the (not so) secret life of avatars

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A guest lecture, sponsored by the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University. The talk was given on 7 October 2014 in the Schoonover Lobby by Dr. Nick Bowman.


  • 1. THE (NOT SO)SECRETLIFE OFAVATARSInteraction Lab(#ixlab)ND BowmanOhio University6 October 2014

2. The (Not So) Secret Life of Avatars1954: BEFORE THE AVATAR 3. PARA-SOCIAL INTERACTION Media provides the illusion offace-to-face relationships withthe performer that is one-sided, non-dialectical,and controlled bythe performer Walter Cronkite, the mostTrusted man in America. 4. PARA-SOCIAL INTERACTION The relationship can Make content moreenjoyable Let us explore newrelationships Provide feelings ofimportance, acceptance 5. PARA-SOCIAL INTERACTION All social encountersinvolve a mindreading and these automatedprocesses happen evenwith mediatedencounters 6. PARA-SOCIAL INTERACTION Mindreading leads to(a sense of) mutualawareness especially ifmediated personaegive off such cues! 7. Avatar = From Avatara Graphical userrepresentations Carriers ofmeaning/agency Mediators ofphenomenal gameplay 8. PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPSOrganic PlayerInorganic AvatarThese relationships existas headcanons, in themind of the player! 9. Your wish ismy command. 10. THROUGH APOST-POSITIVIST LENS Concurrent validitywith; RPG play (3.96) Fantasy (.46) Diversion (.26) Social interaction(.23) Enjoyment (.23) Time Played (.17) Addiction (.37) 11. THROUGH ACONSTRUCTIVIST LENSAvatarGenderDyadRelationship valenced connection between two people where each influences the otherGameenvironmentSocialgroupsInterfacePhysicalEnvironmentCultureagents 12. PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPSPlayer Agencies Avatars as functionaltools Avatar as anextension of the self Identity tourism Trait personality Moral decisions 13. PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPSAvatar Agencies Avatars as relationalpartners with Needs Desires Affordances Proteus Effect 14. PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPSObject Me Symbiote Other 15. PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPS Bowen (1976)suggested that a keyto empathy isdistinguishing onefrom another Separation leads totrue empathy,without ego blockObject Me Symbiote Other 16. Character Bits SocialBitsV. 17. THE BATTLE ROYALE Character Attachment Identification(pretending, being, affinity) Suspension of disbelief(error, plausibility) Control(obedience, frustration) Care/responsibility(wants, needs, interests)PAR Sociality Anthropomorphicautonomy(thoughts, feelings, life) Emotional investment(love, appreciation, loss) Companionship(friends, understanding,reciprocation) 18. Table 1. A typology of Player-Avatar Relationships (PAR), from Banks and Bowman (2013).Avatar as Object Avatar a Me Avatar as Symbiote Avatar as OtherIdentification(I am that avatar)LowMy avatar is adigital form.HighMy avatar is me indigital form.MidMy avatar is a partof me.LowMy avatar is itsown being.Suspension ofDisbelief(Accepts DigitalWorld as a RealOne)LowThe environment isa space ofcompetition.MidI appropriate theworld to fit my ownview of it.MidI am able to visit myavatars world.HighMy avatar lives in adigital world withits own norms.Sense of Control(Physical)HighMy avatar is a toolfor mastery of in-gamechallenges.MidMy avatar is mysocial surrogate toaccomplish mysocial play goals.MidMy avatar and I useeach other toaccomplishnegotiated goals.LowI am a tool for myavatar; it tells mehow to control it toaccomplish itsgoals.Sense of Care &Responsibility(Affective)LowMy avatar has noneeds.MidMy avatar is me itneeds what I need.MidMy avatar and Iknow each othersneeds.HighI help my avatarget the things itneeds. 19. Para-social Social 20. EFA ~ THE BEAUTY PAGEANT Emotional Investment ~24% variance Anthropomorphic autonomy ~20% variance Suspension of disbelief ~17% variance Sense of control ~12% variance ~72% 21. CFA ~ THE TALENT SHOWCMIN/df = 1.27, p = .076CFI = .989RMSEA = .036*Correlations shown are significantat the p < .001 level or greater..42.44.32-.45 22. INTEGRATED MODEL Emotional Investment (from PAR)love, loss, appreciation Suspension of Disbelief (from CA, adjusted)error, plausibility Player Control (from CA)obedience, control Avatar Anthro-Autonomy (from PAR)(life, feelings, thoughts) 23. PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPSAvatar asObjectn = 267Avatar asMen = 88Avatar asSymbioten = 95Avatar asOthern = 44EmotionalInvestment4.02a(1.57)5.72b(1.12)6.20c(.783)5.45b(1.26)Anthromorphism-Autonomy1.36a(.745)1.89b(1.32)3.30c(1.67)3.37c(1.64)Suspension ofDisbelief3.33a1.75)4.53b(1.72)5.06b(1.56)4.54b(1.86)Control 6.26b,c(.965)6.44c(.825)5.85a,b(1.27)5.83a(1.20) 24. VALIDATIONS Human-like relatednessF (4,385) = 64.49, p < .001, R2 = 401 (Adj. R2 = .395)Durbin-Watson = 1.94 25. VALIDATIONS Play motivations Immersion: F(4,488) = 34.76, p < .001, R2 =.222 (Adj. R2 = .215), DW = 1.93 26. BONUS: PLAYER-AVATARRELATION SCALE Emotional Investment This avatar is very special to me. I appreciate this avatar. I would be heartbroken if I lost thisavatar. I love this avatar. (R) I dont really care about this avatar. (R) I have no emotional connection tothis avatar. Player Control This avatar does what I want. I control this avatar. Avatar Autonomy When I log out of the game, this avatarhas its own life. This avatar has its own feelings. This avatar has its own thoughts andideas. Suspension of Disbelief I concentrate on inconsistencies in thisavatar's story and the game story. It is important to check forinconsistencies in this avatar's game. I pay attention to errors or contradictionsin this avatar's world. 27. FOR MORE INFORMATIONNick Bowman, Ph.D. [CV]Twitter (@bowmanspartan)Skype (nicholasdbowman)nicholas.bowman@mail.wvu.eduInteraction Lab(#ixlab)