In the year 2003, something happened that altered the course of human history. It was game changing. It was an innovation in the way people live and socialize. On December 2, 2003, Electronic Arts gave us The Sims. And nothing was ever the same again.
Through The Sims, people were able to disengage from their real lives and live a second, more sensational existence where they could indulge in all the naughty stuff they could imagine, with no real-world consequences. We could not only control the way our Sims avatar looked, we could also determine how it lived and interacted with others. We could be whomever we wanted.
These days, we aren’t only using avatars in games. Our social media avatars (or default pics for those of you who still call it that) are a single image that represents who we are and what we are about. Many people make a big deal out of ensuring they have the perfect avi, painstakingly making sure it sends the precise message about them that they want others to receive. Some folks don’t put much thought into their avi at all… and even that communicates something about them. Us modern day humans are accustomed to seeing an image and processing it as a representation of who a person is and what we are about. We currently live in an era of judging a book by it’s cover.
Self – Presentation is a real thing.
In a society where everyday challenges can make people feel powerless, escapism can be a very important part of decompressing. This is partially why video games are so popular nowadays, they allow us to experience entertainment in a way that is rewarding and engaging. Being able to play as an avatar takes things a step further. Our digital representations of ourselves allow us to really imagine that we are inside another world, to become part of an experience in a way that we couldn’t before. It gives us a new means of self–presentation, a new way to convey some information about our identity to other people. But why does that matter?
If you have ever nerded out and glanced over any text on Social Psychology, then you might already be familiar with the the “ABC’s of social psychology,” which are affect, behavior, and cognition. To oversimplify it for the sake of brevity… Affect alludes to our feelings and how they impact us. Behavior is all about our interaction with others. And cognition is centered around our thoughts and understandings and judgements. Maybe we love digital avatars so much because they give us a chance to enter an alternate world and live out our natural human inclinations. We can reinvent ourselves, or even upgrade ourselves. Maybe it’s because the internet is essentially a big role-playing game, and the avatar you select can influence the way people interact with you or your business. When we are using avatars to create identities and having them interact with others, we get to live our best lives while simultaneously impacting the way people see us in the real world.
The future is already here.
Tech companies have taken notice of the love of avatars within the digital world, and it’s led to some amazing innovation. Live CGI has taken on the challenge of creating live computer generated images (CGI) at major events and making them available for distribution to all connected devices. Not only are they creating avatars for people to watch via live stream, they are also crafting ways for those viewers to interact with the avis of the people they are watching. It’s groundbreaking stuff. It’s never been done before. And it wouldn’t be possible without avatars.
For years now, we have identified with digital caricatures of ourselves and our friends. We even have the ability to connect with them. Avatars have been inching towards being an ineradicable part of our culture for a long time. As this becomes our reality, it is worth acknowledging the many reasons why our society is so obsessed with these representations of ourselves, if for no other reason that to help us get to know each other better… Isn’t that really why we’re doing it?