Gamers are always on the lookout for the right avatars. The good news with MMOs is that you can play virtually any type of character, with any avatar you want. You can play as any conceivable character including a dwarf, shapeshifter, troll, warlock and others. It’s entirely possible to play across gender lines with males playing with female avatars and females playing with male avatars. Roleplaying as the other gender may appear to be strange, perhaps even weird, but it’s entirely common in the most popular MMO games.
Lots of research has been conducted in the area of avatars and how players select them in games like World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy and scores of others. The avatar is essentially an idealized concept of who a player wants to be. It is also a way for players to experiment with different types of identities. Several players just use avatars as a means to an end, getting from point A to point B by assuming a character and playing accordingly.
Players who are driven by achievement objectives tend to focus on their avatar’s equipment but players who are focused on things like immersion tend to focus on the appearance of their avatar. Identity in the virtual world is an important topic.
There is a school of thought that believes that anything can be created in a virtual world and that the constraints of real life do not exist in the virtual realm. With MMO RPGs it’s really easy to see how the trappings of the real world, power structures and all those affiliations transfer over.
There is a world of difference between the MMOs of the East and the MMOs of the West. The characters of Asian MMOs have specific character appearances, but the characters of MMO RPGs have a wide degree of customization with myriad physical characteristics.
It appears as if players in Western countries are more concerned with their appearances, but there is nothing to substantiate that. For Asian players there is a tendency to avoid character-creation systems that allow for maximum personalization of avatars, especially among higher-level players.
It’s interesting to note that in a recent poll of MMO players in terms of gender and age distribution, the highest percentage of female players was in the 23 – 28 age group (27.9% were female), and the highest percentage of male users was in the 18 - 22 age group at 24.2%.
The next highest user-group category was the 23 – 28 age range for male users at 23.5%. For the females it was 27.3% in the over 35 age group. This data was compiled from 35,000 MMORPG players via online surveys by Nick Yee.
It’s interesting in that the demographics also paint a picture of the avatars that are selected and why they are as prolific as they are. With regards to avatars, it is evident that there are expectations that avatars are used as a reason for participating in a particular environment. For those players who are goal oriented, avatars are more likely used as tools to achieve goals.
This also brings into question different personality types – for example introverts and extroverts. Do role-reversals take place in MMO games and are these reflected in the avatars selected by players? You bet they do, and they are!