Some Assembly Required: Player Mental Models of Videogame Avatars

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In playing videogames, players often create avatars as extensions of agency into those spaces, where the player-avatar relationship (PAR) both shapes gameplay and is the product of gameplay experiences. Avatars are generally understood as singular bodies; however, we argue they are functional and phenomenological assemblages—networks of social and technological components that are internalized by players as networks of knowledge about the avatar. Different PARs are based on different internalizations (i.e., mental models) for what an avatar is and why it matters. Toward illuminating nuances in PARs, we examine the content and structure of players’ internalizations of avatars as evidenced by descriptions of those digital bodies. Secondary analysis of N = 1,201 avatar descriptions parceled them by PAR type (avatars as asocial Objects, psychologically merged extensions of Me, hybrid me/other Symbiotes, and authentically social Other). Aggregated descriptions for each PAR type were subjected to semantic network analysis to identify patterns in salient avatar components, and then qualitatively compared across the four PARs. Results indicate component clusters that are universal to PARs (demographics and body features), common to three of four PARs (time, appearance, clothing, and player agency), and idiosyncratic to specific PARs (significance, character narratives, game dynamics, liminality, and gratifications). Findings signal the importance of theoretically engaging avatars as assemblages both (a) influenced by player-avatar sociality and (b) that contribute (in part and whole) to antecedents, processes, and effects of gameplay.

Original languageEnglish
Article number701965
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Volume12
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 15 2021

Keywords

  • assemblage
  • avatars
  • mental models
  • semantic network analysis
  • videogames

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