You Are Who You Play? (Part 1)

What does your avatar say about you?

As games get more complex, as character creation grows more in depth, and as players use gaming as a bigger part of their social identity, the type of character they play and how they play becomes more insightful about that person.

Though MMORPG gaming for many is an escape, often you cannot escape the parts of yourself revealed in your game play.

Pre-Fab Vs. Customs

A majority of games still have protagonists that are completely pre-made. Originally, due to limitations of processing and memory, the main character was a singular figure. The most popular characters had universal themes or easy to identify with personalities; like a well-meaning Italian plumber suddenly thrust into a whimsical world.

As the technology allowed, pre-made options became multiple choice questions. Menu options added a broader and broader variety of types and abilities in hopes of having one that every player could identify with and want to play

MMORPGs lent themselves to character customization since part of playing a character is having control of who they are and how they grow.

So what does your character say about you?

Player Create Thyself

The growing complexity of character design and social interaction has led to a number of psychological studies probing how online personas contrast or compare to their real-world counterparts.

One of these studies (Psychology, Character Creation and Avatars – Representation in Virtual Worlds - Staffordshire University) breaks down how our avatars may represent ourselves:

  • True Self - A virtual version of how the player sees themselves. But, keep in mind its how we see ourselves, not exactly as we really are.
  • Heroic Self - This avatar is a variation with exaggerated attributes and actions, either positive or negative (for the villain in us).
  • Power Self - A ramped version of yourself, usually geared to maximize abilities for the best in-game results.
  • Fantasy Self - This variation is the player personality and aspects inside a body with appearance and abilities that could never exist in the real world.
  • Random - These characters exist to create interesting combinations or ability choices or 'What if' concepts. This type of character tends to be created by players who are not interested in playing within the normal parameters of the game or do not play along traditional questing and story lines.

This theory may be more fitting to deduce what kind of game one would play as opposed to actual character choices. Because in many MMOs, character options may be limited. For example, fantasy games by their name are geared toward fantasy self personas, since you can play as other species and have magical abilities as a standard part of the game.

Because of the variety of studies and theories regarding the psychology behind characters and social gaming, these studies do not all find the same conclusions; so future discussions will contrast these other ideas and explore other aspects of personas and avatars.


Amazon, Pirate and Gator 'Rassler who terrorizes the seas aboard her frigate The Crimson Widow in the original Pirates Online and now in The Legend of Pirates Onlines ( Also an administrator of the Pirates Online Wiki ( Have swung a hammer in Guild Wars 2, slung a S.A.W. in Defiance and winged across the galaxy in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Published Jul. 23rd 2013
  • Lahad Shaw
    Very interesting article, I guess for me it'd be a mix between Power Self and Fantasy Self.
  • Capt. Eliza Creststeel
    - my follow ups will talk about other avatar theory so it will be interesting where players think they fall
  • Amy White
    Former Editor in Chief
    For science then, I think I'm playing a mix of True Self and Heroic Self
  • Amy White
    Former Editor in Chief
    The older I get, the more I seem to turn into the RPG character I created when I was 16. In fact... I think that might be an article.

    Gonna go dig up an old character portrait.

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