Avatars & Game Psychology Reshape Real Life & Behavior

Avatars ( and by extension our virtual identities) and Game mechanics (specifically game psychology) continue to intersect our lives and influence our real-world social, communication and collaboration behaviors at home and at work.   


Here are two perspectives that illustrate the point.


First, Jesse Fox at Stanford finds that experiences with avatars, including personalized images of ourselves, can change our view of reality and the way we act in the real world.  From PhysOrg.com

"If you saw a digital image of yourself running on a virtual treadmill, would you feel like going to the gym? Probably so, according to a Stanford study showing that personalized avatars can motivate people to exercise and eat right.

Moreover, you are more likely to imitate the behavior of an avatar in real life if it looks like you, said Jesse Fox, a doctoral candidate in the Communication Department and a researcher at the Stanford Virtual Lab. In her study, she used digital photographs of participants to create personalized avatar bodies, a service some game companies offer today.


Second, Jesse Schell of Carnegie Mellon and Schell Games, provided an out-of-the-box presentation at DICE on how psychological design and numerous activity and attention sensors will extend the reach of games in our lives and ultimately may improve personal behavior.  

In the video below , he looks at the unexpected success of Farmville, MafiaWars, ClubPenguin, GuitarHero and Wii in the hopes of identifying a set of guiding principles that could be applied to the design of collaboration, communication and attention game mechanics in the future:



1. Psychological Design drives user behavior

Use of free-to-play, virtual currency, lead generation and "velvet-rope" models shape and channel user behavior to ultimately spend real money in-game to create new revenue streams.


2. Break through to Reality

The most successful games break through from a virtual experience to include real-life interaction. 


3. Technology Diverges. Gaming will too

As technology advances it wants to diverge not converge. It grows and spreads. You might call this the Law of Technical Divergence.  Mobile devices are an exception.


4. Sensors will enable new gaming mechanics in everyday life

As activity, location, biometric and attention sensors emerge and are embedded in everything from our toothbrush, to clothing, to food and of course devices, we will see an explosion of game mechanics used to drive and change our behavior.


5. Persistent history of our actions could drive improved behavior

In the near future, when we are all being tracked, watched and measured by all kinds of sensors; and our children's children will know what we read, ate, did and thought, will it inspire us to improve our personal behaviors.


Check out his DICE 2010 "Design Outside the Box" presentation here:

The opportunity is to integrate our virtual identities and Avatars along with Game Psychology to shape behaviors that improve our life through stronger social ties, communication and collaboration.

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