Object, Me, Symbiote, Other: A social typology of player-avatar relationships
Keywords:Avatars, Agents, Online games, MMO, MMORPG, Identification, Emotion, Agency, Motivation
Despite how humans and non-human objects relate in very social ways, the relations between players and their online game avatars are most often examined through conspicuously parasocial lenses. That is, the player-avatar relationship (PAR) is generally seen as one-way and non-dialectical as players think, feel, and acts toward the avatar without consideration for the avatar’s role in that relationship. The present study examines the potential for PARs to be fully social, in which player and avatar both materially contribute to the relationship. Through interpretive thematic analysis of in-depth interviews with diverse World of Warcraft players, analysis revealed that PARs sometimes feature the fully social characteristics of self-differentiation, emotional intimacy, and shared agency. It is argued that these differences in sociality may be best understood according to a four-point PAR typology, ranging from non-social to fully social.
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