Mechanisms of identification and social differentiation in player–avatar relations

Nicholas David Bowman, Jaime Banks, Edward Downs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The connection between player and avatar is central to digital gaming, with identification assumed to be core to this connection. Often, scholarship engages single dimensions of identification, yet emerging perspectives reveal that identification is polythetic (PID) – comprising at least six sufficient (but not necessary) mechanisms. The current study investigates the intersections of polythetic identification mechanisms and two different approaches to player–avatar sociality (as a marker of differentiation): general types of player–avatar relationships (PARs) and discrete dimensions of player–avatar interaction (PAX). Secondary analysis of an existing dataset of gamers revealed two main findings: (1) players reported overall diminished identification when they engaged in non-social relations with their avatar, and (2) increased liking and perspective-taking were most likely with human-like social relations, which require differentiation from rather than identification as the avatar. These findings are interpreted to suggest that player–avatar identification and differentiation are conceptually independent relational phenomena that are experientially convergent – some relational orientations and dynamics are associ-ated with distinct combinations of identification mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-73
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021


  • Avatar
  • Canonical correlations
  • Identification
  • Player-avatar interactions
  • Player-avatar relationships
  • Video game

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