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Avatars, characters, players and users: multiple identities at/in play
Carter M., Gibbs M., Arnold M.  OzCHI 2012 (Proceedings of the 24th Australian Computer-Human Interaction Conference, Melbourne, VIC, Australia,  Nov 26-30, 2012) 68-71. 2012. Type: Proceedings
Date Reviewed: Jan 23 2013

The conceptual structure of this study is so convoluted that it is difficult to comment on. In essence, the authors are arguing for an expanded, more nuanced understanding of avatar identity. This is where the confusion begins.

By way of explanation, I would distinguish between player identity and avatar identity. Let’s say a video game’s top scores are reported in a public place and “Big Joe” holds the top score. “Big Joe” would be an example of a player identity, and the person behind “Big Joe” might take a great deal of personal pride in “Big Joe’s” accomplishments. But “Big Joe” is just a name on the scoreboard. It is not an avatar. Even if we add a picture of “Big Joe,” it is still not an avatar.

This distinction is important because psychological phenomena such as presence and avatar attachment occur when playing a game through a dynamic 3D character. While one may identify with a pseudonym and even be attached to it, it is unclear if all or indeed any of the psychological phenomena occur.

One might argue, at some conceptual level, that the insertion of a persona into a virtual world qualifies as an avatar even if it is not supported by a 3D dynamic character. But that argument wasn’t made here. Without that argument, the study adds more confusion to the concept of avatar identity than clarity.

Furthermore, the study focused on players of EVE Online and was limited to the responses of 11 male players, so it lacks generality. To strengthen the study, the authors need to make meaningful distinctions between player identities and avatar identities. They need to explain the unique experiences of EVE Online players and how they impact generality. Hence, due to faulty conceptual foundations, it is unclear what to make of the authors’ claims.

Reviewer:  J. M. Artz Review #: CR140854 (1309-0850)
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