Earlier this week, we pointed you towards an intriguing paper by Georgia Tech Professor Fox Harrell, which dealt with the surprisingly complex politics of avatars and identity in online games. Sadly, it seems many failed to get much from it.
No, judging through the comments in the post it appears many chose to read simply the headline of your piece (which, as an angle to entice readers into something just a little heavier than we’re accustomed to, could have been better-presented on our part), instead of the suggestion to learn either a fuller piece or Harrell’s whole paper elsewhere. From the interests of presenting Harrell’s ideas on the matter 100 %, then, he’s been so kind regarding present this post.
Top: A screenshot from Harrell’s interactive game/poem “Loss, Undersea” (left), and a variety of possible avatar transformations (right) (you can view a youtube video of your project actually in operation here)
Gamers are beautiful, so think of this like a love letter to you personally. I like how you can circle the wagons if the medium we care for a whole lot is assailed. So, let me tell you directly: my goal is usually to support your creativity in gaming along with other digital media forms. In recent days, I had the pleasure for being interviewed by Elisabeth Soep for boingboing.net on the topic of research into identity representation that I have already been conducting. This post, “Chimerical Avatars and Other Identity Experiments from Prof. Fox Harrell,” also had the difference of obtaining been reblogged on Kotaku within the sensationalistic headline “Making Avatars That Aren’t White Dudes Is Tough.” I am just thrilled to see the dialogue started by my fellow denizens of gamerdom, nevertheless the title and article misstated my aims. With this collection of my research (Also i invent new types of AI-based interactive narrative, gaming, poetry, along with other expressive works), I am just enthusiastic about a couple of things:
1) New technologies for creating empowering identity representations, not just in games but in social network sites, online accounts, and a lot more.
2) With such new technologies to help make 184px avatar and related gaming systems more artistically expressive.
A Few Things I have called “Avatar Art,” will make critical and expressive statements regarding identity construction themes including changing moods, social scene, marginality, exclusion, aesthetic style, and power (yes, including gender and race but not necessarily exclusively). My own, personal works construct fantastic creatures that change depending on emotional tone of user actions or based on other people’s perceptions rather than the players’. My real efforts, then, are quite far pulled from the purpose of creating an avatar that “well, looks like [I actually do]!”
Look at the original article too. And, for your convenience and also in the spirit of dialogue and genuine desire to engage and grow, I offer a long list of 10 follow-up thoughts that we posted for the comments around the original.
1) On race. The points argued inside the article usually do not primarily center around race. Really, because this is about research, the goal is to imagine technologies that engage a wider array of imaginative expression, social awareness/critique, fun, empowerment, plus more.
2) On personal preference. The game examples discussed represent personal preference. One is able to prefer Undead that appear to be more mysterious (for example “lich-like” or any other similar Undead types – the idea is actually a male analog for the female Undead which could look far more just like the Corpse Bride) than like a Sid Vicious zombie on steroids. The initial one is also capable to think that such options would break the overall game maker’s (Blizzard’s) coherent cartoony aesthetic driven through the game’s lore. The bigger point is issues like aesthetics, body-type, posture, and much more, are meaningful dimensions. In real life or tabletop role-playing it might be easy to simply imagine these attributes – they do not need to be built in rules. Yet, in software they may be implemented through algorithmic and data-structural constraints. Why not imagine how to do better without allowing players to destroy this game or slow things down?
3) On the bigger picture. The game examples I raise are, at some level, rhetorical devices. They address fashion, body language, gender, culture, and a lot more. The theory is the fact that in real life it comes with an incredible amount of nuance for representing identity. Identities are much a lot more than race and gender. Identities change as time passes, they change based on context. Research is forward looking – why not imagine what it really methods to have technologies that address these complaints and how we can easily rely on them effectively. That also includes making coherent gameworlds instead of bogging people down during or before gameplay. The rhetorical devices may be more, or less, successful. Nevertheless the point remains that this can be a *hard* problem.
4) On back-end data structures and algorithms. The research mentioned fails to focus primarily on external appearance. It is focused on issues like emotional tone, transformation, change, community perspectives, stigma, and much more. As noted, these are generally internal issues. But we can go further. New computational approaches are possible which do not reify social identity categories as discrete groups of attributes or statistics. Categories might be modeled more fluidly, and new game mechanics may result. My GRIOT system enables AI-based composition of multimedia assets, including characters in games. Let’s imagine and produce technologies that will do more – and then deploy them in the most effective ways whether for entertainment, social critique, or social media.
5) On fiction as social commentary. The approach argued for may also help to create fantastic games set out to approach the nuanced analyses of fiction writers like Samuel R. Delany, Joanna Russ, or perhaps the introspective metaphysical work of Haruki Murakami. There exists a tradition of fantastic fiction as social critique. Tabletop gamers may are aware of the overall game “Shock: Social Science Fiction” as being a good indie instance of this.
6) On characters distinctive from one’s self. The article fails to indicate discomfort with playing characters for example elves with pale skin, or suggest that you ought to inherently feel uncomfortable playing a part that may be faraway from a genuine life conception of identity. Rather, it begins having the ability to happily play characters starting from elves to mecha pilots. This really is a wonderful affordance of countless games. But more, it really is great to be able to play non-anthropomorphic characters and many other available choices. I actually have done research on this issue to describe various ways that folks associated with their characters/avatars: some are “mirror players” who wish characters that are looking characters that happen to be like themselves, others are “character users” who see their identities as tools, and others still are “character players” who use their characters to explore imaginative settings and alternative selves in playful ways (this is actually the nutshell version). However, irrespective of what, the kinds of characters in games tend to be relevant to real world social values and categories. It can be disempowering to encounter stereotypical representations repeatedly.
7) On alternative models. Someone mentioned text-based systems and systems that use other characteristics like moral options to determine characters (c.f., Ultima IV). That is the kind of thing being argued for here. Meaningful character creation – not simply tired archetypes and game-mechanics oriented roles. Another person mentioned modding and suggested that does not modding could be a mark of laziness. Yet, the objective the following is actually building new systems that will do better! Certainly less lazy than adapting existing systems. And that effort is proposed having a humble, inviting attitude. When new systems fail, the input of others (including those commenting here) could make them even better! Works like “Loss, Undersea” and “DefineMe: Chimera” are simply early instances of artistic outcomes or pilot work built occasionally having an underlying AI framework I have designed referred to as the GRIOT system. This endeavor is known as the Advanced Identity Representation (AIR) Project (“advanced” not as a consequence of hubris, but since it is easy to go much beyond current systems allow).
8) On platforms. The investigation mentioned studies not merely games, but in addition at social networking sites, online accounts, and avatars. There are several strong overlaps between them, regardless of the obvious differences. Considering what each allows and is not going to allow can yield valuable insights.
9) On this guy, that guy, and also the other guy. Offering appropriate constraints for gameworlds and making it possible for seamlessly dynamic characters is essential. Ideally, one upshot of this research will be approaches to disallow “That Guy” (identified as a certain form of disruptive role-player) to ruin the game. Having said that, labels (like “That Guy”) can obfuscate the problems accessible. So can a give attention to details as opposed to the general potential of exploring new possibilities. The goal is not really to supply every nuanced and finicky option, but to illustrate what some potential gaps may be. Individuals are complicated, any elegant technical solution that enriches role-playing in games seems desirable. But this has to be done in a sensible manner in which adds meaning and salience towards the game. Examples such as the ranger and mesmer classes in GuildWars: Nightfall really are simply to describe how there are lots of categories that are transient, in-between, marginal, blended, and dynamic. Probably over there are actually archetypical categories. Let’s think concerning how to enable these categories in software.
10) About the goal. The ultimate goal is not a totalizing system that may handle any customization. Rather, it can be to comprehend our identities in games, virtual worlds, social network sites, and related media exist in an ecology of behavior, artifacts, attitudes, software and hardware infrastructure, activities (like gaming), institutional values and biases, personal values and biases, systems of classification, and cognitive processing (the imagination). Inside the face of this complexity, one option is to formulate technologies to back up meaningful and context-specific identity technologies – for example as opposed to just superficial race, gender, masquerade masks, along with the tinting of elves, let’s think concerning how to use most of these to say something in regards to the world and the human condition.
Thanks a lot all for considering these ideas, even those who disagree. Your concerns may have been clarified, and so they could have been exacerbated, but this is what productive dialogue is focused on.