Avatars – The Importance of Personal Identity in Virtual Worlds

Avatars – The Importance of Personal Identity in Virtual Worlds

Avatars are the most important thing in a virtual world.

Allowing people to easily create avatars and identity in a social platform is the most important thing.

I don’t care if it’s a character in WoW that you can only change the gear on, an avatar in High Fidelity that you made from scratch, or even a profile photo on Twitter. Our reputations and self-expression is influenced by our visual representations whether it’s a full-bodied character or simply a name in text, and these things mean the world to every “me, myself, and I.”

Let me elaborate on each of the above, because I think it’s interesting to look at the similarities of the three environments that are all quite different modalities. Despite the different delivery, each platform serves to aid a user in self-expression. Without a method of self-expression, we are simply a cog in the machine, no different than anyone else, with little incentive to be a part of that virtual world.

  • World of Warcraft: a user has a character that they level up and their identity is determined by their level and gear. They develop a reputation based on appearance of gear and achievements.
  • High Fidelity: a user has an avatar that is totally customizable. A reputation is developed by the appearance of the avatar and the content they deliver to the platform.
  • Twitter: a user has a profile photo, header photo, and description. A reputation is developed by the appearance of these three things as well as content delivered to the platform.

The motivations here are all quite similar despite the modality. Appearance is created by a visual representation along with achievements, and our appearance is a large contribution to our identity.

From my conversations about avatars with my male counterparts working in virtual worlds, I get the feeling that they don’t place the same importance about identity as I and a few of my female friends working in similar industries. I’ve heard stories about conversations my female friends have had with teams that are dominated by white/Asian males who work on apps with low customization of largely white/thin avatars.

This causes me to be unsure if men understand and identify with the importance of visual representation in a social setting as much as women do. I’m part of that woman group, and we’ve been trained by society our whole lives that our visuals define us. We’re bombarded by media to alter our outer appearance in order to define ourselves. I need to make myself stand out. This is (one reason) why I place so much importance on visual representation of avatars. It’s important to us to define ourselves by the way we look, for better or worse.

With this said, it’s important to me to help people craft their own identities. I’ve made myself into a storm cloud in High Fidelity, and you can learn about the process to create that in Maya here.

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