Earlier in the 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 games. Sadly, it seems many did not get much out of it.
No, judging with the comments from the post it seems like many made a decision to read simply the headline of your piece (which, as an angle to entice readers into something a little heavier than we’re used to, might have been better-presented on our part), and never the suggestion to see either a fuller piece or Harrell’s whole paper elsewhere. Within the interests of presenting Harrell’s ideas on the issue entirely, 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 view a video in the 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 if the medium we care for a lot 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 needed the pleasure being interviewed by Elisabeth Soep for boingboing.net on the subject of research into identity representation i have been conducting. This informative article, “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 Challenging.” I am thrilled to see the dialogue started by my fellow denizens of gamerdom, nevertheless the title and article misstated my aims. Within this line of my research (In addition, i invent new types of AI-based interactive narrative, gaming, poetry, along with other expressive works), I am just considering a couple of things:
1) Technologies for creating empowering identity representations, not just in games but also in social networking, online accounts, and more.
2) Utilizing these new technologies to create best steam avatars and related gaming systems more artistically expressive.
Things I have called “Avatar Art,” can certainly 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 definitely not exclusively). My works construct fantastic creatures that change according to emotional tone of user actions or based on other people’s perceptions rather than players’. My real efforts, then, are usually far pulled from the objective of creating an avatar that “well, seems like [I truly do]!”
See the original article too. And, for your benefit and in the spirit of dialogue and genuine desire to engage and grow, I offer a summary of 10 follow-up thoughts that we posted towards the comments around the original.
1) On race. The points argued from the article do not primarily center around race. Really, as this is about research, the target is always to imagine technologies that engage a wider variety of imaginative expression, social awareness/critique, fun, empowerment, plus more.
2) On personal preference. The game examples discussed represent personal preference. The initial one is permitted to prefer Undead that look more mysterious (including “lich-like” or some other similar Undead types – the idea can be a male analog on the female Undead that may look far more much like the Corpse Bride) than just like a Sid Vicious zombie on steroids. The initial one is also able to think that such options would break this game maker’s (Blizzard’s) coherent cartoony aesthetic driven with the game’s lore. The bigger point is that issues like aesthetics, body-type, posture, plus more, are meaningful dimensions. In real life or tabletop role-playing it will be very easy to simply imagine these attributes – they do not require to become built into rules. Yet, in software they can be implemented through algorithmic and data-structural constraints. Why not imagine how to do better without allowing players to destroy the video game or slow things down?
3) On the bigger picture. The video game examples I raise are, at some level, rhetorical devices. They address fashion, body language, gender, culture, and much more. The idea is the fact that in real life there is an incredible quantity of nuance for representing identity. Identities tend to be greater than race and gender. Identities change over time, they change depending on context. Research is forward looking – why not imagine just what it methods to have technologies that address these complaints and exactly how we could use them effectively. Which includes making coherent gameworlds rather than bogging people down during or before gameplay. The rhetorical devices could be more, or less, successful. But the point remains that this can be a *hard* problem.
4) On back-end data structures and algorithms. The studies mentioned does not focus primarily on external appearance. It focuses on issues like emotional tone, transformation, change, community perspectives, stigma, plus more. As noted, these are internal issues. But we can easily go further. New computational approaches are possible that do not reify social identity categories as discrete groups of attributes or statistics. Categories may 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 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 also may help to help make fantastic games commence to approach the nuanced analyses of fiction writers like Samuel R. Delany, Joanna Russ, or maybe the introspective metaphysical work of Haruki Murakami. There is a tradition of fantastic fiction as social critique. Tabletop gamers may are aware of the overall game “Shock: Social Science Fiction” as a good indie demonstration of this.
6) On characters different from one’s self. This article does not denote discomfort with playing characters including elves with pale skin, or advise that you should inherently feel uncomfortable playing a part that is certainly faraway from a true 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 many games. But more, it really is great in order to play non-anthropomorphic characters and a lot of other choices. I have got done research with this issue to describe different methods that individuals related to their characters/avatars: some are “mirror players” who want characters that are looking characters that are 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 (here is the nutshell version). However, no matter what, the types 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 that utilize other characteristics for example moral options to determine characters (c.f., Ultima IV). That is the type of thing being argued for here. Meaningful character creation – not merely tired archetypes and game-mechanics oriented roles. Another person mentioned modding and suggested that not modding may be a mark of laziness. Yet, the objective is actually building new systems that can 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 (including those commenting here) can certainly make them even better! Works like “Loss, Undersea” and “DefineMe: Chimera” are only early examples of artistic outcomes or pilot work built sometimes having an underlying AI framework We have designed called the GRIOT system. This endeavor is referred to as the Advanced Identity Representation (AIR) Project (“advanced” not as a result of hubris, but because it is easy to go much further than current systems allow).
8) On platforms. The research mentioned studies not merely games, but also at social media sites, online accounts, and avatars. There are several strong overlaps between the two, inspite of the obvious differences. Looking at what each allows and fails to allow can yield valuable insights.
9) With this guy, that guy, and the other guy. Offering appropriate constraints for gameworlds and permitting seamlessly dynamic characters is important. Ideally, one results of this research can be approaches to disallow “That Guy” (known as a certain kind of disruptive role-player) to ruin the video game. In spite of this, labels (like “That Guy”) can obfuscate the issues available. So can a focus on details rather than the general potential of exploring new possibilities. The target 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 should be carried out in a smart manner in which adds meaning and salience on the game. Examples such as the ranger and mesmer classes in GuildWars: Nightfall are really only to describe how there are many categories that happen to be transient, in-between, marginal, blended, and dynamic. Probably more than you will find archetypical categories. Let’s think about how to enable these categories in software.
10) Around the goal. The ultimate goal is not really a totalizing system that will handle any customization. Rather, it can be to realize our identities in games, virtual worlds, social networks, 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). Within the face of this complexity, one option is to develop 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 concerning how to use every one of these to say something in regards to the world and also the human condition.
Many thanks all for considering these ideas, even people who disagree. Your concerns seemed to be clarified, and so they might have been exacerbated, but this is just what productive dialogue is focused on.