Mechanisms of identification and social differentiation in player–avatar relations

Nicholas David Bowman, Jaime Banks, Edward Downs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The connection between player and avatar is central to digital gaming, with identification assumed to be core to this connection. Often, scholarship engages single dimensions of identification, yet emerging perspectives reveal that identification is polythetic (PID) – comprising at least six sufficient (but not necessary) mechanisms. The current study investigates the intersections of polythetic identification mechanisms and two different approaches to player–avatar sociality (as a marker of differentiation): general types of player–avatar relationships (PARs) and discrete dimensions of player–avatar interaction (PAX). Secondary analysis of an existing dataset of gamers revealed two main findings: (1) players reported overall diminished identification when they engaged in non-social relations with their avatar, and (2) increased liking and perspective-taking were most likely with human-like social relations, which require differentiation from rather than identification as the avatar. These findings are interpreted to suggest that player–avatar identification and differentiation are conceptually independent relational phenomena that are experientially convergent – some relational orientations and dynamics are associ-ated with distinct combinations of identification mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-73
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Jaime Banks (Ph.D., Colorado State University) is an associate professor in the College of Media and Communication at Texas Tech University (TTU). Her research is animated by questions of human–technology relations – especially those with video game avatars and social robots – with an emphasis on perceptions of mind and morality. She leads the Human–Machine Communication Lab in TTU’s Center for Communication Research, and her current work on perceptions of moral agency and trust in robots is funded by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Trust and Influence Program.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, Intellect Ltd. All rights reserved.


  • Avatar
  • Canonical correlations
  • Identification
  • Player-avatar interactions
  • Player-avatar relationships
  • Video game


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