For some players, the avatar becomes a purposeful projection or idealization of their own identity, while for others, the avatar is an experiment with new identities. There are also those for whom the avatar is merely a pawn - the means for an end. These differences actually fall along personality differences. Introverted players tend to create characters that are projections or idealizations of themselves, while extraverted players tend to experiment with new identities through their characters. Of course, differences in avatar importance are also influenced by differences in motivation. Players driven by achievement focus more on the power and effectiveness of their avatarís equipment, while players driven by socialization or immersion are more focused on their avatarís appearances.

These online environments also tell us a great deal about identity in cyberspace. While some might have argued that cyberspace freed us from our bodies and gave us freedom over our identities, gender stereotypes and even national affiliations transfer into these virtual worlds where male and female bodies are equal and where real world nations donít even exist. Perhaps the complications of our virtual identities derive from our insistence of embodiment in virtual worlds, and MMORPGs are showing us how easily real world privileges, affiliations and power structures transfer into virtual worlds.

The difference in emphasis on character customization between Asian and Western MMORPGs is also quite striking. Asian MMORPGs typically have pre-defined character appearances while Western MMORPGs give the user the ability to customize many physical features. While this at first appears as if Western gamers care more about their appearances and individualism compared with Asian gamers, something more intriguing is happening. Full-fledged character creation systems frustrate Asian gamers because they do not like the fact that more skilled users can create avatars that are more attractive and appealing than theirs. Instead of individualism, the underlying issue is two very different views of egalitarianism.

See also:

- WoW Character Class Demographics

External Links:

- Terra Nova Post on Avatar Appearances (in particular, See Richard Bartle's first comment)
- The Value of Man and Woman by Edward Castronova
- Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet by Lisa Nakamura

Other Reading:

- Life on the Screen by Sherry Turkle
- Race in Cyberspace by Beth Kolko, Gilbert Rodman, and Lisa Nakamura (editors).

The Daedalus Gateway - The Psychology of MMORPGs

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