Avatar Projecting Actual, Ideal, or Ought Self: Which One Do We Feel Close To?

Young June Sah, Hsin-Yi Sandy Tsai, Rabindra Ratan, Wei Peng and Issidoros Sarinopoulos


Psychological connection to an avatar in a video game increases hedonic (e.g., enjoyment, Klimmt, Hefner, & Vorderer, 2009) and utilitarian values of the video game (e.g., behavior change, Fox, Bailenson, & Binney, 2009). Previous studies showed that when customizing an avatar, rather than using a ready-made one, people feel psychologically connected to their avatar (Bailey, Wise, & Bolls, 2009; Lim & Reeves, 2009). While we know the superiority of a customized avatar over a generic one in making a video game enjoyable, there has been little research regarding how to guide players in customizing their avatar. That is, in what ways should we guide people to model their avatar? Should we, for example, advise them to customize the avatar to be as similar to their actual appearance as possible, or should we suggest that they should create an avatar as an idealized version of self, projecting wishful, even unreal qualities?

The question of how to customize an avatar is important because it influences the level of avatar-player connection and immersion in the video game. Jin (2010) found that people were likely to develop a psychological attachment to an avatar when an avatar reflected an ideal self, rather than when the avatar mirrored an actual self. Further, another study showed that an idealized avatar made people feel more immersed in the video game than did a generic one (Jin, 2009). Following this line of research, the current study examined the effect of different self-images—reflected in an avatar—on players’ game experience. Specifically, we investigated how an avatar reflecting three self domains—i.e., actual, ideal, and ought self (suggested by Higgins, 1987)—influence players’ perceptions of the avatar (i.e., avatar identification, similarity, attractiveness, and unnaturalness) and subjective experience of being in the game environment (i.e., sense of presence, Lombard & Ditton, 1997).