Video Game Characters as Digital Avatars

Many video game characters are designed to be digital avatars of the player. Miis are a clear example of this, where they’re just a way for you to put you and your friends in games. But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Today, I’d like to talk about how some video game characters can become very strongly associated with people we know in reality to the extent that they become so tightly linked, that you can’t think of the character without thinking of the person in reality.

Let me give an example: Professor Layton. Now, here’s a character who is very clearly not supposed to be an avatar. He has a mind, personality and backstory of his own – but there’s a good friend of mine who will always be associated with him for me. I only played a Professor Layton game for the first time recently and it reminded me of my friend to such an extent that it made me miss him quite a lot. My friend has lots of Layton based memorabilia, he would play me songs that he’d found in the games and he’d even prepare puzzles from the game for me to solve. Now anything with Professor Layton in it will have that added emotional impact for me.

Similarly, another friend of mine is a big Pikachu fan. She loves Pokémon in general, has a Pikachu onesie and will sometimes do little Pikachu impressions. I’ve a lot of fond memories of comparing our Pokémon collections and of discussing the series with her in general. The other day I came across a very nice remix of a song in a Pokémon game and it included audio clips of Pikachu. Because of this association, the first thing I thought of was my old friend and the memories we had shared.

One last example is Spyro the Dragon. A friend of mine absolutely loves him and all of his games. Since we first met, he has always talked about how much his loves Spyro the Dragon. He did a very good job of making me want to play the games (which I have now done.) Before this, Spyro was just a generic game character to me, but now he has a lot more meaning. As I play through the games myself, I imagine my friend playing them for the first time as a young child and I love to try and imagine it as it would have been through his eyes all those years ago. It makes the experience so much more valuable to me.

I think game characters in particular are more likely to attract this kind of thing, because they are much more of a blank slate than you’ll get with characters in other mediums. This makes it very easy to paint your sentimental feelings about your friends onto them. I could have given some more examples, but I feel like this post would get a little repetitive if I went on. It’s nice to consider the ways that our own experiences affect our appreciation of art.

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