In computing, an avatar is a graphical representation of a user or the user's character or persona. Avatars can be two-dimensional icons in Internet forums and other online communities, where they are also known as profile pictures, userpics, or formerly picons (personal icons). Alternatively, an avatar can take the form of a three-dimensional model, as used in online worlds and video games.
The term avatāra () originates from Sanskrit, and was adopted by early computer games and science fiction novelists. Richard Garriott extended the term to an on-screen user representation in 1985, and the term gained wider adoption in Internet forums and MUDs. Nowadays, avatars are used in a variety of online settings including social media, virtual assistants, instant messaging platforms, and digital worlds such as World of Warcraft and Second Life. They can take the form of an image of one's real-life self, as often seen on platforms like Facebook, or a virtual character that diverges from the real world. Often, these are customised to show support for different causes, or to create a unique online representation.
Academic research has focused on how avatars can influence the outcomes of communication and digital identity. Users can employ avatars with fictional characteristics to gain social acceptance or ease social interaction. However, studies have found that the majority of users choose avatars that resemble their real-world selves.
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