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. Sadly, it seems many failed to get much out of it.
No, judging from the comments in the post it appears to be many chose to read simply the headline from the piece (which, as being an angle to entice readers into something just a little heavier than we’re accustomed to, might have been better-presented on our part), rather than the suggestion to read either a fuller piece or Harrell’s whole paper elsewhere. From the interests of presenting Harrell’s ideas on the challenge completely, then, he’s been so kind regarding present this post.
Top: A screenshot from Harrell’s interactive game/poem “Loss, Undersea” (left), and a variety of possible avatar transformations (right) (you can enjoy a video of your project in action here)
Gamers are beautiful, so consider this as a love letter for your needs. I really like the way you can circle the wagons once the medium we care for so much is assailed. So, let me tell you directly: my goal is always to support your creativity in gaming along with other digital media forms. In recent days, I had the pleasure for being interviewed by Elisabeth Soep for boingboing.net on the topic of research into identity representation i have been conducting. This informative article, “Chimerical Avatars and also other Identity Experiments from Prof. Fox Harrell,” also had the distinction of having been reblogged on Kotaku within the sensationalistic headline “Making Avatars That Aren’t White Dudes Is Hard.” I am thrilled to discover the dialogue started by my fellow denizens of gamerdom, though the title and article misstated my aims. Within this type of my research (Furthermore, i invent new kinds of AI-based interactive narrative, gaming, poetry, and other expressive works), I am thinking about a couple of things:
1) New technologies for creating empowering identity representations, not just in games however in social network sites, online accounts, and a lot more.
2) By using these new technologies to create 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 not necessarily exclusively). My own works construct fantastic creatures that change based on emotional tone of user actions or based upon other people’s perceptions rather than the players’. My real efforts, then, can be far removed from the aim of creating an avatar that “well, appears to be [I do]!”
Look at the original article too. And, to save you time and also in the spirit of dialogue and genuine wish to engage and grow, I offer a list of 10 follow-up thoughts that I posted towards the comments around the original.
1) On race. The points argued within the article tend not to primarily center around race. Really, because this is about research, the aim is to imagine technologies that engage a wider variety of imaginative expression, social awareness/critique, fun, empowerment, and more.
2) On personal preference. The video game examples discussed represent personal preference. The first is permitted to prefer Undead that appear to be more mysterious (for example “lich-like” or any other similar Undead types – the theory is a male analog towards the female Undead which can look much more such as the Corpse Bride) than just like a Sid Vicious zombie on steroids. One is also able to feel that such options would break the overall game maker’s (Blizzard’s) coherent cartoony aesthetic driven from the game’s lore. The bigger point is that issues like aesthetics, body-type, posture, and a lot more, are meaningful dimensions. In real life or tabletop role-playing it will be easy to simply imagine these attributes – they do not require to become built in rules. Yet, in software they can be implemented through algorithmic and data-structural constraints. Why not imagine the best way to do better without allowing players to get rid of the overall game or slow things down?
3) On the bigger picture. The game examples I raise are, to some degree, rhetorical devices. They address fashion, body language, gender, culture, plus more. The idea is the fact in real life there is an incredible volume of nuance for representing identity. Identities are generally more than race and gender. Identities change with time, they change based on context. Research is forward looking – why not imagine just what it ways to have technologies that address these issues and just how we can make use of them effectively. That includes 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 really is 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, they 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 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 produce technologies that could 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 begin to approach the nuanced analyses of fiction writers like Samuel R. Delany, Joanna Russ, and even the introspective metaphysical work of Haruki Murakami. There is 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 instance of this.
6) On characters distinct from one’s self. This article does not indicate discomfort with playing characters for example elves with pale skin, or propose that you ought to inherently feel uncomfortable playing a part that is certainly not even close to a genuine life conception of identity. Rather, it begins with the ability to happily play characters starting from elves to mecha pilots. This really is a wonderful affordance of several games. But a lot more, it really is great in order to play non-anthropomorphic characters and several other options. I have done research on this issue to describe various ways that men and women related to their characters/avatars: some are “mirror players” who would like characters that are looking characters which are 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 learn imaginative settings and alternative selves in playful ways (this is basically the nutshell version). However, regardless of what, the kinds of characters in games are usually associated with real world social values and categories. It could be disempowering to encounter stereotypical representations time and time again.
7) On alternative models. Someone mentioned text-based systems and systems designed to use other characteristics such as moral choices to determine characters (c.f., Ultima IV). That is exactly the sort of thing being argued for here. Meaningful character creation – not merely tired archetypes and game-mechanics oriented roles. Other people mentioned modding and suggested which not modding might be a mark of laziness. Yet, the goal is actually building new systems that may do better! Certainly less lazy than adapting existing systems. Which effort is proposed by using a humble, inviting attitude. When new systems fail, the input of others (for example those commenting here) could make them even better! Works like “Loss, Undersea” and “DefineMe: Chimera” are only early instances of artistic outcomes or pilot work built in some cases having an underlying AI framework We have designed called the GRIOT system. This endeavor is named the Advanced Identity Representation (AIR) Project (“advanced” not as a result of hubris, but since it is easy to go much further than current systems allow).
8) On platforms. The investigation mentioned looks at not simply games, but additionally at social network sites, online accounts, and avatars. There are several strong overlaps between the two, inspite of the obvious differences. Looking at 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 making it possible for seamlessly dynamic characters is vital. Ideally, one upshot of this research can be approaches to disallow “That Guy” (known as a particular kind of disruptive role-player) to ruin this game. In spite of this, labels (like “That Guy”) can obfuscate the difficulties available. So can a focus on details rather than general potential of exploring new possibilities. The goal is just not to provide every nuanced and finicky option, but alternatively to illustrate what some potential gaps could possibly be. People are complicated, any elegant technical solution that enriches role-playing in games seems desirable. But this should be carried out a smart way in which adds meaning and salience to the game. Examples much like the ranger and mesmer classes in GuildWars: Nightfall really are simply to describe how there are many categories that happen to be transient, in-between, marginal, blended, and dynamic. Probably greater than there are actually archetypical categories. Let’s think on how to enable these categories in software.
10) In the goal. The greatest goal will not be a totalizing system that may handle any customization. Rather, it can be to appreciate our identities in games, virtual worlds, social media sites, and related media happens to 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 build up technologies to assist meaningful and context-specific identity technologies – by way of example as opposed to just superficial race, gender, masquerade masks, along with the tinting of elves, let’s think on how to use every one of these to mention something about the world and the human condition.
Many thanks all for considering these ideas, even those who disagree. Your concerns seemed to be clarified, and they may have been exacerbated, but and this is what productive dialogue is focused on.