Earlier this week, we pointed you towards an interesting paper by Georgia Tech Professor Fox Harrell, which managed the surprisingly complex politics of avatars and identity in games. Sadly, it appears to be many did not get much out of it.
No, judging through the comments within the post it appears many chosen to read simply the headline of your piece (which, as being an angle to entice readers into something a bit heavier than we’re familiar with, could have been better-presented on our part), and not 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 completely, then, he’s been so kind with regards 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 see a relevant video of the project in action here)
Gamers are beautiful, so think of this being a love letter for your needs. I like the way we can circle the wagons if the medium we take care of a great deal is assailed. So, without a doubt directly: my goal is always to support your creativity in gaming and other digital media forms. In recent days, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Elisabeth Soep for boingboing.net on the topic of research into identity representation that I are already conducting. This short article, “Chimerical Avatars along with other Identity Experiments from Prof. Fox Harrell,” also had the distinction of obtaining been reblogged on Kotaku underneath the sensationalistic headline “Making Avatars That Aren’t White Dudes Is Hard.” I am just thrilled to discover the dialogue started by my fellow denizens of gamerdom, even so the title and article misstated my aims. Within this collection of my research (In addition, i invent new forms of AI-based interactive narrative, gaming, poetry, and also other expressive works), I am thinking about two things:
1) Technologies for creating empowering identity representations, not only in games nevertheless in social network, online accounts, and a lot more.
2) Using these new technologies to create avatars for steam and related gaming systems more artistically expressive.
What 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 most certainly not exclusively). My very own works construct fantastic creatures that change based upon emotional tone of user actions or dependant on other people’s perceptions instead of the players’. My real efforts, then, are very far pulled from the aim of creating an avatar that “well, appears to be [I do]!”
See the original article too. And, for your benefit and also in the spirit of dialogue and genuine desire to engage and grow, I offer a listing of 10 follow-up thoughts i posted to the comments around the original.
1) On race. The points argued inside the article tend not to primarily center around race. Really, as this is about research, the target would be to imagine technologies that engage a wider range of imaginative expression, social awareness/critique, fun, empowerment, and a lot more.
2) On personal preference. This game examples discussed represent personal preference. The first is allowed to prefer Undead that appear to be more mysterious (such as “lich-like” or another similar Undead types – the theory can be a male analog towards the female Undead which could look much more such as the Corpse Bride) than similar to a Sid Vicious zombie on steroids. The initial one is also permitted to feel that such options would break this game maker’s (Blizzard’s) coherent cartoony aesthetic driven from the game’s lore. The greater point is issues like aesthetics, body-type, posture, plus more, are meaningful dimensions. In the real world or tabletop role-playing it would be very easy to simply imagine these attributes – they do not require to get included in rules. Yet, in software these are implemented through algorithmic and data-structural constraints. Why not imagine the way to do better without allowing players to get rid of the game or slow things down?
3) On the bigger picture. The overall game examples I raise are, to some extent, rhetorical devices. They address fashion, body language, gender, culture, plus more. The idea is that in real life it comes with an incredible level of nuance for representing identity. Identities are much over race and gender. Identities change after a while, they change depending on context. Scientific studies are forward looking – why not imagine what it really way to have technologies that address these issues and exactly how we are able to rely on them effectively. That also includes making coherent gameworlds rather than bogging people down during or before gameplay. The rhetorical devices can be more, or less, successful. But the point remains that this really is a *hard* problem.
4) On back-end data structures and algorithms. The investigation mentioned fails to focus primarily on external appearance. It concentrates on issues like emotional tone, transformation, change, community perspectives, stigma, and much more. As noted, these are typically internal issues. But we could 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 that will create technologies that can do more – and then deploy them in the most beneficial ways whether for entertainment, social critique, or social network.
5) On fiction as social commentary. The approach argued for may also help to help make fantastic games start to approach the nuanced analyses of fiction writers like Samuel R. Delany, Joanna Russ, and even the introspective metaphysical work of Haruki Murakami. There exists a tradition of fantastic fiction as social critique. Tabletop gamers may are conscious of the video game “Shock: Social Sci-fi” being a good indie instance of this.
6) On characters distinct from one’s self. This content does not point out discomfort with playing characters such as elves with pale skin, or suggest that one should inherently feel uncomfortable playing a part that is certainly not even close to an actual life conception of identity. Rather, it begins with the ability to happily play characters ranging from elves to mecha pilots. This can be a wonderful affordance of many games. But a lot more, it really is great in order to play non-anthropomorphic characters and lots of other options. I have got done research for this issue to clarify various ways that men and women associated with their characters/avatars: some are “mirror players” who want characters that want 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 discover imaginative settings and alternative selves in playful ways (this is actually the nutshell version). However, regardless of what, the types of characters in games tend to be associated with real life social values and categories. It might be disempowering to encounter stereotypical representations over and over.
7) On alternative models. Someone mentioned text-based systems and systems that utilize other characteristics including moral choices to determine characters (c.f., Ultima IV). That is exactly the sort of thing being argued for here. Meaningful character creation – not simply tired archetypes and game-mechanics oriented roles. Other people mentioned modding and suggested which not modding could be a mark of laziness. Yet, the objective is actually building new systems that may do better! Certainly less lazy than adapting existing systems. Which effort is proposed using a humble, inviting attitude. When new systems fail, the input of others (such as those commenting here) can make them even better! Works like “Loss, Undersea” and “DefineMe: Chimera” are just early types of artistic outcomes or pilot work built occasionally utilizing an underlying AI framework I actually have designed referred to as GRIOT system. This endeavor is referred to as 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 looks at not just games, and also at social networks, online accounts, and avatars. There are many strong overlaps between them, inspite of the obvious differences. Taking a look at what each allows and is not going to allow can yield valuable insights.
9) On this guy, that guy, and the other guy. Offering appropriate constraints for gameworlds and making it possible for seamlessly dynamic characters is vital. Ideally, one upshot of this research can be methods to disallow “That Guy” (known as a particular kind of disruptive role-player) to ruin the overall game. Nevertheless, labels (like “That Guy”) can obfuscate the issues available. So can a focus on details instead of the general potential of exploring new possibilities. The goal is not to provide every nuanced and finicky option, but instead to illustrate what some potential gaps could be. Individuals are complicated, any elegant technical solution that enriches role-playing in games seems desirable. But this must be carried out a smart method that adds meaning and salience for the game. Examples just like the ranger and mesmer classes in GuildWars: Nightfall are very just to describe how there are numerous categories which can be transient, in-between, marginal, blended, and dynamic. Probably more than there are archetypical categories. Let’s think concerning how to enable these categories in software.
10) On the goal. The ultimate goal is just not a totalizing system that could handle any customization. Rather, it is to realize our identities in games, virtual worlds, social networks, 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). Within the face of this complexity, one option is to produce technologies to support meaningful and context-specific identity technologies – for instance as opposed to just superficial race, gender, masquerade masks, and also the tinting of elves, let’s think on how to use all of these to state something about the world and the human condition.
Thank you all for considering these ideas, even those that disagree. Your concerns could have been clarified, and they might have been exacerbated, but this is exactly what productive dialogue is about.