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Ever since the computer boom of the 1980s, North America—with likes of the United States—has experienced a massive increase in the home computer gaming system, or PC games. With the luxury of being played on a personal computer, virtual phenomena and simulation-based games like The Sims and World of Warcraft have influenced many young players in our new media age of the 2000s. Whether you’re controlling life or fulfilling quests, studies have found that a lot can be told about a person just by observing their online persona, and whether or not those are accurate representations of the individual.
Source: The Sims Wikia, “Create A Sim”
With the ability to create your own avatars, The Sims franchise has gone from mere controlling virtual characters to customizing the wishes, dreams, emotions and scenarios any of those characters can encounter today. When The Sims debuted in February of 2000, creator Will Wright “braced for the possibility of an embarrassing flop,” as companies Maxis and Electronic Arts didn’t entirely see his vision of virtual humans playing with life as a success (Whitehead, “The History of the Sims”). But, many were pleasantly surprised with The Sims’ addictive quality as online video game journal Eurogamer admitted in 2000, “The Sims really does grow on you, and with you” (Gestalt, “The Sims Review”).
Similarly, when World of Warcraft was released in 2004 on the Warcraft franchise’s 10-year anniversary, it has become the number one massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) to be played in the world today. In an article by Donghee Wohn and Rick Wash entitled, “A virtual ‘Room’ with a cue: Detecting personality through spatial customization in a city simulation game,” they find that “in the online game World of Warcraft, players … were creating characters, or avatars, that were closer to their ideal self than their real self” (Wohn and Wash, “A virtual ‘Room’ with a cue,” 156). Users can explore their options and have the freedom to equip particular identities, which reflects a desire to create an idealized version or part of his or her personality. Wohn and Wash also write that “the relative anonymity of computer-mediated environments allows people to be selective about how they present their identities,” as users are given more control over how they present themselves (156).
This idea of immersing oneself into a fantasy-driven world where one can control the life and actions of a virtual character is what gives these games its charm. As is found in Joël Billieux, Martial Van der Linden, Sophia Achab, Yasser Khazaal, Laura Paraskevopoulos, Daniele Zullino and Gabriel Thorens’ collaborative article, “Why do you play World of Warcraft? An in-depth exploration of self-reported motivations to play online and in-game behaviours in the virtual world of Azeroth,” the customization available in these online virtual worlds gives way to users’ escapist tendencies, wanting “to be emerged in a fictional virtual world and to play the role of an imaginative character” (Billieux, Linden, and Achab, “Why do you play World of Warcraft,” 108). There is a lot of creativity that can be explored with this ability, as users are conscious of how their creations or characters are presented. Further, the idea of taking upon a character’s life and undergoing his or her series of life occurrences emphasizes the fantasy-driven wonder of the virtual world. Rather than reflecting one’s real personality, users are constantly encouraged to play with different identities and fantasize about careers, jobs, relationships, and even slashing monsters in character quests. No matter what the scenario, the individual playing the game is ultimately immersed in another world where he or she is able to be someone (or something) else for a moment, doing the “unimaginable”—or things he or she would be unable to do so in real life.
The Associated Press, in a Sims 3 video game coverage with executive producer Ben Bell, reveals the personality of “cleptomaniacs and other wacky characters in the game.”
Transforming the scope of the things that users can do in The Sims 3, creators have made the game far more customizable, allowing people to explore ideal personalities and identities with specific goals and drives in characters’ lives. Much like World of Warcraft, the two are not only able to have avatars customized to one’s liking, but are also able to follow a path or set of life goals that can take one character from one position to another—much like following a quest. This creative freedom limited to the scope of the virtual world is what gives these games its own “personality”—unique to the player.
Though, it is important to note that the virtual persona individuals identify with in games such as The Sims 3 and World of Warcraft are highly unlikely to portray actual personalities of the individual him or herself. The expansiveness of options that cater to hundreds of different personalities makes it hard for a user to not create an idealized character. Wohn and Wash—to make that point even clearer—emphasize that “in a fictitious (game) virtual environment, individuals may be more immersed in a fantasy setting and be more likely to customize their virtual space to reflect their ideal personality” (Wohn and Wash, “A virtual ‘Room’ with a cue,” 156). Also, it is important to note that when dealing with gamers with other motives—such as achievement rankings or objectives—those individuals pay less attention to idealized scenarios and moreso on the immersion into the world of the game.
In this trailer for World of Warcraft, it is easy to expect the game to pretty much play like an interactive movie. As any film strives to transport a viewer into another world, the World of Warcraft fuses individual interactivity with the otherworldly virtual environment.
The Sims 3 and World of Warcraft are at the top of the leading PC game franchises in the world today, and their longevity and audience appeal can prove it. Whether players are actively engaging their personalities or actually exercising their ideal ones, the creative customization in these games ultimately lets users put their own personalities into the virtual worlds they are putting their characters in, playing on the aesthetics of escapism and idealism.
There may be no exact answer to this study, though patterns show through the games’ creative content that it is almost impossible to not put one’s own real personality into the game, as well as it being impossible to not create an idealized version of oneself. As Wohn and Wash find, “In an online game environment that gives more freedom for individuals to explore different identities, scholars have found mixed results in regards to whether or not avatars are more consistent with their true selves or their ideal selves;” however, it can be certain that the latter is true as, in Dunn and Guadagno’s 2012 study, “When given the option to design their own characters to play in a video game, both men and women ma[k]e avatars that were consistent with ideal male and female bodies” (Wohn and Wash, “A virtual ‘Room’ with a cue,” 156).
Avatars, after all, are by definition just “represent[ations of] a person in a virtual reality environment or in cyberspace”—not entirely true representations.
Billieux, Joël, Martial Van Der Linden, Sophia Achab, Yasser Khazaal, Laura Paraskevopoulos, Daniele Zullino, and Gabriel Thorens. “Why Do You Play World of Warcraft? An In-depth Exploration of Self-reported Motivations to Play Online and In-game Behaviours in the Virtual World of Azeroth.” Computers in Human Behavior (2012): n. pag. Science Direct. 19 Aug. 2012. Web. 10 June 2013. <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563212002245>.
“Create a Sim.” The Sims Wiki. Wikia, n.d. Web. 10 June 2013. <http://sims.wikia.com/wiki/Create_a_Sim>.
“Newbie Guide to Character Creation.” WoW Wiki. Wikia, n.d. Web. 10 June 2013. <http://www.wowwiki.com/Newbie_guide_to_character_creation>.
Whitehead, Dan. “The History of The Sims.” Eurogamer.net. N.p., 19 Mar. 2008. Web. 10 June 2013. <http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/the-history-of-the-sims-article>.
Wohn, Donghee Y., and Rick Wash. “A Virtual ‘‘Room’’ with a Cue: Detecting Personality through Spatial Customization in a City Simulation Game.” Computers in Human Behavior (2012): n. pag. Science Direct. 22 Aug. 2012. Web. 10 June 2013. <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563212002245>.