The Effects of Different Control Mechanisms

The way a player feels about an avatar depends somewhat on how the player con­trols the avatar in the game. In the case of Nancy Drew and the avatars in all other point-and-click adventure and computer role-playing games, the player's control is indirect; he doesn't steer the avatar around but points to where he wants the avatar to go, and the avatar walks there of her own accord. The player feels more like a dis­embodied guide and friend than a personal inhabitant of the game world.

Lara Croft and Mario, in contrast, are under direct control: The player steers their bodies through the game world, running, swimming, jumping, and fighting as nec­essary. The player becomes them and revels in the abilities that they have that he does not. But he doesn't worry too much about their feelings. That's partly because Lara and Mario are only partially specified, but it's also because exercising so much control makes them more like puppets than people.

Male and Female Players and Characters

Early in the history of video games, some designers were concerned that male players (who used to make up the majority of the market) would be unwilling to play female avatars: Men might find identifying with a female character somehow threatening. Lara Croft (Figure 6.2) demonstrated that this is not a problem, at least as long as the character is acting in a role that men are comfortable with. Lara engages in tradition­ally masculine activities, so men are happy to enter the game as Lara. They might be less comfortable with an avatar who engaged in more traditionally feminine activities.

Women, of course, are expected to identify with male heroes routinely, a state of affairs predating computer games. Until recently, few books, movies, TV shows, or video games about adventurous activities featured female heroes, and they're still very much in the minority. Women justifiably get tired of playing male heroes, and they appreciate the opportunity to play as female characters. At the same time, however, women aren't that interested in playing male-fantasy characters like Rayne from the BloodRayne series; such characters are so extreme that it discourages identi­fication with them. Heather from Silent Hill 3 (Figure 6.3) provides a better example; she looks like a real woman, not a walking lingerie advertisement. The Appendix, "Designing to Appeal to Particular Groups," addresses this issue further.



In general, male players don't actually identify with their avatars as much as female players do. Men are more willing to take the default avatar provided by the game and happily run with it. Women tend to see an avatar as an extension of their own personalities and an opportunity for self-expression. One of the best things you can do to make your game more attractive to female players is to permit them to customize the avatar—to choose his or her clothes, accessories, and weapons (if any). Role-playing games, especially online ones, offer some of the most powerful customization features.

When possible, it's nice to give the player a choice of male or female avatars, but this is seldom practical in games with complex storylines. Writing material that works with either sex can be difficult, and doing so requires creating more content, which costs more money.

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