Using `thin` video game avatars gets gamers moving `more`

Washington: Science has already noted that video games can be tapped as a means to get moving and now, a team of researchers has showed how thin or obese avatars in motion-controlled gaming influence physical activity.

The University of California researchers found that gamers using thin avatars showed increased physical activity compared to those using obese avatars.

The researchers conducted an experiment where participants were randomly assigned to a normal weight or obese avatar as well as normal weight or obese opponent in virtual tennis game. The avatar and the opponent were essentially the same male virtual character.

The body size of the avatar was manipulated by setting a different Body Mass Index (BMI) for the normal or obese virtual character. The normal weight character was thin and had a BMI of 18.6 (where normal range BMI is 18.5 to 24.9). The obese character had a BMI of 32.1.

The researchers found that regardless of participants’ own BMI, those using thin avatars showed increased physical activity compared to those using obese avatars. In addition, downward social comparison effects or comparing oneself to someone perceived as less skilled were identified as participants that perceived their avatar as more obese than their virtual opponent showed decreased physical activity in the real world while playing the game. This implies that perceiving oneself at a virtual disadvantage (self avatar is obese but opponent character is thin) discouraged physical activity.

Jorge Pena said that the findings have real-world applications, such as using avatars in video games to ‘nudge’ people to increase physical activity, or getting people more comfortable with small increases in physical activity before taking on more intense physical routines.

Pena added that this also illustrates that people may show decreased physical activity when they perceive their avatar to be at a disadvantage, like when an avatar is obese and their virtual opponent is thin, and this insight may be applied to the design of virtual characters.

The study appears in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. (ANI)