Digital Avatar

'Cause you can be way cooler inside a computer.
Image by cryoclaire.
Used with permission.

The modern form of Avatar that most people are likely to encounter in Real Life: a digital representation of a person in a computer world, broadly, the Internet. It can be as simple as the small graphic attached to posters' names on countless web forums, blogs, and the like; or it can be as complicated as a fully-animated 2D or 3D game character. For futuristic incarnations, add a dose of Virtual Reality to the mix. In some definitions, "avatar" is taken to mean "any game character you control"; in others (which is the definition used for this trope), a line is drawn between game characters and avatars that's more in line with avatar archetype. If Alice is controlling a character, like Mario, designed solely by the game designers, she's playing as that character. If she's controlling a character made to reflect her desired persona, almost always with a considerable degree of customization, she's controlling her avatar. This includes pretty much every MMO since MMOs have had graphics, and many if not most computer RPGs also rely on it.

While the Ur Examples can be found in old games — the 1979 Dungeon Crawler Avatar, the use of the Avatar in Ultima IV in 1985, the first online social world Habitat in 1987 — the Trope Namer and Trope Codifier is generally thought to be Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. William Gibson had written about 3D characters in Cyberspace roughly 6 years earlier, and Vernor Vinge even earlier, but Snow Crash used the name "avatar" for them and ultimately popularized the concept.

In fiction, Digital Avatars are often found in Cyberspace, particularly incarnations of The Metaverse. The inverse of the Digital Avatar is the Projected Man, where a computer entity gets a digital representation to function in the real world. Just because it's not real doesn't mean there can't be romance: see Kiss Me, I'm Virtual.

(Because the Digital Avatar is now rather ubiquitous, please restrict examples to the most prominent ones: in non-interactive works where they are a notable part of the story, and in Video Games where their use is important and/or influential to others that came after them.)

Compare Deep-Immersion Gaming.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • .hack tells its story from the viewpoint of the character's Digital Avatars in an MMORPG.
    • The exception is .hack//Liminality which was focused entirely in the real world. It should also be noted that .hack//SIGN was the only series to display the real world in an off-color shade of blue, while very other series has used normal colors. Real Colors appeared in one real world segment of Sign however at the very end and Tsukasa's player An Shoji is shown awake leaving the hospital and accidentally meeting the player behind Subaru
  • Ghost in the Shell, being a textbook Cyberpunk setting, has the full virtual reality with customised avatars variant.
  • Doing this is what initially drew attention to Lain from Serial Experiments Lain. The reason? She's an Artificial Human with a software uploaded into her mind, and being in the Wired is what liberates that software.
  • Half of the Summer Wars movie is told in a MMORPG-like virtual world called Oz, in which everyone has their own avatar.
  • In Sword Art Online, players of SAO are initially able to design their own avatars, but are quickly forced to change to avatars that look like their real-world selves. ALO, meanwhile, only lets players choose their race, with the character's actual appearance initially being random.
    • The randomization aspect may be the case with another VRMMO game, but this time avatars don't really look like their user (Much to Kirito's dismay).

  • Kimmie66 is chock full of 'em. The main character is actually strange for having an avatar that actually resembles her.

  • Demonstrated flawlessly in this Super Bowl Coca-Cola commercial.

    Fan Works 
  • The Mobile Suit Gundam Wing Doujin Oz has a whole lot of fun with this trope. Relena gets trapped in Quatre's new VR game, and Heero goes in after her. When his friends come in to help, the game temporarily puts them in Relena's "body" before it assigns them a new role. Which means we get the hilarity of seeing the normally soft-spoken and polite princess acting like the Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy (ripping a slit in "her" skirt for mobility and attacking Heero with a bo staff), the Chivalrous Pervert (who decides to make the most of a strange situation and cop a feel), and the Rich Bitch (who takes advantage of the body to try and seduce Heero).

  • The Lawnmower Man, especially during the finale, in what also may be a literal example.
  • Johnny Mnemonic, also during its finale.
  • "Residual self-images" in The Matrix.
  • The Antichrist Franco Maccalusso has one in the Day Of Wonders virtual reality program in the Apocalypse film series. In essence, he is fulfilling what the book of Revelation says about "the image of the beast".
  • Ramona in The Singularity Is Near.

  • Friendly AI H.I.V.E.mind of the H.I.V.E. Series appears to the main characters as a holographic head, but in the digital world he is a blue wireframe man. When Otto develops the ability to interface with computers mentally, he appears as a gold-yellow transparent avatar.
  • Snow Crash, as above, being the Trope Codifier and partial Trope Namer in that the avatars in The Metaverse were among the first to have the term used in the way we know it today. To be fair, the quip under the page pic of Snow Crash protagonist Hiro Protagonist's avatar (yes, that's his real name) is inaccurate as Hiro is just as badass IRL as he is in the Metaverse.
  • The William Gibson book Count Zero (from the same universe as Neuromancer) is probably the Trope Maker at least as far as the Cyberpunk genre is concerned; it was published in 1986, Snow Crash in 1992.
    A square of cyberspace directly in front of him flipped sickeningly and he found himself in a pale blue graphic that seemed to represent a very spacious apartment, low shapes of furniture sketched in hair-fine lines of blue neon. A woman stood in front of him, a sort of glowing cartoon squiggle of a woman, the face a brown smudge. "I'm Slide," the figure said, hands on its hips ... [She] gestured, a window suddenly snapping into existence behind her.
  • The construction of Digital Avatars and how they function are a major element of Tad Williams' Otherland series, one of the more modern takes on The Metaverse in fiction.
  • Vernor Vinge has used this a few times:
    • His cult-classic novella "True Names", published in 1981, five years before Gibson, is often cited as the Trope Maker.
    • In Rainbows End, the widespread use of "wearable" computers makes this extremely common. The hacker known as Rabbit actually appears as a giant rabbit, for example.
  • In Daniel Keys Moran's Continuing Time series, the equivalent of the Internet can only be reasonably accessed via a custom-written software agent that is capable of filtering and categorizing the tremendous amount of information available. It also acts as the user's in-verse avatar and oftentimes is borderline AI.
  • Spectral Shadows has these in Serial 2, which takes place in an online roleplaying game. Some characters, such as Christine or Russel, take on anthro forms even though they are humans in reality. Over in Serial 11 we have Second Life knock off Another Life, which contains these.

    Live Action TV 
  • Caprica: This is a cornerstone of the setting, where one of the most popular recreational activities (particularly amongst the young) is a Virtual Reality outgrowth of MMOs, with people representing themselves in this way. By the end of the pilot two avatars have gone sapient and now have a consciousness and will separate from the originals. Notably, one of them (Tamara Adama) was created post-mortem.
  • Used in the Season 16 finale of The Amazing Race. When the teams did a challenge at Industrial Light & Magic, several of the racers were recreated as their own avatars.


    Video Games 
  • Habitat/Club Caribe, created by LucasArts for the Comodore 64, was one of the first graphical online virtual worlds, a mostly social world with an "Adventuring" game component. The avatar concept is introduced a little differently than in the post-Snow Crash sense: Avatars are a separate species of being from humans led by an Oracle. The Oracle decided they were getting dull and lazy, and so initiated contact with humans to spice things up.
  • In Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, the Player Character fits the model of the Digital Avatar, with its complex morality system and all, but the story of the game is about the player seeking to become the Avatar by embracing virtue and questing for the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom.
  • Second Life is particularly known for the extensive free-form customization of its avatars, massively multiplayer sandbox that it is. In any given public gathering you may find yourself next to any number of attractive humans, one or more dragons, furries and Petting Zoo People, Anime characters, superheros, Cyberpunk, Fantasy and Sci-Fi personas in Impossibly Cool Clothes, a wiggling jello mold, a toy-sized teddy bear, a Giant Mecha, an abstract sculpture, an animated set of furniture...
  • Every current major game console, bar handhelds, now have some form of personal presence with a 3d Digital Avatar as part of it. The Wii had its cute little Miis first; they've now added similar functionality to the 3DS. Sony introduced Playstation Home to the Playstation 3 as one of many Follow the Leader worlds being inspired by Second Life at the time (but without most of the freedom) and the Xbox360 introduced Mii-like cartoon avatars with its Xbox Live interface revamp.
  • The player in Rez is the avatar of a hacker, deleting viruses in the K-Project.
  • To a certain extent many games that allow Character Customization are this. While there's nothing stopping you from playing as the default Shepard or Boss characters, or create existing or fantasy superstars in wrestling games, most gamers would based such a avatar on themselves to explore these worlds. Some of the more involved games don't simply involve dressing a character, this is meant to be you, with your decisions and choices actually matter, rather than a pre scripted story.
  • In Kingdom Hearts II, DiZ uses an Avatar whenever interacting with Roxas while inside the Data Traverse Town.
    "My apologies, this is only a data-based projection."

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • The User in ReBoot is only ever seen as one of these inside the games.
  • Code Lyoko represents them with a 2D to 3D Medium Blending when the characters go into cyberspace to fight XANA.
  • The characters of Futurama use avatars to enter the Internet. Also, there's the miniaturized avatars used to go inside Fry in "Parasites Lost". (Because shrinking would require very tiny atoms, and have you priced those lately?)
  • In The Simpsons everyone in Springfield plays a mmorpg called Earthland Realms, in which they have avatar that looks like them.