What is an 'avatar'?
In short, an avatar is a digital picture or logo that represents you (or your 'character') in a game or on a website. In some cases, the avatar is merely a static image of your (charcater's) face but it may also be a functioning, moving, controllable character that you use to interact with the game world/ digital environment.
In some games, you may be limited to a choice of pre-defined pictures. However, in many modern games avatars are customisable meaning you can select and alter facial features, clothing, and accessories as you desire. There are also games which allow the player to use a photo or image of their own choosing from a locally stored file.
Some examples of games which use avatars
- The Sims - allows the player to create a collection of characters with extensive options for customising their facial features, build, skin tone and demeanour.
- Miis - created on a console system (Nintendo Wii) rather than a game but and can be used in several tiltes, such as Wii Sports and Mario Kart. These are simple cartoonish characters but they are fun to create.
- RPGs/MMORPGs - for a long time, RPGs (role-playing games) offered a degree of charcater customisaiton and now with MMORPGs (massively-multiplayer online role-playing games) such as Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic gamers are allowed a great deal of control over what their in-game character looks like.
- Piratizer - based on the classic game Sid Meier's Pirates!, this iOS app lets you take a portrait photo and dress the subject up like a pirate by adding hats, scars, tattoos and accessories.
- Photo Booth for Minecraft - an Android app that allows you to add graphical items from Minecraft to a base photo.
How could avatars be used for language learning?
- Introduce your virtual self - we've all done many introductory 'get-to-know-you' activities during our teaching careers. Why not try the same with game avatars? Ask students to introduce themselves as a character from a game they play - great for review during the year or if you have a new class of students who already know each other well.
- Character cards - students use thier avatar to create a 'character card' to which they can assign 'abilities'. These could be based on their perceived strengths and weaknesses in English, learning XP (experience) or personality traits together with a description of the character (see these examples by Kyle Mawer and Graham Stanley, authors of Digital Play.
- Guess the avatar - ask students to give you a screenshot of an avatar they use in a game before your next lesson. Then display them in the class (on the walls if printed or on the projector screen otherwise) and ask the students to speculate about whose avatar is whose ("I think this avatar must be Ahmet because it has a similar hairstyle to him" or "This alien must be Sarah's because she is into space games" for example).
- When two avatars met - Pair up students who have avatars which originate from different games. Ask them to imagine their characters meet and talk about their in-game lives. They then create a dialogue or short story to tell that tale of their meeting.
- Avatar Dictations - this makes a nice homework activity, especially for beginners. Supply the students with a written description of a face (or an avatar you have created) and ask them to re-create it using the character editing features from a game they play or app they have. It doesn't matter which game - in fact it makes it better if the students end up using different games to create the same face! The students then bring a screenshot to class and, once the homework is collected, the images make for a great compare and contrast activity.
- Mii Celebrities - It's always possible some of your students don't have suitable avatars for the above activites or can't take screenshots of them, in which case you should check out a site like miicharacters.com - this is a gallery of famous faces in Mii form! Potential uses include 'guess the celebrity' and a guessing game in which the students idenitfy a Mii based on a description given by you or another student. There are also guides on how to make each Mii, which could provide for a fun comprehension/ following instructions activity (if there is access to a Wii of course!)
If you have any more ideas for using avatars and game characters in class, please share them!