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Allow me to tell you about two times when I felt a little like a misunderstood teenage girl.
The first was while controlling the player character Aloy, an 18 year old cast out from her tribe in Horizon: Zero Dawn. Aloy is smart, stubborn in the face of pointless traditions, compassionate, and curious about her messed up world. I very quickly grew to like her and I started to feel a connection to Aloy like you do with any other fictional character. But also different. In some ways I felt like we were alike and I could identify some of the things her character was going through and some of the things she was passionate about. It made me more interested in her story and more determined to keep playing the game all the way through.
The second recent time I identified with a video game avatar was when I played through the adventure game Life Is Strange. The more contemporary setting in this game featured homework, peer pressure, and school bullies.1 But like with Aloy, I found myself immediately liking this game’s protagonist, Maxine “Max” Caufield, who serves as the player avatar. Again, the game’s strong narrative and my freedom to make choices and shape the story made me see something of myself in Max. I wanted to keep playing Life is Strange because I liked Max and because the game was giving me choices and opportunities that let me project some of my values onto her and her reactions. One has to wonder if I had the chance to make the avatar look or even sound more like me if the effect would be stronger.
Actually, you don’t have to wonder. There has been much research on video game avatars, how they affect our attitudes towards the game, and even what they can help us take away from playing the game. In this episode of the podcast I talk with Dr. Jesse Fox from Ohio State University’s School of Communication. She and her colleagues have done some interesting research on video game avatars that she will share. We talk about how video game avatars can affect our attitudes towards romance, how they can persuade us to adopt certain viewpoints or accept certain arguments, and generally what role they have in our enjoyment of games.
- “Robot Motivation” by The Polish Ambassador, licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
- Bicycle by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License