Much study of MMOGs as well as other videogames presumes an affinity between players and their avatars. Gee has developed the concept of 'projective identity' and Bailensen, Yee and others have done extensive work exploring the Proteus effect, which suggests humans are deeply influenced by the avatars they choose, and likewise how such avatars become extensions of themselves in games and virtual spaces. Some of my own past work has explored how women strongly identify with female avatars, 'gender-swapping' at rates much lower than similar male players. Yet what of games that don't employ avatars, or rely on multiple or non-human avatars for players to employ? What of players who simply do not characterize game avatars as extensions of themselves? How can we speak of identification such instances? Is it still a useful concept to investigate?
This talk reviews some of my past research about players, identity and avatars, to offer a starting point for argument. But the heart of the talk explores instances of games where avatar presentation and use depart from our traditional conceptualizations --either by their absence or their opposition to humanoid facsimiles. By doing so this talk challenges game studies' easy reliance on avatars as proxies for identity in games, and asks what happens when players fail to use or access such embodiments in their gameplay. It suggests alternative ways to understand player agency and identification in games, and moves beyond avatars as the principle means for doing so.