Who Are You Online?: A Study of Gender, Race, and Gaming Experience and Context on Avatar Self-Representation

Who Are You Online?: A Study of Gender, Race, and Gaming Experience and Context on Avatar Self-Representation

Robert Andrew Dunn (East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, USA) and Rosanna Guadagno (Stanford University, Stanford, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/IJCBPL.2019070102
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The authors conducted an experiment to determine the effects of gender, race, online video gaming experience, and the experimental context in which participants played the video game (online vs. offline vs. no information control) on avatar selection. The qualities of the avatar compared were based on eight objective differences between avatars and individuals: attractiveness, skin tone, height, girth chest size, waist size, hip size, and height. As predicted, those with online gaming experience selected avatars that were taller, thinner, and more attractive relative to their real selves than did participants with no prior online game experience. Non-white participants selected avatars with lighter skin-tones, whereas white participants selected avatars with darker skin-tones. Surprisingly, male participants selected shorter avatars than female counterparts did.
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Avatar Selection

Though Higgins’s (1987) Self Discrepancy Theory and its supporting concepts of the self (actual, ideal, and ought) would seem to be a perfect framework for understanding the avatar selection, it has its limitations, particularly within the context of self-presentation online. First, Schlenker (1980) has already noted that some people do not in fact present themselves in idealized or normative ways. They may choose to present themselves in less advantageous or even in antisocial ways. Such phenomena are not without precedent in the world of MMOs. For instance, some select evil races, such as those of the Horde – a coalition of evil races in World of Warcraft (Ducheneaut, Yee, Nickell, & Moore, 2006). Research suggests that some of these deviations from the norm may be attributable to personality differences and players’ gender, for instance openness is tied to trying on different skin tones during avatar selection (Dunn & Guadagno, 2012). Lee (2004) offers a potentially more practical way of considering self-presentation in his discussion of self-presence. He argued that self-presence exists on a continuum of measurable distance between what one experiences in reality and what one experiences in virtual reality. Thus, self-presence is the difference between the real person and the “para-authentic self” (i.e., a representation that looks like the user) or the “alter-self” (i.e., a representation that does not look like the user). Thus, the alter-self avatar could be seen as one designed more for role-playing. Therefore, a person selects an avatar somewhere between the para-authentic self and an alter-self.

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