Today I want to explore the implications of avatars as tools to express our lesser natures.
This week in Game Design we focused on characters in games and read a selection from Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics.” In his chapter on the vocabulary of comics he discusses how we humans extend our selves through tools and using our awareness, bodies, and senses. He uses these examples below and later argues that when reading comics, comic artists use specific techniques so that the reader can see themself in the experience of the comic. Jesse expanded on this perspective by proposing that we may similarly project ourselves onto our avatars.
A couple of weeks ago I kicked off this blog trying to lay some groundwork in addressing biases that game designers and players have, particularly related to characters. I think this week’s reading naturally extends this thought into the realm of player agency, action, and choice as enacted through game characters and avatars.
There are a lot of ways that players enact disrespectful, insidious, evil, or mischievous instincts through games. Some games even promote this! For example, in the Fable games you are encouraged to consider the morality of your player and can see that your avatar changes through the good or evil of your choices. Many plyaers may choose to do evil just to see the horns that protrude from their head.
However, there seems to be a line we cross where the “magic circle” of the game is exited and we tiptoe into the realm of reality. There is a vast history in competitive games of “teabagging” or rubbing your avatar’s crotch in the face of a fallen enemy. Here players are using their avatars (their extensions of self) to digitally/physically violate and disrespect the avatar of another real life player. This behavior is ubiquitious and communally learned and taught. While it may have begun as a silly tactic to represent victory, players more dangerously also use this action as a type of psychological warfare and to discourage newcomers and women from playing the game. Game designers gave, ackowledged, and continued to give players this ability through the extensions of self they gave to the players.
In class Jesse proposed that in the future we may desire and have more deeply interactive game characters who learn about us and learn from us. My first thought was to think of Tay, Microsoft’s AI chatbot who became a racist nazi in less than 24 hours of learning from the internet. How can we responsibly prevent this as designers when our players can be so flawed and so desirous to express their worst tendency in the relative “safety” of games?