In most games, the avatar is thought of as the personification or a fragment of the player’s person. After all, the players are the ones who can manipulate the avatar in performing certain actions in-game. Games such as Final Fantasy XIV, Fire Emblem: Awakening and even Fallout IV allow the player to design the appearances of the characters that they can control themselves. Players can choose however they want the avatar to look like and can even design them to look like a (enhanced) version of themselves.
It’s no wonder that most of these games fall under the ‘role-playing’ genre. The avatar is more or less a tool for the player to visit the world of the game. Players manipulate the actions of these avatars in the world with just a flicker of their fingers on the controller and find themselves immersed in worlds of fantasy, dragons and magic. Designing an avatar that looks like yourself further enhances the immersion for the player. Having a character that looks like you walk around in such fantastic worlds, comes as close as can be to the wish to actually walk around in that world yourselves.
While I can talk for hours about immersion into game worlds, I would like to steer the direction of this blog entry to the famous Pokémon Go game. To be more precise: to the avatar of the game. Pokémon Go only has a few options for players to choose how their avatar is going to look like. It’s limited to gender, hair color and pieces of similar clothing (at the time of writing at least). I bet that I’m not the first on to make that avatar to look like myself. However, that’s where the similarities between the avatar in Pokémon Go‘s and the avatar that I described above stop.
I don’t think that I would be recognized by the appearance of my avatar.
Pokémon Go’s augmented reality and the fact that it’s location-based change the avatar from a tool that takes players inside the game world to an augmented body that takes the game world outside. Let me explain: at the same time that players walk around in the real world, they have to check their phone regularly to check up for any pokéstops, gyms or pokémon that might appear. But the map that the avatar in the app walks on is an actual representation of where the players are on that exact moment (or at least, it should be). The avatar indicates the location of the players in our world. The game world and our world both merge the moment players turn that app on. Everything that pops up, seemingly pops up on the location that players are on as if it’s actually on that location instead of in some virtual world.
Both avatar and pokémon are simultaneously shown, but when the player decides to catch the pokémon, they are presented to the player instead. As if they exist in the actual world.
It sounds difficult, but it’s actually pretty simple. The avatar is in the first place just an indicator that shows where we are on the map, exactly the same to what Google Map‘s does when you’re looking for the directions on your phone. The difference is that Pokémon Go projects an avatar instead of an arrow, one that we can design to look like ourselves. In second place, however, the avatar is a representation of us as players. The game displays a nickname, the avatar’s appearance and pokémon to other players in gyms, for example. It presents us to other players, similar to online role-playing games. Objects and pokémon we find are presented to us as if they’re in our own world. And, the avatar as an indicator shows us where we are in the actual world. These factors suggest that the avatar is a tool that goes beyond the idea taking the player inside the game world.
Instead, the avatar represents the player as they’re moving in the actual world. It let’s us walk between the line of reality and the virtual in which both versions the actual player and the avatar can exist simultaneously in a merged game world of augmented reality.