FUNDAMENTALS OF GAME DESIGN, SECOND EDITION

The Relationship Between Player and Avatar

Lara Croft is attractive because of, not despite of, her glossy blankness—that hyper-perfect, shiny, computer look. She is an abstraction, an animated conglomeration of sexual and attitudinal signs—breasts, hotpants, shades, thigh holsters—whose very blankness encourages the viewer's psychological projection. Beyond the bare facts of her biography, her perfect vacuity means we can make Lara Croft into whoever we want her to be.

—Steven Poole, "Lara's Story"

The game industry uses the term avatar to refer to a character in a game who serves as a protagonist under the player's control. (The original term is Sanskrit and in the Hindu religion refers to the bodily incarnation of a god.) Most action and action - adventure games provide exactly one avatar. Many role-playing games allow the player to manage a party of characters and switch control from one to another, but if winning a role-playing game is contingent upon the survival of a particular
member of the party, then that character is effectively the player's avatar (though some games require that more than one character survive). The player usually sees the avatar onscreen more than any other character if the game is presented in the third person. Displaying the avatar requires the largest number of animations, which must also be the smoothest animations, or you risk annoying the player. The avatar's movements must be attractive, not clumsy, unless clumsiness is part of the avatar's character.

The nature of the player's relationship with the avatar varies considerably from game to game. Whether the player designed the avatar herself, whether the game displays the avatar as a visible and audible presence, how the player controls the avatar's movements, and many other factors influence that relationship.

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