How important is an in-game avatar? If given the choice, do you always choose a character from the gender you identify with? A recent study by Macquarie University senior lecturer Michael Hitchens has delved into the role of the avatar in first-person shooters. Having read his findings, we can't help but wonder: if given a choice, who or what kind of character would you be?
Hitchen's research looks at 550 first-person shooter titles and the roles that gender and race play in the avatars. It's a fascinating study into the trends that have come and gone in first-person shooters and there are some really neat findings there. For example, of the games surveyed, 390 had default male avatars while 20 had default female avatars (Perfect Dark, Metroid Prime, etc). Only 11 games had an avatar where the gender of the character is not identifiable within the game.
When it came to race, 347 of the games surveyed used Caucasian character avatars, five used African/African American, seven had Asian avatars, five had American Indian avatars, and 67 were classified as "multiple" while 32 fell into the "unspecified" category.
First-person shooters are arguable one of the most immersive genres of game out there; they ask the player to assume the identity of the avatar, to be the eyes, ears and brain of the character. Whenever I am given a choice, I always go with the female character and try to make her look as Chinese as possible. My lack of understanding about facial proportions means she also looks as demented as possible. Despite her unfortunate appearance, I still automatically gravitate toward the character who I most resemble because I find it easier to connect with the character. I feel like I have a reason and a purpose in the game world.
So now it's over to you: how important is the avatar in a first-person shooter? Do you care what the character looks like? What influences your decision when it comes to deciding on an avatar? Let us know!