Whether I’m bashing orcs with a battle-axe or rallying with a friend in Nintendo Wii tennis, my digital doppelgänger is always a black guy with cool glasses, a big smile, and a curly fro. That’s how I look in real life, and that’s how I design my virtual avatars to appear. Those features key other players into how I look, and according to new research, potentially provide insight into my personality.
In the digital realm, customizable characters can reflect or suppress real-world identities, and research has shown that we create online aliases based on how we perceive ourselves away from the computer. And the color hair we choose or the accessories we wear influences what other players think of us, according to Katrina Fong, a social psychologist from York University in Toronto. “After reading some very interesting past research on how we can form accurate impressions of others based on very little information,” she said, “I decided to pursue the current line of research: How do we express our identities in virtual self-representations, and how are we perceived?”
Fong and her colleague recruited about 100 students and asked them to fill out a personality survey which gauged five personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness. After completing the survey, she brought the participants into a computer lab and asked them to create their own avatars using WeeWord.com, an online tool that creates simple, two-dimensional characters. The students could customize the gender, skin tone, hair type, clothing, and accessories of their avatars.