Jacki Morie, Gustav Verhulsdonck: “Body/Persona/Action! Emerging non-anthropomorphic communication and interaction in virtual worlds”

December 5, 2008 | Yokohama, Japan

Speaker: Jacki Morie, Gustav Verhulsdonck
Host: ACE 2008 ACM International Conference on Advances in Computer Entertainment Technology

Avatars are traditionally understood as representing their human counterpart in virtual contexts by closely mimicking their real world physical characteristics. A new approach to designing avatars around non-anthropomorphic (non-human) characteristics currently questions the use of anthropomorphic principles and expands the use of avatars for virtual world interaction and communication. This paper provides a brief history of non-anthropomorphic avatars, with a focus on exploring the current use of such avatars in virtual worlds. In order to explain the shift in degree of anthropomorphism, we discuss Goffman’s theory of symbolic interactionism, which holds that the self is constructed as a persona through social performance and relates identity to social behavior rather than appearance. Since non-anthropomorphic avatars are persistent characters engaged in a prolonged performance in virtual worlds, their use also may motivate emerging social mores, politics and ideologies. This paper argues that such avatar species create new social interactions and modes of communication that may signal interesting directions for future research.