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Avatar Creation and Video Game Enjoyment: Effects of Life-Satisfaction, Game Competitiveness, and Identification with the Avatar



Based on the model of complex entertainment experiences ( Vorderer, Klimmt, & Ritterfeld, 2004 ), the competitiveness of a computer game (media prerequisite) and the individual life satisfaction (user prerequisite) are hypothesized to influence game enjoyment. Avatar-player similarity was hypothesized to determine identification with the avatar, which in turn was suggested to enhance the enjoyment experience. In a quasi-experimental study, (N = 666) participants were asked to choose the personality features of an avatar for six different game scenarios. The results demonstrate that the games’ competitiveness as well as the participants’ life satisfaction influenced avatar choice and identification. In noncompetitive games, similar avatars were created, whereas in competitive games, dissimilar avatars were created. Participants who were well satisfied with their lives created avatars that resemble themselves in terms of personality factors, whereas dissatisfied users created dissimilar avatars. Player-avatar similarity was positively related to identification. This correlation was significantly stronger for noncompetitive games. Identification with the avatar was strongly related to game enjoyment. When controlling for the influence of identification on enjoyment, player-avatar similarity was negatively related to enjoyment, suggesting that identity play can be an independent source of enjoyment in computer games.
The Pleasures of Success: Game-Related Efficacy
Experiences as a Mediator Between Player
Performance and Game Enjoyment
Sabine Trepte, Ph.D., and Leonard Reinecke, Ph.D.
In the present study, the interplay of player performance, game-related self-efficacy experiences, and the re-
sulting effects on game enjoyment are investigated. We hypothesized that a player’s performance stimulates
enjoyment via its potential to stimulate game-related self-efficacy experiences. In a laboratory setting, partici-
pants (N¼213) played a jump ’n’ run game. Their performance during game play was recorded by log-file
software, and efficacy and enjoyment were assessed with questionnaires. As predicted, both player performance
and game-related self-efficacy experience were significant predictors of enjoyment. Furthermore, the results
demonstrate that game-related self-efficacy experience significantly mediates the relationship between player
performance and game enjoyment.
The interactivity of video and computer games poses a
challenge for entertainment scholars, as new or extended
theoretical models of media enjoyment are needed to under-
stand the appeal of this genre. The aim of the present study is
to explore the function of player performance in the enjoy-
ment of video games and to identify the underlying psycho-
logical processes that transform objective performance into
subjective game enjoyment.
According to Bandura’s self-efficacy theory,
an efficacy
expectation is the subjective belief that one can successfully
execute the behavior required to produce certain outcomes.
Perceived self-efficacy has a direct influence on the choice of
activities, the amount of effort people will expend, and how
long they will persist in the face of obstacles and aversive
In most games, the course of events is unpredictable for the
player. The actions that have to be taken to master a certain
task are very often unclear in advance. Therefore, game-
related self-efficacy is usually regarded as an ex-post experi-
ence that takes place during the course of in-game events.
Players evaluate their competence to master game challenges
after they have received performance feedback from the game
environment. The idea of game-related self-efficacy experi-
ences is predominantly related to White’s ‘‘feeling of efficacy.’
White distinguished between effectance motivation and
feelings of efficacy. Effectance motivation is defined as the
motivation for exploratory and playful activities in the service
of competence, whereas efficacy may be described as a pos-
itive experience produced by such exploratory and playful
behavior. Game-related self-efficacy experience is thus
defined as a player’s ex-post assessment of his/her ability to
master and to control the game.
The concept of self-efficacy appears to be a promising
theoretical approach to explore the effects of player perfor-
mance on game enjoyment, when taking into account that
video games provide players with constant feedback on their
in-game performance
and that past accomplishments posi-
tively influence subjective feelings of self-efficacy
and effi-
cacy expectations.
The Effects of Player Performance
and Efficacy Experiences on Game Enjoyment
A growing number of studies address aspects of the
gaming experience that are directly or indirectly linked to in-
game performance, mastery experience, and self-efficacy. The
results of a survey by Sherry et al. on the gratifications of
playing video games suggest that challenge and competition
are key components of game enjoyment.
The stream of
events within a game can be considered a ‘‘continuous
exchange between players and the game software.’’
player’s actions have immediate consequences within the
gaming environment. As a consequence of this steady feedback
from the game environment, the player’s accomplishments
Department of Psychology, University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany.
Volume 14, Number 9, 2011
ªMary Ann Liebert, Inc.
DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2010.0358
represented by positive or appealing in-game events can be
expected to be highly salient to the player and thus are
likely to positively influence game enjoyment.
Hypothesis 1 predicts that:
H1: Player performance will be positively related to game
Based on the theoretical considerations of self-efficacy
we furthermore suggest that player performance
has a positive influence on game-related self-efficacy experi-
ences. According to Bandura and White, past performance
influences an individual’s efficacy expectations.
As dis-
cussed above, all player actions are immediately followed by
consequences within the gaming environment.
quently, the player is provided with a constant stream of
performance-related information. As most positive events
within the game are primarily attributable to the player’s
skills, better performance can be expected to lead to higher
levels of game-related efficacy experiences. This assumption
is addressed in Hypothesis 2:
H2: Player performance will be positively related to game-
related self-efficacy experiences.
A number of studies demonstrate that self-efficacy or re-
lated concepts such as mastery and control play a crucial role
in the gaming experience.
The results presented by Tam-
borini et al. demonstrate that the satisfaction of the need for
competence, that is, the feeling that the personal skills match
the game’s requirements, and the need for autonomy, that is,
the feeling of being in control of the game, explain a signifi-
cant amount of variance in game enjoyment.
Klimmt et al. demonstrated in an online experiment that
under conditions of reduced effectance, players perceived a
game as being less enjoyable.
These findings support the
assumption that feelings of mastery and game-related self-
efficacy experiences are crucial components of game enjoy-
ment. We therefore hypothesized that:
H3: Game-related self-efficacy experiences are positively
related to game enjoyment.
Based on the assumption that player performance is posi-
tively related to game-related self-efficacy (cf. H2) and on the
strong relationship between efficacy experiences and enjoy-
ment found in previous research
(cf. H3), it appears rea-
sonable to assume that game-related self-efficacy experiences
may be a psychological mechanism that transforms objective
player performance into subjective game enjoyment. In other
words, player performance leads to the experience of game-
related self-efficacy, which, in turn, has a positive effect on
game enjoyment. Therefore, we propose that:
H4: The relationship between player performance and game
enjoyment is mediated by game-related self-efficacy expe-
A total of 213 students participated in the experiment.
The sample comprised 159 women (74.6 percent). Ages
ranged between 18 and 43 years (M¼23.62 years, SD ¼4.26
Stimulus material
We used the jump ’n’ run game Crazy Chicken: Heart of Tibet
(phenomedia publishing) as stimulus material. The game was
chosen owing to its simple controls that are easy to under-
stand even for players with little or no gaming experience.
The prequel of the main game Crazy Chicken: The Good, the Egg
and the Ugly (phenomedia publishing) was used for a training
session. Both games are identical in terms of game controls
and basic game mechanisms, but differ slightly in their nar-
rative and graphics.
Upon arrival in the computer lab, participants were given
15 minutes to practice the training game. Afterward, partici-
pants played the main game for 30 minutes until the game
stopped automatically. Subsequently, participants responded
to a questionnaire.
Player performance. Log files were recorded to assess the
frequency of 20 game events for each participant, including
collecting items (e.g., coins and diamonds), defeating oppo-
nents, activating save points, and reaching new levels. The
frequency scores of all 20 events were standardized using
z-transformation and then averaged to form a single index of
player performance.
Game-related self-efficacy experience. A scale devel-
oped by Klimmt et al. comprising 11 items (e.g., ‘‘I had the
impression that I could immediately affect things on the
screen’’) was used to assess game-related self-efficacy expe-
Participants rated the items on a 5-point scale
ranging from 1, ‘‘does not apply at all,’’ to 5, ‘‘does fully ap-
ply’’ (Cronbach’s a¼0.891).
Game enjoyment. Five items were used to measure game
enjoyment (e.g., ‘‘Playing the game was fun’’ or ‘‘I liked
playing the game’’). Participants rated the items on a 6-point
scale ranging from 1, ‘‘does not apply at all,’’ to 6, ‘‘does fully
apply’’ (Cronbach’s a¼0.919).
Hypotheses 1 to 4 were tested using structural equation
modeling. Game enjoyment and game-related self-efficacy
experience were modeled as latent variables, whereas player
performance was entered as an observed variable. With a
comparative fit index (CFI) of 0.927 and an root mean square
error of approximation (RMSEA) of 0.075, the model ex-
hibited an acceptable fit.
As predicted in H1, player performance had a significant
and positive total effect on game enjoyment (b¼0.221,
p<0.001). Furthermore, confirming H2, the data revealed
that player performance was a significant predictor of game-
related self-efficacy (b¼0.416, p<0.001). As predicted in H3,
game-related self-efficacy significantly predicted game en-
joyment (b¼0.367, p<0.001).
When controlling for the influence of game-related self-
efficacy, the previously significant effect of player perfor-
mance on enjoyment (cf. H1) was no longer significant
(b¼0.068, p¼0.354). A Sobel test yielded a significant
mediation effect of self-efficacy (z¼3.55, p<0.001). The in-
direct effect of player performance on enjoyment through
game-related self-efficacy was bootstrapped with 5,000
bootstrap samples with replacement. The point estimate of
the indirect effect was 0.153 with a standard error of 0.042
and a 95 percent bias-corrected confidence interval from 0.082
to 0.253. Hypothesis 4 was therefore supported. The final
model is presented in Figure 1.
This study explored the relationship between player per-
formance, game-related self-efficacy experience, and media
enjoyment. We argued that self-efficacy is interrelated with
enjoyment and that the relationship between game perfor-
mance and enjoyment is mediated by efficacy experiences.
The results supported our hypotheses, indicating that game-
related self-efficacy experiences seem to be a crucial variable
in understanding game enjoyment. Thus, not only the mere
objective performance but also the user’s subjective experi-
ence of accomplishment, competence, and control over the
gaming environment constitute game enjoyment.
The results of this study may underlie methodological
limitations. All in-game events that were logged to assess
performance were positive events; consequently, the perfor-
mance measure used in this study is solely an indicator of
game success. Although the measure does provide informa-
tion on the absence of positive game events, it does not in-
clude any indicators of player failure. However, success and
failure may have differential effects on game enjoyment. Fu-
ture studies should therefore assess both positive and nega-
tive in-game events.
The implications of this study go beyond research on game
enjoyment. In the health domain, educational games aim at
strengthening the player’s feelings of health-related self-
However, it remains a task for future research to
explore the factors that determine whether and how efficacy
experiences produced by video games are transferred into
real-life experiences and behavior. Overall, the present study
demonstrates that self-efficacy is a promising concept for
future research that may help to broaden our understanding
of the use of games for entertainment and educational pur-
poses alike.
Disclosure Statement
No competing financial interests exist.
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Address correspondence to:
Dr. Sabine Trepte
Department of Psychology
University of Hamburg
Von-Melle-Park 5
20146 Hamburg
FIG. 1. Structural equation model of the tested hypotheses. CFI ¼0.927, RMSEA ¼0.075. Standardized betas are significant
with p<0.001. CFI, comparative fit index; RMSEA, root mean square error of approximation.
... Importantly, avatar creation seems to depend on the activity context for which the avatars are created. Some previous studies indicated differences in avatar creation between different activity contexts, such as different gaming scenarios (e.g., Trepte & Reinecke 2010;Trepte et al., 2009) or social networks (e.g., Triberti et al., 2017). However, studies that compare a wider variety of activity contexts that differ in primary communication goals are missing so far. ...
... Previous research mainly focused on video game contexts and found that avatars differed according to the demands of the specific games. Trepte & Reinecke (2010) compared avatar creation in terms of personality characteristics for video games which differed in the level of competitiveness. Their results showed that a video game's competitiveness influenced the choice of avatar: while avatars with a similar personality to their users were created for non-competitive video games, dissimilar avatars were created for competitive video games. ...
... When focusing on a direct comparison of activity contexts, we found significant differences regarding the idealisation of the avatar's personality traits for conscientiousness and openness. So, avatar creation partly depends on the activity context and the corresponding purpose of the avatar (Triberti Trepte & Reinecke, 2010;Trepte et al., 2009;Vasalou & Joinson, 2009). Additionally, we found significant gender effects on avatar idealisation regarding conscientiousness and neuroticism. ...
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... The study adds to recent HCI games scholarship contributions (e.g., [28,82,106,108,147]) that explore how games and technology can foster human engagement with the climate crisis. We also join the HCI community's eforts to understand the role and efects of game avatars (e.g., [8,14,18,41,48,85,92,127,146,155,164]) by extending them to the area of climate change. ...
... Others have expanded the term to include not only feeling as the avatar, but also with the avatar as an other, and deemed it to involve physical likeness; value similarity, actual and desired; perspective-taking; liking; and avatar embodiment [41]. Players may identify with characters that are similar to them, but also dissimilar, for example as who they should or would want to be [146]. Depending on the situation, identifcation may be sought after via similarity, embodiment, or wishfulness [18]. ...
... Identifcation can occur without customization or even interaction [91,92], and even without similarity with who the player is at the moment [41]. These aspects of avatar personality, which can be communicated and enacted in visual or verbal ways, can have important implications if we take identifcation as a broad phenomenon involving concepts such as desired value similarity and liking, as suggested by some [41,146]. Furthermore, similarity and dissimilarity can have desired or undesired efects depending on the situation [155], which leaves an open door for all identity types to have a role in engaging with climate change. ...
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... Here, identification is considered to be a shift in media users' selfconcept to include aspects of an avatar's characteristics (Klimmt et al., 2009;Downs et al., 2019). Identification is influenced by many factors-such as game narratives (Christy and Fox, 2016), the similarity of the avatar's appearance to self (Trepte and Reinecke, 2010;Waltemate et al., 2018), and the amount of time spent using the avatar (Song and Fox, 2016)-though the present study focuses on avatar customization as the primary cause. Customization of an avatar involves selecting various characteristics of an avatar-such as gender, appearance, costumes, etc., (Ratan and Dawson, 2016)-and can be done in various ways. ...
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... As such, for this Research Topic we use the umbrella concept of UAB to include any research that involves any notions of a psychological association between the user and avatar, allowing us to focus on the notable correlates of such inter-connections. For example, multiple studies have found that when users customize their avatars, they experience an increased sense of closeness with them, which enhances their identification, enjoyment, and other outcomes of use (Hefner et al., 2007;Trepte and Reinecke, 2010;Birk et al., 2016;Kang and Kim, 2020;Koulouris et al., 2020). Further, sense of embodiment likely plays a role in the Proteus effect, of the phenomenon that an avatar's characteristics influence the user's subsequent behaviors Bailenson, 2007, 2009;Ratan et al., 2020). ...
... These studies suggest that avatar customization afects player experience in a wide variety of settings (e.g., games for entertainment or learning), virtual environments (e.g., desktop, VR) and timespans (both one-of play sessions and longitudinal) [25,114,126,138,201,220]. More importantly, a subset of these studies highlight that avatar customization generates attachment and identifcation with their game character [26,113,201,215,220], which consequently afects a wide range of variables: intrinsic motivation [25,180], autonomy [25,26,114], empathy [220], performance [26,114,126], game enjoyment [217], loyalty [215] and player experience [25,114,138,201,220]. ...
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Avatar customization is known to positively affect crucial outcomes in numerous domains. However, it is unknown whether audial customization can confer the same benefits as visual customization. We conducted a preregistered 2 x 2 (visual choice vs. visual assignment x audial choice vs. audial assignment) study in a Java programming game. Participants with visual choice experienced higher avatar identification and autonomy. Participants with audial choice experienced higher avatar identification and autonomy, but only within the group of participants who had visual choice available. Visual choice led to an increase in time spent, and indirectly led to increases in intrinsic motivation, immersion, time spent, future play motivation, and likelihood of game recommendation. Audial choice moderated the majority of these effects. Our results suggest that audial customization plays an important enhancing role vis-à-vis visual customization. However, audial customization appears to have a weaker effect compared to visual customization. We discuss the implications for avatar customization more generally across digital applications.
... Identifying with a fictional character lies at the core of many media experiences, be it reading a novel, watching a movie, or playing a video game (Cohen, 2001). Past studies have repeatedly linked identification with media characters to increased media enjoyment (Birk et al., 2016;Busselle & Bilandzic, 2009;Hefner et al., 2007;Trepte & Reinecke, 2010), more positive affect and empathy (Bachen et al., 2012;Birk et al., 2016), a facilitated experience of flow (Soutter & Hitchens, 2016), greater interest in learning (Bachen et al., 2016), and enhanced persuasiveness of media content (Green & Brock, 2000;Moyer-Gusé et al., 2011;Slater & Rouner, 2002). As such, character identification is thought to shape the success of applications that seek to induce behavior or attitude changes in the context of entertainment-education (see Bachen et al., 2016;Green & Jenkins, 2014;Slater & Rouner, 2002) or health care (see Steinemann et al., 2017). ...
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... Avatar An avatar represents a game unit that is under the player's control [Kromand 2007], which is usually the graphical representation of the user in the virtual environment [Trepte and Reinecke 2010]. Unfortunately, this term is often confused with virtual or robotic agents in communities other than SIAs. ...
... In a virtual game, players regard themselves as taking up the virtual role they created through the interface. During the character creation phase of the game, players appraise their creation, resulting in character identification, which makes players feel connected to their character (Trepte and Reinecke, 2010), and then the character identity can influence the players' flow state, such as playfulness and concentration (Soutter and Hitchens, 2016). Keeping in mind Plass et al.'s (2014) observation that design elements of color and shape in multimedia materials can evoke positive emotions in learners, if the game character in an AR game can be designed with an attractive appearance, provide various character abilities, and be personalized by players, then players will have a positive emotional fit. ...
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... Researchers have shown that people tend to develop a stronger identification with characters that are perceived as more similar to the self ( Van Looy et al., 2012). In particular, it has been suggested that physical similarity predicts a stronger identification (Downs et al., 2019;Trepte and Reinecke, 2010) and thus it might be assumed that people develop a stronger identification with ACs with a human-like appearance. This identification is, in turn, known to affect the quality of para-social interactions (Ho, 2006;Tian and Hoffner, 2010) as well as the global engagement with the medium (Cohen, 2006;Coplan, 2004). ...
Recently, computer-mediated communication has incorporated animated characters (ACs) as interface technologies. These digital entities are animated by mimicry and can be used either to deliver pre-recorded messages or to live communicate with others. The interlocutors can choose the physical appearance of the character and decide to use a character that may or may not represent their actual self. In this respect, it is important to investigate the psychological mechanisms describing how the user responds to ACs and the resulting effects on communication. To do this, a 2 × 2 experiment was conducted (n = 85) to evaluate the effects of human-likeness (human-like vs. non-human-like) and self-representation (actual self vs. ideal self) on users’ subjective experience, in terms of para-social relationship, identification and emotions, and its effect on communication-related variables such as source credibility. Results showed that, unlike self-representation, human-likeness had a significant effect on the interaction between the user and an AC, with non-human-like ACs stimulating a more engaging and positive interaction compared with human-like ACs. Data also confirmed the importance of para-social relationship and identification in fostering source credibility. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.
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A large-scale content analysis of characters in video games was employed to answer questions about their representations of gender, race and age in comparison to the US population. The sample included 150 games from a year across nine platforms, with the results weighted according to game sales. This innovation enabled the results to be analyzed in proportion to the games that were actually played by the public, and thus allowed the first statements able to be generalized about the content of popular video games. The results show a systematic over-representation of males, white and adults and a systematic under-representation of females, Hispanics, Native Americans, children and the elderly. Overall, the results are similar to those found in television research. The implications for identity, cognitive models, cultivation and game research are discussed.
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In this study, we examined gender differences in video game use by focusing on interpersonal needs for inclusion, affection, and control, as well as socially constructed perceptions of gendered game play. Results of a large-scale survey (n = 534) of young adults’ reasons for video game use, preferred game genres, and amount of game play are reported. Female respondents report less frequent play, less motivation to play in social situations, and less orientation to game genres featuring competition and three-dimensional rotation. Implications for game design are discussed.
Virtual reality (VR) technology has been developed commercially since the early 1990s [1]. Yet it is only with the growth of the Internet and other high-bandwidth links that VR systems have increasingly become networked to allow users to share the same virtual environment (VE). Shared YEs raise a number of interesting questions: what is the difference between face-to-face interaction and interaction between persons inside YEs? How does the appearance of the "avatar" - as the graphical representation of the user has become known - change the nature of interaction? And what governs the formation of virtual communities? This volume brings together contributions from social scientists and computer scientists who have conducted research on social interaction in various types of YEs. Two previous volumes in this CSCW book series [2, 3] have examined related aspects of research on YEs - social navigation and collaboration - although they do not always deal with VRIVEs in the sense that it is used here (see the definition in Chapter 1). The aim of this volume is to explore how people interact with each other in computer-generated virtual worlds.
Analysis of the responses of some 4,000 college students showed increasing differentiation in the ratings of gender characteristics of typical women and men, especially with regard to feminine traits. Roughly similar patterns were observed in five other studies using the same gender traits. All studies showed continued or increased sex typing on affectionate and sympathetic. In the present study women became more feminine, and males became less, on all but one of the feminine traits. This increasing differentiation of women and men is not consistent with predictions from the sociocultural model; they are more consistent with those of the evolutionary model.
In this article I argue that although the notion of identification with media characters is widely discussed in media research, it has not been carefully conceptualized or rig- orously tested in empirical audience studies. This study presents a theoretical discus- sion of identification, including a definition of identification and a discussion of the consequences of identification with media characters for the development of identity and socialization processes. It is suggested that a useful distinction can be made be- tween identification and other types of reactions that media audiences have to media characters. A critical look at media research involving identification exposes the in- herent conceptual problems in this research and leads to hypotheses regarding the antecedents and consequences of identification with media characters. The impor - tance of a theory of identification to media research and communication research, more broadly, is presented. When reading a novel or watching a film or a television program, audience members often become absorbed in the plot and identify with the characters portrayed. Unlike the more distanced mode of reception—that of spectatorship—identification is a mechanism through which audience members experience reception and interpreta- tion of the text from the inside, as if the events were happening to them. Identification is tied to the social effects of media in general (e.g., Basil, 1996; Maccoby & Wilson, 1957); to the learning of violence from violent films and television, specifically (Huesmann, Lagerspetz, & Eron, 1984); and is a central mechanism for explaining such effects. As Morley (1992) said: "One can hardly imagine any television text having any effect whatever without that identification" (p. 209). The most promi-
The claim that virtual reality may augment human intelligence is based on the increasingly compelling, sensory fidelity of virtual worlds. Computer graphics and kinematics capture more and more of the physical and sensory characteristics of natural environments. Immersive VR simulations increasingly perfect the way the virtual environments respond to user actions: the link of physical movement to sensory feedback increasingly simulates human action in a natural environment. The designers' confidence in the cognitive potency of these environments results—in part from the very experience of the medium—the deep gut level reaction that designers and users feel when immersed in high-end VR systems. This experience suggests to some that VR has crossed a threshold never reached by older media. More than any other medium, virtual reality gives the user a strong sense of “being there” inside the virtual world. The senses are immersed in an illusion. The mind is swathed in a cocoon of its own creation. The word, “presence,” has come to mean the perceptual and cognitive sensation of being physically present in a compelling virtual world. This chapter considers the design agenda that motivates VR designers' claims that virtual reality is a cognitive technology. More specifically this chapter discusses the goal of intelligence augmentation that beats in the heart of VR.