Pokemon Go’s avatar update missed the mark for helping players express themselves

Pokemon Go’s avatar update missed the mark for helping players express themselves

The recent avatar update in Pokemon Go has been nothing short of controversial, and we think it missed a golden opportunity for inclusivity and helping people express themselves.

If you’ve been in any online Pokemon Go forums lately or chatted with any players in your life, you’re bound to have heard about the infamous avatar update.

Players took to social media in droves to condemn the new avatar update — which is understandable, as it arguably wasn’t Niantic’s finest move. The avatars and other assets had a drastic art overhaul, with some players even reporting issues with their items alongside it.

Pokemon Go’s avatar update missed the mark for helping players express themselves

Examples of the new Pokemon Go avatars.

Self-expression is a big part of games with avid online communities like Pokemon Go. Some players like to show off their favorite Pokemon or items that match their chosen team, and others enjoy displaying clothing options that they obtained through hitting high levels or getting rare achievements.

An avatar is (usually) an extension of yourself, so people being upset over their avatars being altered without their consent is not unexpected. Similar things have happened in other games, after all — like when the HUD and UI changed in World of Warcraft for Dragonflight. Players didn’t agree to the change and were a lot angrier than they might have been if the option was simply presented to them.

While frustration over the changes does make sense, it was jarring to see some of the extreme cases of anger that popped up online as a result of this update.

Some players tore into the new designs, claiming it was part of “the woke agenda” and bashing the inclusion of more body types and options for plus-size players. The Pokemon Go community does have a bit of a reputation for being vocal about their frustrations, but the avatar update brought up a lot of malice that isn’t always spotted in the community.

What could Niantic have done differently?

Seeing the barrage of negativity online was disconcerting and, quite frankly, disappointing. This update could have actually been a fantastic thing for inclusivity and player happiness if Niantic had:

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  1. Given players the option to opt into the changes. While it’s hard to say why every single angry player felt annoyed, one of the most likely causes is the lack of choice. If players had the option to tab between the new art style and the old art style, they’d likely be happier right now.
  2. Provided a wider list of options for players of all identities. A wide range of aesthetics and avatar options is crucial in a game like Pokemon Go. It’s fair to say that the options right now are still not that balanced, though. The variety of hairstyles and textures on offer is still underwhelming, the pre-set body types are lacking, and even the sliders don’t allow for much variation.
  3. Made the artwork smoother. One of the biggest sources of anger is simply that the artwork is quite underwhelming. Players on social media reported their characters looking out of place and even sick in some cases.

Unfortunately, the roll-out for this update missed the mark. An update that allowed more players to craft an avatar that matched themselves would’ve been wonderful, and introducing it slowly or giving players a choice could’ve prevented the explosion of anger online, too.

Sliders were introduced in this update to help players change their avatar’s body type and proportions, but it still managed to feel incredibly static and wonky when we tried it out. Certain items didn’t seem to fit the same, either, creating an aesthetic that appeared messy and disjointed. Sliders should allow for fluidity, but this update did not achieve the desired effect.

Players pointed out online that changes had been made to complexions, lighting, and facial expressions, too, in a way that made their characters feel lifeless. Avatars no longer seem to have much of a presence in Pokemon Go, appearing much more static than they used to.

A wider range of body types, complexions, hairstyles, clothes, and customizable sliders could’ve been immensely fun for people to play around with. Being able to pick between the two art styles would’ve been great, too. After all, there are bound to be some people enjoying this update, so removing it entirely wouldn’t be fair now that it’s been introduced.

It’ll be interesting to see whether any further changes are made to Pokemon Go avatars and aesthetics in the coming weeks. Some promising developments seem to be going on – the Lead Community Manager for Pokemon Go was spotted on X engaging with players and listening intently to feedback.

This doesn’t guarantee that any changes are on the way, of course, but it does show that Niantic staff members are listening. Finding constructive ways to send in feedback as a player is a great thing to do when you’re frustrated about an update or change that’s been made to a game.

Something that really stood out in this whole scenario is how deeply people feel about their Pokemon Go avatars. While it may seem daft to people outside of the community, it does make sense.

Pokemon Go is inherently personal — and it’s also community-driven. It takes place in your neighborhood or on your way to work, and it focuses on your experience as a Trainer in the world of Pokemon.

People develop deep attachments to their avatars in any game that places them at the helm of the story, and Pokemon Go is no exception. An avatar represents your interaction with the wider fictional world, so people feeling closely tied to them is to be expected.

Hopefully, this can all be spun into something positive. Perhaps we’ll get a new update soon with a revised version of the new art style or even just the ability to tab between the new and old art styles instead. It’s unlikely that they’ll remove the update altogether (but it’s not impossible) so watch this space – we’ll keep you posted on the latest updates.

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