Earlier this week, we pointed you towards an appealing paper by Georgia Tech Professor Fox Harrell, which managed the surprisingly complex politics of avatars and identity in online games. Sadly, it appears to be many did not get much from it.
No, judging with the comments within the post it seems many decided to read simply the headline of the piece (which, for an angle to entice readers into something a little bit heavier than we’re comfortable with, might have been better-presented on our part), rather than the suggestion to learn either a fuller piece or Harrell’s whole paper elsewhere. From the interests of presenting Harrell’s thoughts 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 selection of possible avatar transformations (right) (you can watch a relevant video of your project in action here)
Gamers are beautiful, so think of this like a love letter for you. I like how you can circle the wagons once the medium we maintain a great deal is assailed. So, without a doubt directly: my goal would be to support your creativity in gaming as well as other digital media forms. In recent days, I had the pleasure to be interviewed by Elisabeth Soep for boingboing.net on the subject of research into identity representation which i have already been conducting. This short article, “Chimerical Avatars and Other Identity Experiments from Prof. Fox Harrell,” also had the distinction of experiencing been reblogged on Kotaku under the sensationalistic headline “Making Avatars That Aren’t White Dudes Is Challenging.” I am thrilled to see the dialogue started by my fellow denizens of gamerdom, even so the title and article misstated my aims. In this particular brand of my research (Also i invent new kinds of AI-based interactive narrative, gaming, poetry, and also other expressive works), I am just enthusiastic about 2 things:
1) New technologies for creating empowering identity representations, not just in games however in social network, online accounts, and a lot more.
2) Utilizing these new technologies to make avatars for steam 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 in relation to other people’s perceptions rather than the players’. My real efforts, then, can be far removed from the purpose of creating an avatar that “well, looks like [I truly do]!”
Read the original article too. And, for your convenience and also in the spirit of dialogue and genuine wish to engage and grow, I offer a list of 10 follow-up thoughts i posted towards the comments on 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 selection of imaginative expression, social awareness/critique, fun, empowerment, plus more.
2) On personal preference. The overall game examples discussed represent personal preference. The initial one is capable to prefer Undead that look more mysterious (like “lich-like” or any other similar Undead types – the thought is a male analog towards the female Undead which may look considerably more just like the Corpse Bride) than such as a Sid Vicious zombie on steroids. One is also permitted to feel that such options would break the game maker’s (Blizzard’s) coherent cartoony aesthetic driven by the game’s lore. The bigger point is the fact that issues like aesthetics, body-type, posture, plus more, are meaningful dimensions. In real life or tabletop role-playing it might be very easy to simply imagine these attributes – they do not need to become included in rules. Yet, in software they may be implemented through algorithmic and data-structural constraints. Why not imagine how you can do better without allowing players to destroy the game or slow things down?
3) Around the bigger picture. The overall game examples I raise are, to some extent, rhetorical devices. They address fashion, body language, gender, culture, and much more. The idea is the fact in the real world there is an incredible amount of nuance for representing identity. Identities are far more than race and gender. Identities change as time passes, they change according to context. Research is forward looking – why not imagine what it ways to have technologies that address these problems and just how we are able to rely on them effectively. That includes making coherent gameworlds and not bogging people down during or before gameplay. The rhetorical devices may be more, or less, successful. Although the point remains that this can be a *hard* problem.
4) On back-end data structures and algorithms. The study mentioned does not focus primarily on external appearance. It is focused on issues like emotional tone, transformation, change, community perspectives, stigma, plus more. As noted, these are internal issues. But we can go further. New computational approaches are possible that do not reify social identity categories as discrete groups of attributes or statistics. Categories can be modeled more fluidly, and new game mechanics may result. My GRIOT system provides for AI-based composition of multimedia assets, including characters in games. Let’s imagine and create technologies that may do more – after which deploy them in the very best 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 begin 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 know of the video game “Shock: Social Science Fiction” as being a good indie example of this.
6) On characters not the same as one’s self. This article will not point to discomfort with playing characters like elves with pale skin, or propose that you ought to inherently feel uncomfortable playing a part that is certainly not even close to a true life conception of identity. Rather, it begins having the ability to happily play characters including elves to mecha pilots. This really is a wonderful affordance of countless games. But a lot more, it can be great in order to play non-anthropomorphic characters and several other choices. I have done research for this issue to clarify various ways that folks linked to their characters/avatars: some are “mirror players” who would like characters that are looking characters which can be like themselves, others are “character users” who see their identities as tools, as well as others still are “character players” who use their characters to discover imaginative settings and alternative selves in playful ways (this is basically the nutshell version). However, irrespective of what, the kinds of characters in games tend to be linked to real world social values and categories. It can be disempowering to encounter stereotypical representations again and again.
7) On alternative models. Someone mentioned text-based systems and systems designed to use other characteristics for example moral choices to determine characters (c.f., Ultima IV). That is the form of thing being argued for here. Meaningful character creation – not just tired archetypes and game-mechanics oriented roles. Someone else mentioned modding and suggested that does not modding can be a mark of laziness. Yet, the aim this is actually building new systems that may do better! Certainly less lazy than adapting existing systems. And this effort is proposed by using a humble, inviting attitude. When new systems fail, the input of others (such as those commenting here) can certainly make them better still! Works like “Loss, Undersea” and “DefineMe: Chimera” are only early examples of artistic outcomes or pilot work built occasionally having an underlying AI framework I actually have designed known as the GRIOT system. This endeavor is named the Advanced Identity Representation (AIR) Project (“advanced” not as a result of hubris, but because it is possible to go much further than current systems allow).
8) On platforms. The study mentioned looks at not simply games, and also at social networking sites, online accounts, and avatars. There are many strong overlaps between them, in spite of the obvious differences. Looking at what each allows and fails to allow can yield valuable insights.
9) With this guy, that guy, and also the other guy. Offering appropriate constraints for gameworlds and allowing for seamlessly dynamic characters is very important. Ideally, one results of this research will be methods to disallow “That Guy” (referred to as a particular form of disruptive role-player) to ruin the game. Having said that, labels (like “That Guy”) can obfuscate the problems accessible. So can a center on details rather than the general potential of exploring new possibilities. The objective is not really to offer every nuanced and finicky option, but to illustrate what some potential gaps could possibly be. Individuals are complicated, any elegant technical solution that enriches role-playing in games seems desirable. But this needs to be carried out in a smart way that adds meaning and salience for the game. Examples much like the ranger and mesmer classes in GuildWars: Nightfall are really in order to describe how there are lots of categories that happen to be transient, in-between, marginal, blended, and dynamic. Probably a lot more than you can find archetypical categories. Let’s think concerning how to enable these categories in software.
10) In the goal. The supreme goal is just not a totalizing system that can handle any customization. Rather, it can be to comprehend that our identities in games, virtual worlds, social networking 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). In the face of all of this complexity, one option is to formulate technologies to assist meaningful and context-specific identity technologies – as an example as opposed to just superficial race, gender, masquerade masks, and also the tinting of elves, let’s think about how to use every one of these to state something regarding the world and the human condition.
Many thanks all for considering these ideas, even people who disagree. Your concerns may have been clarified, and they also seemed to be exacerbated, but this is what productive dialogue is focused on.