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Advances in realistic graphics and artificial intelligence are hallmarks of evolved video games, as environments and characters are made to seem more real. Little is known, however, about whether or not character model changes may impact players’ relationships with familiar avatars, especially since anthropomorphism – the perception of nonhuman objects as being human or human-like – is understood as central to player-avatar interaction (PAX). This study leveraged a naturally occurring change to one MMO’s avatars to conduct a field quasi-experiment to investigate whether enhanced avatar anthropomorphism influences PAX dimensions: emotional investment, anthropomorphic autonomy, suspension of disbelief, and sense of control. Longitudinal analysis showed that enhanced anthropomorphism had no significant impact on any PAX dimension immediately or over time, when controlling for demographic and gameplay variables. Player comments suggest the change was experienced not as a change in humanness, but as a shift in perceptual realism – believability, lifelikeness, depth – that impacted the experience of the avatar-mediated gameworld more broadly.
Presented at the 2015 convention of the National Communication Association
Now in press at Psychology of Popular Media Culture; pre-press version can be accessed here: https://www.academia.edu/15606926/Of_Beard_Physics_and_Worldness_The_non-_Effect_of_Enhanced_Anthropomorphism_on_Player-Avatar_Relations