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 with the comments in the post it seems like many chosen to read simply the headline of the piece (which, as an angle to entice readers into something a little bit heavier than we’re familiar with, could have been better-presented on our part), and not the suggestion to read either a fuller piece or Harrell’s whole paper elsewhere. In the interests of presenting Harrell’s ideas on the challenge in full, then, he’s been so kind concerning 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 your project actually in operation here)
Gamers are beautiful, so consider this like a love letter to you. I adore how we can circle the wagons when the medium we look after so much is assailed. So, let me tell you directly: my goal is usually to support your creativity in gaming and also other digital media forms. In recent days, I had the pleasure for being interviewed by Elisabeth Soep for boingboing.net on the subject of research into identity representation which i happen to be conducting. This short article, “Chimerical Avatars along with 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 Hard.” I am just thrilled to view the dialogue started by my fellow denizens of gamerdom, nevertheless the title and article misstated my aims. In this type of my research (I also invent new forms of AI-based interactive narrative, gaming, poetry, as well as other expressive works), I am just considering two things:
1) New technologies for creating empowering identity representations, not only in games however in social networking, online accounts, and more.
2) Utilizing these new technologies to produce avatars for steam and related gaming systems more artistically expressive.
A Few Things 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 definitely not exclusively). My own works construct fantastic creatures that change depending on emotional tone of user actions or in relation to other people’s perceptions instead of the players’. My real efforts, then, are usually far pulled from the goal of creating an avatar that “well, seems like [I truly do]!”
See the original article too. And, to save you time and in the spirit of dialogue and genuine wish to engage and grow, I offer a listing of 10 follow-up thoughts which i posted to the comments about the original.
1) On race. The points argued within the article will not primarily revolve around race. Really, as this is about research, the goal is always to imagine technologies that engage a wider variety of imaginative expression, social awareness/critique, fun, empowerment, and more.
2) On personal preference. The game examples discussed represent personal preference. The initial one is allowed to prefer Undead that appear to be more mysterious (like “lich-like” or any other similar Undead types – the thought is a male analog towards the female Undead which could look considerably more like the Corpse Bride) than just like a Sid Vicious zombie on steroids. One is also allowed 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 the fact issues like aesthetics, body-type, posture, plus more, are meaningful dimensions. In the real world or tabletop role-playing it might be simple to simply imagine these attributes – they do not require to get that are part of rules. Yet, in software they are implemented through algorithmic and data-structural constraints. Why not imagine how to do better without allowing players to get rid of this game or slow things down?
3) Around the bigger picture. This game examples I raise are, to some degree, rhetorical devices. They address fashion, body language, gender, culture, plus more. The thought is in real life it comes with an incredible quantity of nuance for representing identity. Identities are generally greater than race and gender. Identities change as time passes, they change according to context. Scientific studies are forward looking – why not imagine exactly what it way to have technologies that address these issues and how we can easily utilize them effectively. That features making coherent gameworlds and not bogging people down during or before gameplay. The rhetorical devices can be more, or less, successful. But the point remains that this is a *hard* problem.
4) On back-end data structures and algorithms. The study mentioned is not going to focus primarily on external appearance. It concentrates on issues like emotional tone, transformation, change, community perspectives, stigma, and a lot more. As noted, they are 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 can 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 and create technologies that can do more – and after that 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 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 conscious of this game “Shock: Social Sci-fi” as being a good indie illustration of this.
6) On characters different from one’s self. This article fails to point to discomfort with playing characters for example elves with pale skin, or advise that you ought to inherently feel uncomfortable playing a part that may be far from a real life conception of identity. Rather, it begins having the ability to happily play characters ranging from elves to mecha pilots. It is a wonderful affordance of several games. But more, it can be great so that you can play non-anthropomorphic characters and several other options. I have got done research with this issue to clarify alternative methods that folks associated with their characters/avatars: some are “mirror players” who desire characters who want characters that are like themselves, other people are “character users” who see their identities as tools, as well as 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, 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 that use other characteristics such as moral options to determine characters (c.f., Ultima IV). That is exactly the form of thing being argued for here. Meaningful character creation – not simply tired archetypes and game-mechanics oriented roles. Someone else mentioned modding and suggested that does not modding might be a mark of laziness. Yet, the objective this 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 (for example those commenting here) can certainly make them better still! Works like “Loss, Undersea” and “DefineMe: Chimera” are simply early instances of artistic outcomes or pilot work built in some instances using an underlying AI framework I have designed referred to as GRIOT system. This endeavor is referred to as the Advanced Identity Representation (AIR) Project (“advanced” not because of hubris, but because it is possible to go much beyond current systems allow).
8) On platforms. The research mentioned looks at not only games, but additionally at social network sites, online accounts, and avatars. There are many strong overlaps between the two, regardless of the obvious differences. Checking out what each allows and is not going to allow can yield valuable insights.
9) On this guy, that guy, along with the other guy. Offering appropriate constraints for gameworlds and permitting seamlessly dynamic characters is important. Ideally, one outcome of this research can be approaches to disallow “That Guy” (described as a certain sort of disruptive role-player) to ruin this game. Having said that, labels (like “That Guy”) can obfuscate the issues on hand. So can a give attention to details instead of the general potential of exploring new possibilities. The aim is just not to offer you every nuanced and finicky option, but instead to illustrate what some potential gaps may be. Everyone is complicated, any elegant technical solution that enriches role-playing in games seems desirable. But this has to be completed in a sensible way that adds meaning and salience towards the game. Examples much like the ranger and mesmer classes in GuildWars: Nightfall are actually just to describe how there are numerous categories which can be transient, in-between, marginal, blended, and dynamic. Probably over there are archetypical categories. Let’s think concerning how to enable these categories in software.
10) On the goal. The supreme goal will not be a totalizing system that can handle any customization. Rather, it is actually to realize that the 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 this complexity, one option is to build up technologies to aid meaningful and context-specific identity technologies – by way of example as opposed to just superficial race, gender, masquerade masks, and the tinting of elves, let’s think concerning how to use most of these to express something in regards to the world as well as the human condition.
Many thanks all for considering these ideas, even those that disagree. Your concerns seemed to be clarified, and they might have been exacerbated, but this is exactly what productive dialogue is focused on.