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THE (NOT SO) 
SECRET 
LIFE OF 
AVATARS 
Interaction Lab 
(#ixlab) 
ND Bowman 
Ohio University 
6 October 2014
The (Not So) Secret Life of Avatars 
1954: BEFORE THE AVATAR
PARA-SOCIAL INTERACTION 
• Media provides the “illusion of 
face-to-face relationships with 
the performer”… 
• …that is “...
PARA-SOCIAL INTERACTION 
• The relationship can 
– Make content more 
enjoyable 
– Let us explore new 
relationships 
– Pr...
PARA-SOCIAL INTERACTION 
• All social encounters 
involve a mindreading… 
• …and these automated 
processes happen even 
w...
PARA-SOCIAL INTERACTION 
• Mindreading leads to 
(a sense of) mutual 
awareness… 
• …especially if 
mediated personae 
giv...
Avatar = 
• From Avatara 
• Graphical user 
representations 
• Carriers of 
meaning/agency 
• Mediators of 
phenomenal gam...
PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPS 
“Organic” Player 
“Inorganic” Avatar 
These relationships exist 
as headcanons, in the 
mind ...
Your wish is 
my command.
THROUGH A 
POST-POSITIVIST LENS 
• Concurrent validity 
with; 
– RPG play (3.96) 
– Fantasy (.46) 
– Diversion (.26) 
– So...
THROUGH A 
CONSTRUCTIVIST LENS 
Avatar 
Gender 
Dyad 
Relationship ≈ 
• valenced connection 
• between two people 
• where...
PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPS 
Player Agencies 
• Avatars as functional 
tools 
• Avatar as an 
extension of the self 
– Ide...
PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPS 
Avatar Agencies 
• Avatars as relational 
partners with 
– Needs 
– Desires 
– Affordances 
•...
PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPS 
Object Me Symbiote Other
PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPS 
• Bowen (1976) 
suggested that a key 
to empathy is 
distinguishing one 
from another 
• Sepa...
Character Bits Social 
Bits 
V.
THE BATTLE ROYALE … 
Character Attachment 
• Identification 
(pretending, being, affinity) 
• Suspension of disbelief 
(er...
Table 1. A typology of Player-Avatar Relationships (PAR), from Banks and Bowman (2013). 
Avatar as Object Avatar a Me Avat...
Para-social Social
EFA ~ THE BEAUTY PAGEANT 
• Emotional Investment 
– ~24% variance 
• Anthropomorphic autonomy 
– ~20% variance 
• Suspensi...
CFA ~ THE TALENT SHOW 
CMIN/df = 1.27, p = .076 
CFI = .989 
RMSEA = .036 
*Correlations shown are significant 
at the p <...
INTEGRATED MODEL … 
• Emotional Investment (from PAR) 
love, loss, appreciation 
• Suspension of Disbelief (from CA, adjus...
PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPS 
Avatar as 
Object 
n = 267 
Avatar as 
Me 
n = 88 
Avatar as 
Symbiote 
n = 95 
Avatar as 
Ot...
VALIDATIONS … 
• Human-like relatedness 
F (4,385) = 64.49, p < .001, R2 = 401 (Adj. R2 = .395) 
Durbin-Watson = 1.94
VALIDATIONS … 
• Play motivations 
• Immersion: F(4,488) = 34.76, p < .001, R2 = 
.222 (Adj. R2 = .215), DW = 1.93
BONUS: PLAYER-AVATAR 
RELATION SCALE 
• Emotional Investment 
– This avatar is very special to me. 
– I appreciate this av...
FOR MORE INFORMATION 
Nick Bowman, Ph.D. [CV] 
Twitter (@bowmanspartan) 
Skype (nicholasdbowman) 
nicholas.bowman@mail.wvu...
The (not so) Secret Life of Avatars
The (not so) Secret Life of Avatars
The (not so) Secret Life of Avatars
The (not so) Secret Life of Avatars
The (not so) Secret Life of Avatars
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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.

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The (not so) Secret Life of Avatars

  1. 1. THE (NOT SO) SECRET LIFE OF AVATARS Interaction Lab (#ixlab) ND Bowman Ohio University 6 October 2014
  2. 2. The (Not So) Secret Life of Avatars 1954: BEFORE THE AVATAR
  3. 3. PARA-SOCIAL INTERACTION • Media provides the “illusion of face-to-face relationships with the performer”… • …that is “one-sided, non-dialectical, and controlled by the performer” Walter Cronkite, the most Trusted man in America.
  4. 4. PARA-SOCIAL INTERACTION • The relationship can – Make content more enjoyable – Let us explore new relationships – Provide feelings of importance, acceptance
  5. 5. PARA-SOCIAL INTERACTION • All social encounters involve a mindreading… • …and these automated processes happen even with mediated encounters
  6. 6. PARA-SOCIAL INTERACTION • Mindreading leads to (a sense of) mutual awareness… • …especially if mediated personae give off such cues!
  7. 7. Avatar = • From Avatara • Graphical user representations • Carriers of meaning/agency • Mediators of phenomenal gameplay
  8. 8. PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPS “Organic” Player “Inorganic” Avatar These relationships exist as headcanons, in the mind of the player!
  9. 9. Your wish is my command.
  10. 10. THROUGH A POST-POSITIVIST LENS • Concurrent validity with; – RPG play (3.96) – Fantasy (.46) – Diversion (.26) – Social interaction (.23) – Enjoyment (.23) – Time Played (.17) – Addiction (.37)
  11. 11. THROUGH A CONSTRUCTIVIST LENS Avatar Gender Dyad Relationship ≈ • valenced connection • between two people • where each influences the other Game environment Social groups Interface Physical Environment Culture agents
  12. 12. PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPS Player Agencies • Avatars as functional tools • Avatar as an extension of the self – Identity tourism – Trait personality – Moral decisions
  13. 13. PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPS Avatar Agencies • Avatars as relational partners with – Needs – Desires – Affordances • Proteus Effect
  14. 14. PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPS Object Me Symbiote Other
  15. 15. PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPS • Bowen (1976) suggested that a key to empathy is distinguishing one from another • Separation leads to “true” empathy, without ego block Object Me Symbiote Other
  16. 16. Character Bits Social Bits V.
  17. 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 • Anthropomorphic autonomy (thoughts, feelings, life) • Emotional investment (love, appreciation, loss) • Companionship (friends, understanding, reciprocation)
  18. 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 Other Identification (I am that avatar) Low My avatar is a digital form. High My avatar is me in digital form. Mid My avatar is a part of me. Low My avatar is its own being. Suspension of Disbelief (Accepts Digital World as a Real One) Low The environment is a space of competition. Mid I appropriate the world to fit my own view of it. Mid I am able to visit my avatar’s world. High My avatar lives in a digital world with its own norms. Sense of Control (Physical) High My avatar is a tool for mastery of in-game challenges. Mid My avatar is my social surrogate to accomplish my social play goals. Mid My avatar and I use each other to accomplish negotiated goals. Low I am a tool for my avatar; it tells me how to control it to accomplish its goals. Sense of Care & Responsibility (Affective) Low My avatar has no needs. Mid My avatar is me – it needs what I need. Mid My avatar and I know each other’s needs. High I help my avatar get the things it needs.
  19. 19. Para-social Social
  20. 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. 21. CFA ~ THE TALENT SHOW CMIN/df = 1.27, p = .076 CFI = .989 RMSEA = .036 *Correlations shown are significant at the p < .001 level or greater. .42 .44 .32 -.45
  22. 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. 23. PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPS Avatar as Object n = 267 Avatar as Me n = 88 Avatar as Symbiote n = 95 Avatar as Other n = 44 Emotional Investment 4.02a (1.57) 5.72b (1.12) 6.20c (.783) 5.45b (1.26) Anthromorphism- Autonomy 1.36a (.745) 1.89b (1.32) 3.30c (1.67) 3.37c (1.64) Suspension of Disbelief 3.33a 1.75) 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. 24. VALIDATIONS … • Human-like relatedness F (4,385) = 64.49, p < .001, R2 = 401 (Adj. R2 = .395) Durbin-Watson = 1.94
  25. 25. VALIDATIONS … • Play motivations • Immersion: F(4,488) = 34.76, p < .001, R2 = .222 (Adj. R2 = .215), DW = 1.93
  26. 26. BONUS: PLAYER-AVATAR RELATION SCALE • Emotional Investment – This avatar is very special to me. – I appreciate this avatar. – I would be heartbroken if I lost this avatar. – I love this avatar. – (R) I don’t really care about this avatar. – (R) I have no emotional connection to this avatar. • Player Control – This avatar does what I want. – I control this avatar. • Avatar Autonomy – When I log out of the game, this avatar has its own life. – This avatar has its own feelings. – This avatar has its own thoughts and ideas. • Suspension of Disbelief – I concentrate on inconsistencies in this avatar's story and the game story. – It is important to check for inconsistencies in this avatar's game. – I pay attention to errors or contradictions in this avatar's world.
  27. 27. FOR MORE INFORMATION Nick Bowman, Ph.D. [CV] Twitter (@bowmanspartan) Skype (nicholasdbowman) nicholas.bowman@mail.wvu.edu Interaction Lab (#ixlab) http://comm.wvu.edu /fs/research/lab

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