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Research shows how slim avatars make players work harder in physical video games

New research by UC Davis suggests that gamers who play physical video games are likely to try harder if they play with a slim avatar, as opposed to a heavier one.

The study, called "Increasing exergame physical activity through self and opponent avatar appearance," tested 96 players of Virtua Tennis '09, which is a game that calls for physical movement. Players were given random avatars of different sizes, either slim or larger.

Using watch-sized accelerometers to test levels of physical activity, the study found that, regardless of the players' actual physical size they tended to move more energetically if they had been given a slim avatar. Players with slim avatars worked hardest against opponents also with slim avatars. All the test subjects were women. A similar study using men is being planned.

"How we perceive ourselves can have a profound impact even when it is just our virtual self," said study author Jorge Peña, assistant professor in the Department of Communication. "People can get so immersed when playing video games that the virtual self momentarily becomes more salient and influential on behavior than our real self."

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