THE PROTEUS EFFECT

Shape-shifting Greek god Proteus, after whom the term “Proteus effect” is named.

Shape-shifting Greek god Proteus, after whom the term “Proteus effect” is named.

In our first reading of the week, “Video Games: Perspective, POV and Immersion”, Laurie Taylor describes two types of immersion: 1) diegetic immersion, and 2) intra-diegetic immersion. Diegetic immersion is described as a player’s ability to become absorbed into a game by forgetting that which is exterior to the game. Conversely, intra-diegetic (sometimes referred to as situated) immersion is where the player becomes engrossed in the experience of the game as a spatial and narrated space. Therefore, it seems fair to say that by extension of the actions of their avatar, a player becomes immersed within the narrative and virtual geography of the game. Subsequently, both types of immersion described by Taylor can only be achieved through their avatar’s embodied perspective. What may have been mentioned but not discussed at length in lectures or readings (I am aware that we will probably get to this at some point), is what affect the appearance of avatars has on gamer immersion. Because Taylor deals with embodiment in her study with regards to point of view and narrative, it seems to me to be a rather blaring omission because avatars are representatives, even extensions, of ourselves in the virtual world. Hence it seems adequate to analyse the importance of constructing an embodied identity with which to explore a virtual game space. In an article written by Jamie Madigan, “The Psychology of Video Game Avatars”, Madigan explores the idea of the “Proteus effect”, which he describes as being “the phenomenon where people will change their in-game behavior based on how they think others expect them to behave” based on the appearance of their avatar (Madigan, 2013).  He also states that he has found “research showing that being able to customize an avatar to look more like ourselves (or idealized versions of ourselves) can lead to greater immersion and interest in a game”. The idea that avatars are not just decorative game-pieces, but game-space ambassadors, makes total sense to me.  It also makes perfect sense that the way our avatars appear is going to affect the way that we act within- and it has also been argued, outside of- a game space.

 avatars
Of course looks aren’t everything. Most of the time people are so engrossed in their own appearance  that they don’t care or notice how others look. Which is the point I’m getting at, here. The way that we percieve ourselves, even when gaming, is based at least partially on appearances and this in turn afftects our ability to become immersed in a game. This does not necessarily mean, as Madigan states, that everybody wants a more idealized version of themselves. For some gamers an avatar that looks nothing like them is part of the appeal of gaming because of escapism or because it fits with the genre that they are playing. Sadly, we aren’t always given the choice. Most games give you option A or option B and you’ve just got to run with it. Personally, when this occurs, it means that I have to spend so much more time getting used to the aesthetic (and sometimes learning the physical ability/controls) of the character, because it isn’t personalised. For example, I am probably the most boring person to play Mortal Kombat with, because I will always ALWAYS choose Sonya Blade: because she’s familiar. For me, it’s a comfort thing; it’s difficult to become immersed in a game where I can’t remember which character I am or how to control them. For others, this isn’t an issue.

 

Here’s the link to Madigan’s article: http://www.psychologyofgames.com/2013/11/the-psychology-of-video-game-avatars/

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