Avatar refers to a symbol, picture, name, or model a person uses to represent him/herself, whether in a social networking site, in instant messaging, in online gaming, or in other similar communities. The term comes from a Sanskrit word, avatara, which is somewhat related to the concept of incarnation.
Avatars are usually small, square-shaped areas (thumbnails) in which users may put pictures, artwork, or other graphic representations. In blogs, these may be located at the sidebar and sometimes, beside every post. In forums, they are located beside the names of participants.
In chat rooms or other forums, a set of avatars may be made available, so that users can simply choose. However, most forums and instant messaging programs also allow users to upload their own images. This is oftentimes the preference, because avatars are often used to give more online personality to a user.
An avatar makes the interaction among participants in a forum or online game more personalized. Since participants do not usually see each other right away, avatars may serve as representations of the different aspects of a user’s personality and status, and may even help in attracting or turning off certain users, depending on their personal preferences.
In video games, an avatar functions to represent the player in the virtual world. Avatars in this case are three-dimensional and are able to move and act depending on how they are controlled by the player. Appearances can often be customized, and changes in the costume and other accessories may also be dependent on the level being played.