How Do Avatars Create Our Social MMO Experience?

Daniel A. Kaufmann, Ph.D
Dr. Gameology on Twitch & The Gaming Persona Podcast
Owner of Area of Effect Counseling

MMO games are some of the most interactive and social online experiences around. Since their invention in the 1990s, these games have allowed users to create digital avatars that represent themselves within the game world. Many of the most popular titles in video game history include the element of character creation. From Everquest, World of Warcraft, to Final Fantasy XIV, there are many games and online worlds to explore if you enjoy online gaming. How we choose to represent ourselves in these virtual spaces can affect our experience of the game, sometimes in surprising ways. In this post, we’ll explore how avatars and socialization form our experience of modern MMO games. Are you ready to dive in? Let’s Go!

What are avatars and why do we use them in video games?

Think about the video games you’ve played most recently. Chances are, your favorite games had amazing worlds to explore, characters to meet, and stories to unfold. But what if those games didn’t have those aspects? What if they were just bland and lifeless? Unfortunately, that’s often the case with video games. However, when developers take the time to create immersive avatars and character creation systems, it can make all the difference in the world.

Avatars are digital representations of players within video games. They allow players to explore game worlds and interact with other players using a character that they have created. Character creation is a major part of the game playing experience, as it allows players to customize their avatars to look and behave however they want. This can include everything from choosing an avatar’s skin color and hair style to outfitting them with armor and weapons.

Why do players use avatars? There are a number of reasons. For one, avatars allow players to explore game worlds as a character they have made themselves. They also provide a sense of connection to other players, as users can develop relationships with their avatars. Additionally, avatars can help players role-play within games, allowing them to take on different personas and experiment with different identities.

Avatars and Socialization: Creating our avatar in games like World of Warcraft allows us to express ourselves and find our path towards meaningful gameplay more effectively.


How do our avatars affect our social interactions in MMOs?

Video games have been found to be beneficial for mental health and socialization. In recent years, video games have come under fire for being detrimental to mental health. However, research consistently suggests that video games can actually have a positive impact on mental health, including reducing stress and anxiety, improving mood, and providing a sense of accomplishment. One reason video games may be beneficial is because they provide an opportunity for social interaction.

Massively Multiplayer Online video games (MMOs) require players to cooperate in order to complete tasks and advance in the game. This can lead to meaningful relationships with other players. In fact, one study found that people who play MMOs are more likely to report higher levels of social capital, which consists of the resources (e.g. time, skills, knowledge) that people can draw upon to gather a group of other players to help them achieve their goals. The study found that MMO players were more likely to report feeling a sense of belonging to a community, having friends they could rely on, and feeling like they could make a difference in their community. Other studies found that video game play was associated with increased self-esteem and self-efficacy (i.e.. feeling like you can accomplish things), with no specific negative effects to well-being of the player. The research suggests that video game play may be beneficial for mental health by providing social interaction and a sense of accomplishment.

How does the design of an avatar impact how we play the game socially?

An avatar is the character that represents the player during gameplay. The design of an avatar can have a significant impact on how players interact with the game and with other players. For example, research has shown that players who choose more attractive avatars are more likely to be social in the game and receive help from other players. In contrast, players with less attractive avatars are more likely to be self-sufficient and avoid social interactions. The design of an avatar can also impact a player’s motivation for playing the game. For instance, players who use avatars that are vastly different from their real-world selves are more likely to play for escapist reasons, while those who create avatars that are similar to themselves are more likely to play for immersion. Ultimately, the way we design our avatars says a lot about how we want to interact with the game and with other players.

What are the different connections players can experience during an avatar-based game?

Avatars not only provide a visual representation of the player in the game, but they also impact the way that players interact with the game world and with other players. For example, when playing an avatar-based game, players must often make choices about how their character will behave. These choices can affect the course of the game and the relationships between players. As such, avatars can be seen as a reflection of the player’s personality and preferences.


Avatar Connections to Our Social Selves
Avatar Connections to Our Social Selves: The way we design our characters leads to the way we play the game. Connecting with others helps us achieve our sense of belonging in our game world, and also achieve our goals.


One of the most important functions of an avatar is socialization. Online video games provide players with a unique opportunity to connect with others from around the world. For many people, this is the primary reason for playing video games. Avatars allow players to interact with each other in ways that would not be possible in real life, fostering relationships that can last a lifetime. In addition to socialization, avatars also play an important role in motivation and character creation. Players often use avatars to escape from the boredom or monotony of their everyday lives. In some cases, players may even use their avatars to experiment with different identities or create entirely new personalities. Regardless of their specific purpose, avatars are an integral part of the video game experience.

In addition to influencing social interactions, avatars can also affect a player’s motivation for gaming. For some players, the opportunity to create and customize their own avatar is a key factor in their enjoyment of the game. The process of designing an avatar can be seen as an extension of character creation in role-playing games. In these games, players often put a great deal of thought into their characters’ backstories and personalities in order to create a rich and believable world. For some players, this same level of investment is required in order to enjoy an avatar-based game. Conversely, others may find that they are less motivated to play if they do not feel invested in their avatar.

Ultimately, avatars provide players with a way to connect with the game world and with other players. They offer an opportunity for self-expression and for socialization. And for some players, they are essential to their enjoyment of video games.

How do these ideas create a chance for healthy gaming?

Our avatar can be an expression of ourselves just as much as it can be a tool for us to accomplish our goals for the game. They are a manifestation of our strengths in relation to the problem. The game provides a problem, and the avatar we create is what we will invest our time in as an effort to solve the problem. Creating an avatar that is dissimilar to ourselves can help us cope with stress, whereas creating an avatar that is similar to ourselves can help us feel more immersed in the game. Ultimately, it is up to the player to decide how they want to use their avatar, and whether or not they want to create a connection between their real-world self and their game self.

Players often use avatars to escape from the boredom or monotony of their everyday lives. When we create our avatar for an online video game, we are effectively using a blank slate approach to express ourselves. This character is going to be acting on our behalf within the game world, and so we have a certain amount of control over how they look, what they wear, and what their personality is like. In many ways, our avatar is an extension of ourselves, and so it makes sense that the way we design them can have an impact on our play experience. For example, if we create an avatar that is highly attractive and fashionable, we may find ourselves spending more time in the game trying to maintain our appearance and social status. On the other hand, if we create an avatar that is strong and capable, we may find ourselves more focused on questing and adventuring. In either case, our choice of avatar can influence our gaming motivation and socialization in healthy ways. By giving us a chance to try out different aspects of our personality, avatars can help us to learn more about ourselves and discover new things that we enjoy. What’s more, by providing us with a constant source of visual motivation, avatars can help us to stay engaged with the game even when we’re not actively playing. So next time you’re creating a character for an online video game, take a moment to consider how your choice of avatar might impact your play experience. Chances are you’ll find that it makes a surprisingly big difference.

If we imagine all of the things this means for our mentality towards the challenge of the game, it can help us see what we hope for our actual self in reality-based contexts. Realizing that we’re capable of all these things through our avatar can give us a sense of agency and control, which is often what we need to face difficult challenges in our lives. It also means that when we have down times or moments of frustration in the game, it’s not always indicative of how we’re actually doing. That knowledge can help keep us going.


Avatar Relationships: The way we see ourselves and how we fit into the game world can help us decide on the best way to create our in-game characters.


It’s also worth noting that our interactions with other players are just as important as our interactions with the game itself. In many ways, online video games are social spaces, and so the way we interact with other players can have a big impact on our overall experience. If we take the time to get to know other players and form friendships, we’ll likely find the game more enjoyable and rewarding. On the other hand, if we choose to ignore or antagonize other players, we may find ourselves feeling isolated and alone. So next time you’re playing an online video game, take a moment to consider how your interactions with other players might impact your play experience.

Avatars can help us see ourselves more clearly, and find a path forward. While it is fun to play games for a series of hours, it is often important to see ourselves level up in the life situations that matter the most to us. Games teach us what leveling up is, but we may need to grind for experience in reality to get the best gear for our real self. We do this for our avatars all of the time. To maintain success in our mental health journey, it is a great idea to learn from our avatars (as they learn from us when we play them). Leveling up in life helps us get to the place where we want to be. Once we have, all we have to do is keep things going and stay engaged!

How to enjoy our avatar play and keep our life balance?

Avatars impact our play of online video games in several ways. First, they provide us with a sense of socialization. When we play video games with other people, we are able to interact with them through our avatars. This can help us to make new friends and connections that we wouldn’t otherwise have. Second, avatars can impact our gaming motivation. When we create an avatar that we are happy with and that represents us well, we are more likely to want to play the game and do well in it. Finally, avatars can impact our character creation. When we create an avatar, we are essentially creating a new character for ourselves. We get to choose what this character looks like, what their personality is like, and what their back story is. We can even choose to make our avatar completely different from ourselves in real life.


Avatar and Socialization
Avatar and Socialization: By experimenting with how we build our character, we can actually gain insights into how we spend our time in reality building up our own sense of self. We just need to take the time to notice how we are leveling up each day.


Whether you’re a casual gamer or a hardcore gamer, there’s no doubt that avatars have an impact on your gaming experience. So why not enjoy your avatar play and keep your life balance by following these simple tips:

– Make sure to take breaks from gaming every now and then. Too much of anything isn’t good for you, including video games!

– Try to create an avatar that represents you well. Think about what kind of personality you want your avatar to have and what you want them to look like.

– If you’re feeling competitive, remember that it’s just a game! Don’t take things too seriously and don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t win every time. Just have fun!

Avatars are important for our play of online video games because they help us to project ourselves into the game. Our avatar becomes an extension of ourselves and allows us to explore different aspects of our personality, or try on new roles. This is a powerful tool that can be used to improve our lives outside of gaming, by giving us opportunities to experiment with new behaviors in a safe and controlled environment. How will you use your avatar to enhance your play? What kind of persona would you like to explore? The point of games is to have fun, and perhaps learn a bit about ourselves as we play.

And as always…


Continue the Journey


Important Links

Roles in an MMO Raid Team: Tank, Healer, DPS


Banks, J., & Bowman, N. D. (2013). Close intimate playthings? Understanding player-avatar relationships as a function of attachment, agency, and intimacy. Internet Research, Denver, USA.

Katerelos, I., Tsekeris, C., Lavdas, M., & Dimitriou, K. (2011). A psychosocial approach to the use of the internet and massive online role-playing games. Facta Universitatis, 10(1), 73-88.

Kowert, R., Vogelgesang, J., Festl, R., & Quandt, T. (2015). Psychosocial causes and consequences of online video game play. Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 51-58.

Williams, D. (2007). The Impact of Time Online: Social Capital and Cyberbalkanization. Cyberpsychology & behavior: the impact of the Internet, Multimedia and Virtual Reality on Behavior and Society, 10, 398-406.

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