John Suler's The Psychology of Cyberspace
Games Avatars PlayEntertaining
Because you chose to link to this page, you probably already know what an avatar is. But just in case you don't, an avatar is an image or graphic that a person in an online multimedia community uses to represent him or herself. In some communities, like the Palace, that avatar could be anything... animal, vegetable or mineral; real or fictional. If you still don't quite know what I mean, check out that link to my Palace page, or step over to the article that I wrote about avatars. Then come on back here and these games will make a lot more sense.
The games designed here were designed mostly for environments like Palace where users have a third person view of the avatars in a room, and can change their av and name to anything they want at any time they want. But these games can be adapted for other types of multimedia communities. Some of these games are based on exercises I use in teaching my psychology courses. If you're interested, links will take you to descriptions of those exercises, which are located on my Teaching Clinical Psychology site.
If you have other avatar games and activities - or interesting variations on the games described here - please email me. I'd love to add more ideas to this page.
Outing the Av
Everyone shows up to the site with a name and avatar that they think people have not seen before. Pick a name and avatar that are meaningful to you, rather than some random choice. As people arrive, everyone talks. Try to figure out who the other people are, but don't say anything if you think you know. And don't give away your own identity. Once the whole group is there, continue talking for a while, until the host announces to "Start Outing." If someone correctly identifies you, you are "outed" and must switch to the name and avatar by which everyone knows you. There are no specific rules about how you try to figure out who people are. The game is over when the last person is "outed." After all are outed, people talk about how they figured out who people were. Some people are outed very quickly. Others no one can figure out. It's interesting to talk about these differences.
Av Free Association
Someone volunteers to stand before the group to show her/his avatars, one av at a time. The person may start with her/his most usually worn avatars, and then proceed to other specialized or unique ones. Try to show the avatars that are meaningful to you, that express something about you. One by one, for each avatar the person shows, the group "free associates." Say whatever comes to mind when you see that avatar. What does it remind you of? Even just a single word or a simple phrase can be interesting - an adjective, verb, a feeling, a metaphor, a song lyric. Often the idea that pops spontaneously into your mind is valuable. After the first person feels finished showing her/his avatars, another volunteer takes his/her turn before the group. Then another volunteer, etc., until the group feels finished. Besides being fun, this game unravels what avatars reveal about an individual's personality. The results sometimes are surprising, even to the owner of the avatars.
This is a standard improvisation technique used in training actors. Only we get to do it with avatars! Two people volunteer to stand before the group. The group throws out possible ideas for an opening line to start an improvisation (e.g., "Say, there, Cybercitizen, you're looking mighty nice tonite"). The pair chooses one of the lines and one of them begins an improvisation starting with that opening line. The pair gets a conversation, a scenario going. It can be anything and go in any direction. They CHANGE AVATARS in any way they want to add to the theatrics. At any moment during the improvisation, anyone in the audience can yell "FREEZE" and take the place of one person in the pair. Do so by yelling "freeze" and positioning your av next to his/hers to indicate that you want to take his/her place. The replaced person joins the audience. The new person who entered the pair now resumes the improvisation by introducing a new line (and maybe a new avatar too!). It can be anything. With that new opening line, the person who stepped in can take the improvisation in any direction he/she wishes. At any point in the new improvisation, anyone in the audience can yell "freeze" again and step in to replace one of the pair. That newcomer introduces a new line (and maybe an avatar!) and the improvisation launches off in a different direction. Continue the process, with more people yelling "freeze" and stepping in to replace someone in the pair.
Not for the shy, this game works best when there is a fairly quick turnover of people yelling "freeze" in order to enter and alter the improvisation (see the exercises on my teaching site).
Everyone gets into the center of the room, leaving enough space between avatars. Someone volunteers to be the "caller" and calls out, one by one, different categories of avatars. For example, "cartoon animal," "a heart," "a vehicle," "music," "sad," "Picasso," etc. It's best to start off with relatively common avatar categories and gradually proceed to more uncommon categories. Everyone must display an avatar that fits the category when the caller calls it out. If you don't have an avatar that fits the category, you are out of the game and should move off to the side of the room (or change your avatar to a generic form). The game ends when one person is left standing - i.e., the only person who had an avatar to fit every category. That winner is dubbed "Avatar Addict."
The group forms one large circle. Someone in the circle (doesn't matter who), starts the game by putting on an avatar of his/her choice. Clockwise, the next person in the circle must put on an avatar that somehow is conceptually similar to the first avatar. For example, if the first person put on an avatar of Whorf from Star Trek, the second person might put on an avatar of the Starship Enterprise. Moving clockwise again, the third person must put on an avatar that is conceptually similar to the second one. For example, in response to the Enterprise avatar, the third person might put on an avatar of the moon. This process continues clockwise around the circle. The person putting on the conceptually similar avatar cannot state what the conceptual similarity is. Other people in the group must state what the similarity is. If no one in the group understands and can state what the similarity is, that avatar doesn't count. The person must try another one.
In a competitive version of this game, a person is out (and must leave the circle) when he/she is unable to produce an avatar that is conceptually similar to the previous avatar. Remember, at least one person in the group (or on the sidelines) must be able to state what the conceptual similarity is. The game continues until all but one person is eliminated from the circle.
In a cooperative version of this game, the group continues the clockwise process of presenting conceptually similar avatars until the circle is complete from beginning to end. In other words, along the whole circle, there is a clear conceptual link from one avatar to it's adjacent avatar.
Line Me Up
One at a time, people volunteer to place five of their favorite avatars out into the room. Let's call this the person's avatar "set." Create three or four copies of this set. Three or four people (other than the volunteer) then take one set each and place those avatars in an order from left to right according to how much those avatars reveal about Joe's personality. They order the avatars according to which ones they think are "most expressive of Joe's personality" or "most like Joe" (towards the left side) to "the least expressive of Joe's personality" or "least like Joe" (towards the right). After they finish lining up the avatars, each person stands next to the set he/she was ordering. Each person then discusses why they placed the avatars in that particular order. The results may reveal a lot about how people have different (or similar) perceptions of Joe.
This game requires some trust. Don't keep someone's avatar unless they say it's OK.
Show and Tell
Yes! This simple game is based on that kindergarten activity. People take turns displaying to the group an avatar that is meaningful to them - maybe their very first avatar, one that expresses something important about them, an av that someone special gave to them, etc. While displaying the av, the person talks about why it is meaningful to him/her. The group may respond by asking questions or offering other reactions to the av (see the exercise on my teaching site).
4 Facts and a Lie
People take turns placing five of their avatars out into the room for the group to see. Four of those avatars should say something truthful ("factual") about your personality, interests, and lifestyle. But one of the avatars should be a "lie" in that it portrays something that is NOT true about you (e.g., a baseball player av, even though you aren't interested in the game). The group tries to guess which av is the lie. To indicate their choice for the lie, they position themselves or some marker next to that avatar. The person and the group then discusses the results. Often there are interesting connections or patterns among the four "factual" avatars - connections or patterns about your personality that you may not fully realize yourself. It's also interesting to talk about the "lie" avatar. Even though a lie, it may reveal something about your personality and may be related, in some interesting way, to the "factual" avatars. Sometimes the "lie" avatar reflects a wish (see the exercise on my teaching site).
For this exercise, try to pick a room that most people like. Everyone places their avatar at a place in the room that feels "right" or "comfortable" for them. If you have an avatar that you like which is designed for that room or for a specific spot in the room (e.g., sitting, standing, hanging, avatars), try using that avatar. Once everyone settles in, each person takes a turn describing why they picked that particular avatar and that particular location in the room. Others may respond by saying what they think that avatar in that location reveals about the individual's personality.
In the next stage of this exercise, everyone places an avatar that feels uncomfortable to them in a location of the room that feels uncomfortable. Take turns saying why it feels uncomfortable and getting feedback from others about how they react to you positioned in that spot with that avatar (see the exercise on my teaching site).
Lend Me Your Av
Taking turns, people volunteer to be "dressed up" by the group. People offer avatars to the volunteer to wear. After putting on each avatar, the volunteer and the group talk about whether that av is or isn't "you." For added fun, the volunteer can alter his/her username according to the avatar being worn.
This game works best in a crowded room. It probably will create lag, but that's OK. The lag actually can enhance the visual impact of the game. Start off by everyone spreading themselves out across the room. Then, when the moderator yells "Swarm," you place your avatar next to someone else's (it can be anyone you want) and change your avatar so that it matches that avatar in some way (theme, color, size, style). You could even clone that avatar (if you have that power). There may be several of you clustering together as a swarm. Maybe there's a swarm gathering elsewhere in the room. Maybe there are several swarms developing. At any point, feel free to move your avatar to join another swarm. Or, if you want, break off onto your own and present a new avatar in the hopes that you will become the seed of a new swarm.
What's the purpose of this game?.... There is none. Except, maybe, after everyone gets exhausted or hopelessly lagged out, to talk about what swarms developed and why.
Everyone stands along the perimeter of the room. It's probably best to put on a generic-looking avatar, so as not to distract everyone's eye from the drawing that the group will make. Someone starts the drawing by placing an avatar (not the one you are wearing) into the center of the room. Going clockwise around the perimeter, people take turns adding an avatar to the drawing. It may evolve into an abstract drawing or a "scene" of some kind. When it's your turn, feel free to use a painting tool to add to the drawing, if you wish.
In another version of this game, people move to the perimeter, but when it's your turn you place YOURSELF into the drawing or scene. Pick any avatar you like when you enter the drawing or scene. You might also alter your username as another feature of the evolving work of art. Animated avatars add to the fun (see the exercise on my teaching site).
Someone volunteers to be the "Genuine." The Genuine and two other volunteers leave the room and all come back wearing the same avatar and username (or very similar usernames, like Joe1, Joe2, Joe3). They are now the "Impostors." Three people who have volunteered to be the "Guessers" then take turns asking questions of the Impostors in order to determine who is the Genuine Joe. All the impostors do their best to prove that they are the Genuine. When it's a Guesser's turn, he/she can ask only one question to one of the three clones. People in the audience may whisper suggestions to the Impostors to help them answer the questions. After five rounds of questions, the Guessers must guess who the Genuine is.
One way to vary this game is by the types of questions asked by the Guessers. Questions based on personal facts and knowledge (how old are you, where do you live, do you remember the time that we....) may quickly reveal who the Genuine is. Hypothetical questions "What would you do if a snert called you a pinhead?" might make the game more intriguing and fun.
Another way to vary the game is to not have the whole group be the Guessers. When the Impostors enter the room, people in the group take turns asking questions of them. Others in the group may whisper possible answers to the impostor. Once everyone in the group gets a turn to ask a question, the group votes on whether they think Impostor 1, 2, or 3 is the Genuine.
This game is a fascinating way to explore who knows what about whom.
See also in The Psychology of Cyberspace:
The Psychology of Avatars and Graphical Space