According to a study by brain researchers, regular gamers identify so strongly with their avatar – the character that executes their action in the game – they have the same emotions for their avatar as for their best friends.
Emotionally the avatar has a similar position as ones best friend, despite its "virtual" presence and the often longer lasting relationship with ones best friend, says neuroscientist Shanti Ganesh, who just defended her phd thesis on the topic.
The neuroscientist measured the brain activity with enthusiastic World of Warcraft-gamers, that gamed 20 hour or more per week. While earlier studies in the identification of gamers with their avatar was based on observation and questionaries, Ganesh pioneered brain research, in which she measured how players physically and emotionally connect to their Avatar. It turned out the players feel they are actually embodied in the avatar.
Furthermore, the gamers strongly relate with their avatar in terms of emotions and memory. The test subjects were asked to conduct tasks that related to themselves, their avatar, their best friend and the Dutch Queen. With these four 'persons' one would expect different levels of involvement. And indeed it turned out the relevant brain regions responded strongest on questions that related to ones self and the least on those related to the Queen. The responses on the avatar and the best friend turned out to be more or less equal.
Also in memory tasks related to the four 'persons' – what you remember about someone, strongly relate to ones personal involvement – the avatar and the best friend turned out to be remarkably similar. The gamers often describe the avatar as "a better version of themselves". Welcome in the Society of Simulations.