The Importance Of Video Game Avatars In Understanding The Video Game Player

Recently a good friend and I did a presentation at the Humanistic Society’s yearly conference.  We focused on the Video Gamer as a person and understanding them through a difference lens rather than what society normally does (e.g. anti-social, living in their mother’s basement, violent, etc.) .  The lens we chose to view and discuss was about understanding the gamer from what they play and how they play the game.  The turnout was not too bad per the presentations and we had a few people who were interested in the immersive experience.  If you would like the copy of the presentation it is linked here:

The Gamer An Experiential Approach to Research Identity and Therapeutic Interventions

Now a couple of spoilers for the PDF above:  we also presented on current video game research for another presentation and some of the slides were repeated for this presentation due to a background required for an immersive experience.   With this known, some of the first slides are “bare” and were presented in more detail in the first presentation and can be accessed here: Restoring Dignity to the Gamer Research and Public Image.  Second, the people discussed in the PDFs are not going to be discussed in this blog post because they are clients and the presentations discussed them in an appropriate manner.  The information is the same and can be read as such, however, you can privately email me if you want to know more; it will not be available online.

The first few slides go over the different typologies of the gamer that have been put forth as of yet.  There still needs to be some more research in this area and it requires some further speculation to take in other factors that may be pertinent to the ideology of the gamer.  If you want to know more about these typologies, look at the references found within the second PDF and the slides as well.

Slide 8:  Public Stereotypes

The study was a sample of 2,550 participants showed that common stereotypes of online gamers such as being unathletic, overweight, lazy, socially inept, isolated, unpopular and reclusive were untrue, at least from the gamers’ self-perception via self-report.

Like many studies, there are problems with the reliability and methodology or construction of the experiment. Furthermore, what these two typologies do is break down the gamer into a category. While theory and data are good for identifying correlations between a client’s behavior and the amount or type of game they play, they rarely address the reasons why the client does so. There is no discovery of the Gamer as a whole unique individual who is choosing this activity to meet a specific need. The question becomes, how do we use this quantifiable data to guide and assist the therapeutic relationship?

Slide 9 – What is a gamer

There have been a couple of studies that look at the perceived view of the gamer from the viewpoint of the gamer, an immersion into the culture rather than an objective point of view forced upon the gamer.  Interestingly enough, the idea of the gamer appears to be socially curated by different ideologies and public thought of the gamer to the point that some gamers even are scrutinizing towards the idea of a gamer itself.  Examples of some of these thoughts are included on the slide.

Slides 10-25 Case Studies

The information provided in these slides is very basic and does not allow a good perception of the clients discussed in the presentation so again if you have questions that I can answer without breaking confidentiality; you are welcome to contact me.

Slides 26-28  Experiential Gaming

This was the most exciting part of the presentation because people came up and made a character on World of Warcraft to their ideal self looking at the different races and classes to choose the character based on their own preferences.  After they looked at the different factors (gender, class, race) they were able to then choose around facial features, hair styles, skin colors, and more.  We did not have the chance to have them name their character so we chose the random name generator for them to choose from until they were satisfied with the name.

Now it is interesting to note that both women chose male characters and for different reasons.  In addition, they chose their appearances and other features dependent upon their own personas and ideological views which was a point we were trying to get across to the audience.

After they were done they were asked the questions on slide 28:

  • Why did you choose the character: class/gender/race/features?
  • Tell us your story, where does your journey begin in the game? What obstacles do you think you will face?
  • For what reasons would you play a video game like this?

We had two women participants who were interested in creating a character within the game and wanted to be a part of the experience.  The pictures below are the characters they chose.

WoW Char 1

Character #1

  • Why did you choose the character: class/gender/race/features?

The first character chosen was a warrior because the woman believed she would have some challenges in the game and would have to make sure she survived the attacks upon her as they came.  She believed she would have to endure a lot of pain and anxiety playing the game and keeping others alive.  She chose the gender because she believed the male persona to be stronger and related it back to her culture for the reason where women were not always considered to be the warrior type.  Lastly, she chose her features because of the uniqueness and she wanted to stand out overall in the game when interacting with others.

  • Tell us your story, where does your journey begin in the game? What obstacles do you think you will face?

The woman believed the journey she would encounter would be one of strife and hardships she would have to overcome within the game.  For instance, she would have to be physically attacked in the game and would have to endure it to continue on with the content.

  • For what reasons would you play a video game like this?

The woman stated she would play this game to make sure she would connect with her sons as they played a similar game and to understand what they are going through in the game.  She liked the idea about being able to work at bettering herself in the game and also playing with her sons.

WoW Char 2

Character # 2

  • Why did you choose the character: class/gender/race/features?

Our second participant chose her character as a male because when she has played online games as a female, she was harassed because of what she looked like in the game (her avatar’s look) and she did not want to go through that again.  Her character was a rogue, one that stealths around not being seen and can do massive damage to an enemy.  She chose the elf race because she believed them to look beautiful and would like to think of herself as that when playing the game.  In addition, she believed it would help her interact with others in the game when she wanted to.

  • Tell us your story, where does your journey begin in the game? What obstacles do you think you will face?

This participant kind of got boned on time because of the answers and amount of questions that came during the presentation.  However, she believed she would have to hide from her attackers and enjoyed the idea that she would have to strike quick and ruthless in order to continue on in the game.  She believed she would face a lot of obstacles that she would have to overcome, but not have the same resources as the other Warrior.

  • For what reasons would you play a video game like this?

The second participant believed she would play a game like this for socialization, fun, and to forget her difficulties for a bit.  When asked about intrinsic motivation, she believed it would allow her to feel like she accomplished something when she played the game by leveling or beating a difficult boss.


What this presentation can teach us is there are many different reasons to play video games and they can have a healing effect on the human spirit or life.  The participants noticed this when they were asked these difficult questions and each had some extra comments to make by the end of the presentation.  The individuals in therapy by myself and my friend had their lives being played out in video games, the goal was not to get them to stop, but to possibly understand why they may be focusing on the game more than their own life.  With these notions, looking at the characters played, and having parental involvement, a lot of healing was able to be conducted by the therapists with their clients.  Taking what the character meant to the individual and overlaying it onto the current life stressors allowed a deeper understanding of the difficulties, wants, and needs of the individual.  This is just one way to look at video games not with the mainstream idea of “addiction” or “alienation”  those are detrimental to the reality of the game and the individual playing the characters in each unique virtual reality.

This entry was posted in Gamer Resarch, Personality, Video Games, World Of Warcraft, World of Warcraft Research and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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