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Playing a Self: an Exploration into the Effect of Avatar Identification on Gamer Ratings of Self, Ideal Self and Avatar Personality in MMORPGs

Jan Van Looy (UGent), Cédric Courtois (UGent) and Melanie De Vocht (UGent)
(2010)
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Abstract
Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) are virtual spaces in which gamers are able to act and communicate through their avatars. As these avatars are customizable and evolve during game play, the question arises as to who or what they resemble. A recent study, by Bessière et al. (2007) indicates that World of Warcraft (WoW) players attribute more ideal personality traits to their avatars than to their actual self. More specifically, they found that WoW gamers' assessment of their avatar's conscientiousness, extraversion and neuroticism is situated more closely to the gamer’s ideal self than to the gamer’s self. However, the question remains if these attributions are due to the use of an avatar to construct an idealized self (the idealization hypothesis) or to construct an avatar with generally desirable and adaptive traits (the desirability hypothesis). In this paper we first replicate Bessière et al.'s study whereby its findings related to the avatar’s more ideal ratings of conscientiousness, extraversion and neuroticism are confirmed. However, an additional, reversed effect is found for openness, which indicates that concerning openness, avatars are rated as less ideal than the self. In response to the discord between the idealization hypothesis and the desirability hypothesis, we question whether the avatar’s more ideal personality traits are influenced by the degree to which a gamer identifies with their avatar. The results show that a high degree of avatar identification is associated with more ideal avatar ratings for conscientiousness, neuroticism, extraversion and openness. These findings are supportive of the idealization hypothesis, indicating a relationship between strong avatar identification and more ideal ratings of an avatar. Also, as an MMORPG is a social and cooperative environment in which communication takes place through the avatar, we explore the effect of identification with a guild (group identification) on the avatar’s assessed personality. The results indicate that high group identification is associated with a more extraverted avatar. Finally, given their immersive and time-consuming nature, MMORPGs are often associated with pathological gaming. In our paper we question whether pathological gaming is associated with the construction of a more ideal avatar. The results are negative: no effect of pathological gaming is found on the discrepancy between the ideal self's and the avatar's personality traits. However, we found that WoW players who report a high degree of pathological gaming rate themselves as more distant from their ideal self. Finally, our paper provides evidence for the occurrence of avatar idealization. A strong identification with the avatar goes hand in hand with more ideal ratings of the four aforementioned personality traits. Moreover, we found that an in-game social orientation is associated with a more ideally extraverted avatar. Finally, our results indicate that pathological gaming is not associated with the construction of an ideal avatar. Bessière, K., Saey, A.F. &Kiesler, S. (2007). The Ideal Elf: Identity Exploration in World of Warcraft.Cyberpsychology & Behavior10(4), 530-535.
Keywords
gaming, mmog, game addiction, self-discrepancy, identification, pathological gaming

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Citation

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Chicago
Van Looy, Jan, Cédric Courtois, and Melanie De Vocht. 2010. “Playing a Self: An Exploration into the Effect of Avatar Identification on Gamer Ratings of Self, Ideal Self and Avatar Personality in MMORPGs.” In .
APA
Van Looy, J., Courtois, C., & De Vocht, M. (2010). Playing a Self: an Exploration into the Effect of Avatar Identification on Gamer Ratings of Self, Ideal Self and Avatar Personality in MMORPGs. Presented at the Pre-conference to the ECREA 2010 – 3rd European Communication Conference, Avatars and Humans. Representing Users in Digital Games.
Vancouver
1.
Van Looy J, Courtois C, De Vocht M. Playing a Self: an Exploration into the Effect of Avatar Identification on Gamer Ratings of Self, Ideal Self and Avatar Personality in MMORPGs. 2010.
MLA
Van Looy, Jan, Cédric Courtois, and Melanie De Vocht. “Playing a Self: An Exploration into the Effect of Avatar Identification on Gamer Ratings of Self, Ideal Self and Avatar Personality in MMORPGs.” 2010. Print.
@inproceedings{1059804,
  abstract     = {Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) are virtual spaces in which gamers are able to act and communicate through their avatars. As these avatars are customizable and evolve during game play, the question arises as to who or what they resemble. A recent study, by Bessi{\`e}re et al. (2007) indicates that World of Warcraft (WoW) players attribute more ideal personality traits to their avatars than to their actual self. More specifically, they found that WoW gamers' assessment of their avatar's conscientiousness, extraversion and neuroticism is situated more closely to the gamer{\textquoteright}s ideal self than to the gamer{\textquoteright}s self. However, the question remains if these attributions are due to the use of an avatar to construct an idealized self (the idealization hypothesis) or to construct an avatar with generally desirable and adaptive traits (the desirability hypothesis).

In this paper we first replicate Bessi{\`e}re et al.'s study whereby its findings related to the avatar{\textquoteright}s more ideal ratings of conscientiousness, extraversion and neuroticism are confirmed. However, an additional, reversed effect is found for openness, which indicates that concerning openness, avatars are rated as less ideal than the self. 

In response to the discord between the idealization hypothesis and the desirability hypothesis, we question whether the avatar{\textquoteright}s more ideal personality traits are influenced by the degree to which a gamer identifies with their avatar. The results show that a high degree of avatar identification is associated with more ideal avatar ratings for conscientiousness, neuroticism, extraversion and openness. These findings are supportive of the idealization hypothesis, indicating a relationship between strong avatar identification and more ideal ratings of an avatar.

Also, as an MMORPG is a social and cooperative environment in which communication takes place through the avatar, we explore the effect of identification with a guild (group identification) on the avatar{\textquoteright}s assessed personality. The results indicate that high group identification is associated with a more extraverted avatar. 

Finally, given their immersive and time-consuming nature, MMORPGs are often associated with pathological gaming. In our paper we question whether pathological gaming is associated with the construction of a more ideal avatar. The results are negative: no effect of pathological gaming is found on the discrepancy between the ideal self's and the avatar's personality traits. However, we found that WoW players who report a high degree of pathological gaming rate themselves as more distant from their ideal self. 

Finally, our paper provides evidence for the occurrence of avatar idealization. A strong identification with the avatar goes hand in hand with more ideal ratings of the four aforementioned personality traits. Moreover, we found that an in-game social orientation is associated with a more ideally extraverted avatar. Finally, our results indicate that pathological gaming is not associated with the construction of an ideal avatar.

Bessi{\`e}re, K., Saey, A.F. \&Kiesler, S. (2007). The Ideal Elf: Identity Exploration in World of Warcraft.Cyberpsychology \& Behavior10(4), 530-535.},
  author       = {Van Looy, Jan and Courtois, C{\'e}dric and De Vocht, Melanie},
  keyword      = {gaming,mmog,game addiction,self-discrepancy,identification,pathological gaming},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Hamburg Media School, Hamburg, Germany},
  title        = {Playing a Self: an Exploration into the Effect of Avatar Identification on Gamer Ratings of Self, Ideal Self and Avatar Personality in MMORPGs},
  year         = {2010},
}