will be the word used in this post to refer to video game characters.
Avatars are still being researched quite heavily by a lot of people, including myself (studying coming to a conclusion soon), and there are a lot of ideas out there with some good supportive data. For instance, individuals querying into the opposite gender tend to play a character of the opposite sex in an effort to try it out and act out possible selves and personalities (Konijn & Bijvank, 2009; McDonald & Kim, 2001).
In this article (citation below) the discussion is on avatars and life enjoyment. It discusses the possibility that we choose characters depending on what we wish to aspire to or how we act in real life, our own characteristics, or that we choose different avatars and attributes depending on characteristics that are not like us, like being a ninja for me. It does come with a caveat though, which is that it depends on whether the individual is happy with their lives at the moment (life satisfaction).
They ask the question of why do we choose certain avatars over others or certain characteristics over other ones. It is a great question to why are we playing certain games, but not others. These authors found that their hypotheses were supported in both instances, when individuals were happy with their lives they choose characteristics of their avatars that were closely related to their own personal self; and when they were not happy with their current life situation they chose characteristics that they did not embody in possible hopes of living a different life. SO it does seem that life satisfaction plays a large role in what characters we choose to play.
In addition, there were high similarities found that individuals identified with their character in either category. It was deemed to be stronger for non competitive games compared to competitive games. Video game enjoyment was positively related to high character identification. So, in a nutshell, we choose characteristics of our avatars depending on our current life satisfaction and identify highly with them. It brings to question about why do we play video games even when we are satisfied with life (thereby throwing out the theory that we play video games to dissociate from the world and our problems). Maybe they are just a fun way to experience life? Most psychologists would agree that the one thing unique about each and every one is that we experience life differently and that not one person’s life is viewed the same as another individual.
There is a lot more to this research than I want to put on here, and you really should read it for yourself as it is fascinating and it should be attached so you can take a look yourself! (if not then the citation is below) It is a good read with lots of interesting facts that are not known to the general public about video games, character enjoyment, and identification.
Konijn, A.,&Bijvank, M.N. (2009). Door to another me. Identity construction through digital game play. In U. Ritterfeld, M. Cody, & P. Vorderer (Eds.), Serious games. Mechanisms and effects (pp. 179–203). New York, NY: Routledge.
McDonald, D. G., & Kim, H. (2001). When I die, I feel small: Electronic game characters and the social self. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 45, 241–258.
Trepte, S. & Reinecke, L. (2010). Avatar creation and video game enjoyment: Effects of life-satisfaction, game competitiveness, and identification with the avatar. Journal of Media Psychology, 22(4), 174-184.