Earlier in the week, we pointed you towards an appealing paper by Georgia Tech Professor Fox Harrell, which handled the surprisingly complex politics of avatars and identity in games online. Sadly, it appears many failed to get much from it.
No, judging with the comments inside the post it appears to be many decided to read simply the headline in the piece (which, being an angle to entice readers into something a little heavier than we’re familiar with, could have been better-presented on our part), and never the suggestion to read through either a fuller piece or Harrell’s whole paper elsewhere. In the interests of presenting Harrell’s thoughts on the matter completely, then, he’s been so kind as to present this post.
Top: A screenshot from Harrell’s interactive game/poem “Loss, Undersea” (left), and a selection of possible avatar transformations (right) (you can view a video of your project in action here)
Gamers are beautiful, so think of this like a love letter to you personally. I love the way we can circle the wagons when the medium we look after a lot is assailed. So, without a doubt directly: my goal is to support your creativity in gaming as well as other digital media forms. In recent days, I needed the pleasure 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 along with other Identity Experiments from Prof. Fox Harrell,” also had the difference of having been reblogged on Kotaku under the sensationalistic headline “Making Avatars That Aren’t White Dudes Is Challenging.” I am thrilled to find out the dialogue started by my fellow denizens of gamerdom, nevertheless the title and article misstated my aims. Within this type of my research (Also i invent new types of AI-based interactive narrative, gaming, poetry, and other expressive works), I am just enthusiastic about 2 things:
1) Technologies for creating empowering identity representations, not just in games however in social network sites, online accounts, and a lot more.
2) With such technologies to help make best steam avatars and related gaming systems more artistically expressive.
What I have called “Avatar Art,” could 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 most certainly not exclusively). My own, personal works construct fantastic creatures that change based upon emotional tone of user actions or based upon other people’s perceptions as opposed to the players’. My real efforts, then, are quite far taken from the aim of creating an avatar that “well, looks like [I really do]!”
Browse the original article too. And, for your benefit and also in the spirit of dialogue and genuine wish to engage and grow, I offer a long list of 10 follow-up thoughts that we posted towards the comments on the original.
1) On race. The points argued from the article do not primarily revolve around race. Really, as this is about research, the goal would be to imagine technologies that engage a wider selection of imaginative expression, social awareness/critique, fun, empowerment, and a lot more.
2) On personal preference. The game examples discussed represent personal preference. One is permitted to prefer Undead that seem to be more mysterious (including “lich-like” or another similar Undead types – the idea is a male analog to the female Undead which could look a lot more much like the Corpse Bride) than similar to a Sid Vicious zombie on steroids. The first is also permitted to think that such options would break the game maker’s (Blizzard’s) coherent cartoony aesthetic driven from the game’s lore. The larger point is issues like aesthetics, body-type, posture, and much more, are meaningful dimensions. In real life or tabletop role-playing it could be easy to simply imagine these attributes – they do not require to be that are part of rules. Yet, in software they are implemented through algorithmic and data-structural constraints. Why not imagine how you can do better without allowing players to destroy the video game or slow things down?
3) In the bigger picture. The game examples I raise are, to some extent, rhetorical devices. They address fashion, body language, gender, culture, and more. The theory is that in the real world it comes with an incredible amount of nuance for representing identity. Identities are far more than race and gender. Identities change over time, they change according to context. Scientific studies are forward looking – why not imagine what it really way to have technologies that address these complaints and the way we can easily rely on them effectively. That includes making coherent gameworlds and never bogging people down during or before gameplay. The rhetorical devices can be more, or less, successful. However the point remains that it is a *hard* problem.
4) On back-end data structures and algorithms. The studies mentioned is not going to focus primarily on external appearance. It targets issues like emotional tone, transformation, change, community perspectives, stigma, and more. As noted, these are typically internal issues. But we are able to go further. New computational approaches are possible which do not reify social identity categories as discrete sets of attributes or statistics. Categories may be modeled more fluidly, and new game mechanics may result. My GRIOT system permits AI-based composition of multimedia assets, including characters in games. Let’s imagine that will create technologies that may do more – after which deploy them in the most efficient ways whether for entertainment, social critique, or social network sites.
5) On fiction as social commentary. The approach argued for also may help to produce fantastic games set out to approach the nuanced analyses of fiction writers like Samuel R. Delany, Joanna Russ, and even the introspective metaphysical work of Haruki Murakami. You will find a tradition of fantastic fiction as social critique. Tabletop gamers may are aware of the video game “Shock: Social Sci-fi” as a good indie illustration of this.
6) On characters distinctive from one’s self. The content does not indicate discomfort with playing characters including elves with pale skin, or propose that one should inherently feel uncomfortable playing a part that is certainly far away from a genuine life conception of identity. Rather, it begins with the ability to happily play characters ranging from elves to mecha pilots. It is a wonderful affordance of several games. But more, it really is great in order to play non-anthropomorphic characters and a lot of other options. I have done research about this issue to describe different ways that people linked to their characters/avatars: some are “mirror players” who desire characters that are looking characters which are like themselves, other people are “character users” who see their identities as tools, and others still are “character players” who use their characters to learn imaginative settings and alternative selves in playful ways (this is basically the nutshell version). However, regardless of what, the types of characters in games are frequently related to real life social values and categories. It can be disempowering to encounter stereotypical representations repeatedly.
7) On alternative models. Someone mentioned text-based systems and systems designed to use other characteristics including moral options to determine characters (c.f., Ultima IV). That is the sort of thing being argued for here. Meaningful character creation – not only tired archetypes and game-mechanics oriented roles. Another person mentioned modding and suggested which not modding can be a mark of laziness. Yet, the objective is actually building new systems that could do better! Certainly less lazy than adapting existing systems. And that effort is proposed using a humble, inviting attitude. When new systems fail, the input of others (for example those commenting here) can certainly make them better still! Works like “Loss, Undersea” and “DefineMe: Chimera” are just early samples of artistic outcomes or pilot work built sometimes having an underlying AI framework I actually have designed referred to as GRIOT system. This endeavor is named the Advanced Identity Representation (AIR) Project (“advanced” not as a consequence of hubris, but as it is possible to go much further than current systems allow).
8) On platforms. The research mentioned examines not merely games, and also at social network sites, online accounts, and avatars. There are several strong overlaps between the two, inspite of the obvious differences. Considering what each allows and will not allow can yield valuable insights.
9) On this guy, that guy, as well as the other guy. Offering appropriate constraints for gameworlds and enabling seamlessly dynamic characters is vital. Ideally, one results of this research could be methods to disallow “That Guy” (described as a certain sort of disruptive role-player) to ruin this game. That said, labels (like “That Guy”) can obfuscate the problems at hand. So can a center on details rather than the general potential of exploring new possibilities. The target is just not to supply every nuanced and finicky option, but instead to illustrate what some potential gaps could possibly be. Everyone is complicated, any elegant technical solution that enriches role-playing in games seems desirable. But this should be carried out in an intelligent way that adds meaning and salience to the game. Examples such as the ranger and mesmer classes in GuildWars: Nightfall are very only to describe how there are numerous categories that happen to be transient, in-between, marginal, blended, and dynamic. Probably a lot more than you will find archetypical categories. Let’s think concerning how to enable these categories in software.
10) In the goal. The ultimate goal is just not a totalizing system that may handle any customization. Rather, it can be to comprehend our identities in games, virtual worlds, social media sites, and related media appear 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). From the face of this complexity, one option is to formulate technologies to aid meaningful and context-specific identity technologies – for example rather than just superficial race, gender, masquerade masks, and also the tinting of elves, let’s think on how to use every one of these to say something concerning the world and the human condition.
Thank you all for considering these ideas, even those that disagree. Your concerns seemed to be clarified, and they might have been exacerbated, but this is just what productive dialogue is about.