“On Roblox, I came out without it posing a problem”: when avatars help teens assert themselves

At the college near his home, Romeo, messy brown hair and dimples on his cheeks, is a studious 13-year-old student, passionate about dance and drawing. But when he gets home at 5 p.m., borrows his father’s laptop and takes a seat at his desk, he becomes the Immortal King of Pop. By signing up to the video game platform Roblox in 2019, the Parisian teenager chose a pale-skinned avatar with dark hair styled in a ponytail, with sunglasses and a hat in felt.

The walls of his bedroom covered with posters of Michael Jackson, his vinyls and his T-shirts with his effigy were no longer enough: every evening, he now spends several hours in the skin of his idol. “In my life, I don’t have too many problems, but it’s still great to get away from my reality, to immerse myself in another world when I come back from a long day of classes”, he said smiling, amazed.

160 million users worldwide

In a few years, Roblox, a company born in Silicon Valley in 2004, has grown into one of the world’s most popular video game brands for people under 16. With its cubic design a little childish and its garish colors, the platform is most often neglected by players after their teenage years. Young gamers have therefore made it into a huge virtual playground, where they can meet to chat, customize their avatar and above all go on an adventure among the 18 million different games available at any time of the day. day and night.

Read also: Dive into “Roblox”, the video game platform that wants to conquer your children

All you need is a computer or a mobile phone to create an account and access this myriad of imaginary worlds inspired by sports practices, historical periods, fictions, or downright plagiarized on other video games such as Super Mario.

Obviously, during the confinements of 2020 and 2021, the platform exploded, especially in France, among adolescents in search of escape and social ties. More than 160 million users from all over the world now meet there every month. And if a trend emerges in a bunch of kids somewhere on the planet, it’s almost guaranteed that there is an online version of it on Roblox.

“The personalization of the avatar is part of the game. It often embodies a whole narrative thought up by its creator”, notes researcher Julie Delbouille

In this parallel world populated by millions of very real adolescents, the choice of physical characteristics is essential: the avatar acts as a digital identity, as a medium between the player and his environment. “The personalization of the avatar is entirely part of the game. It often embodies a whole narrative thought by its creator”, notes Julie Delbouille, doctoral student in communication sciences at the University of Liège (Belgium), specializing in video games. “It’s a way for the players to tell their stories. Some choose to create a character that looks like them, in order to convey something about them in a virtual universe. Some invent a very different hero, for the pleasure of becoming another for the duration of a game ”, she specifies.

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“On Roblox, I came out without it posing a problem”: when avatars help teens assert themselves