"My avatar – my self?": Mitchell Loewen's thesis published in Frontiers in Psychology

Friday, January 15, 2021
by Marisa Benjamin

Do our self-perceptions influence our preferences when designing avatars in the games we play? GI members Mitchell Loewen and Dr. Lennart E. Nacke, with Dr. Christopher Burris of St. Jerome’s University, co-authored a paper about the psychology of preferences toward game avatar styles.

Me, Myself, and Not-I: Self-Discrepancy Type Predicts Avatar Creation Style” discusses the findings that perceiving differences between one’s “actual” self and one’s “ideal” or “ought” selves is linked to preferring avatars that are not realistic representations of oneself.  Loewen, Burris, and Nacke’s article is published in Frontiers in Psychology.

The authors use Self-Discrepancy Theory as the guide for investigating avatar customization preferences. Self-Discrepancy Theory (SDT) posits the self can be understood in terms of three domains: the “actual” self (the attributes we believe we possess), the “ideal” (the attributes we wish to possess), and our “ought” self (the attributes we believe we should possess).

125 participants with prior game experiences playing Massive Multiplayer Online Games filled out an SDT survey to assess the magnitude of the discrepancies between their actual vs. ideal self and their actual vs. ought self. Then, the participants answered questions about how they like to customize their avatars, fitting them into one of the following three groups:

  1. Realistic: Preferring avatars as realistic and similar to the self as possible
  2. Ideal: Preferring avatars to represent idealized versions of the self
  3. Different: Preferring avatars to be someone distinctly different from the self

The researchers found that participants in the Ideal category were more likely to have greater discrepancies between their actual self and ideal self. Participants in the Different category were more likely to have greater discrepancies between their actual self and their ought self.

Loewen and co-authors note that “[w]hereas idealized avatars embody aspirations, wholly different avatars seem to reflect a casting off of perceived demands within the relative safety of a virtual game world’s ‘Magic Circle’.”

“In contrast, true-to-self (realistic) avatars tend to be preferred by those who perceive their various selves to be in comparative alignment.”

Loewen, Burris, and Nacke conclude that their “results suggest that game designers would do well to ensure that players have the tools to fashion avatars that feel “right,” for avatar creation appears to be driven—at least in part—by the oughts and ideals that the players carry within them.”

To read the article in full, click here.