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Ever wondered why people feel a connection to their avatars when playing a game? Is there a special reason it should be incorporated in Gamification?

An avatar is a game mechanic that allows the user to personalize their profile or make it more playful. The user can choose an avatar for their profile picture and customize its gender, skin and hair color as well as add accessories.

A study by Katrina Fong and Raymond Mar published in the February 2015 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, concludes that people draw inferences about personality characteristics from avatars. In addition, most people tend to pick avatars that truly represent their personalities.  

So how does it work and, more importantly, how can we use it to engage employees?

Nir Eyal’s ‘Hook Model’ explains the impact on engagement of personalizing an avatar. The hook model tries to explain why we are more engaged with certain products out of pure habit, and the pattern that technologies use to hook us in. The first phase of the four-step cycle is the ‘Investment’ phase. This is the phase in which the user does some work and invests time committing to the usage of the product. This investment is most likely going to encourage the user to re-engage with the product more frequently.

Gamification looks for ways to engage users so that they feel compelled to do certain activities or use an application (such as a learning platform) and invest time in it. An avatar on a gamified platform provides users with the ability to create a virtual representation of themselves that people will recognize and attribute to that person – it’s their virtual ID. The user often gets creative, representing him/herself in the way they want to be seen and then embraces the avatar.

What’s more important is that avatars let employees do more than have fun – they can show off their achievements by adding accessories that are only available once they’ve achieved certain levels in the game, or in our case, in their professional development path. In essence, it’s like wearing your badges. For example, certain ‘Master’ accessories can be only available for employees who are strong contributors to their employee knowledge community thus both rewarding them for their work and showing off their social status as veteran, knowledgeable employees.

Naturally, when you put effort into creating something, you feel a strong sense of ownership towards it. The user will start by investing time into their avatar and choosing what hat it should have or what hairstyle it should wear, creating some type of emotional connection with his/hers avatar. Often, the user will be proud of their avatar and want people to see it and show it off.

For this to occur, the user needs to accomplish challenges and land itself on a good place on the leaderboard or in personal challenges where he/she is encouraged to improve and reach higher levels of performance. Therefore, the avatar plays a part in encouraging the user to further him or herself and making such progress apparent to others.

Once you “own” something, you want to improve it, protect it and nurture it.  By driving employees to emotionally invest in their “workplace” avatars, we are driving them to invest in the actual workplace, setting them on a career path and encouraging excellence.

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