Performative Avatars: Week 1

The two online avatar systems I chose were the South Park Studios online creator and the Pop Yourself avatar creator on Funko.com.

They were both very fun, with the South Park one having the more offensive and weirder options while the funko product was cute and funny. It really is a difficult task to set up a successful avatar creator. How can we create a tool with enough agency to truly represent anyone who comes across it? It is quite an impossible task and makes me re-examine what an avatar truly is. As the PBS video “Controlling vs. “Being” your Avatar” brings up, are we creating a character or a true representation of ourselves? It makes me think of the video games like NBA 2K and others that allow you to take a photo of yourself so they can wrap those pixels around your avatar. That would be a better example of a truer representation of self. But what are the desired outcomes for your avatar? In what world will it live? The South Park avatar is very successful because all of the options are within the language of South Park characters. It was like re-living an episode of South Park choosing through all the different options available. There was enough abstraction that I did not feel it resembled me at all. Instead I chose things like the “New Jersey” skin tone which was a jab at bad New Jersey spray tans, as an Italian from New Jersey I thought it was funny. This kind of character building I find more interesting.

The Funko avatar creator also had quite a bit of abstraction as there weren’t that many options to choose from. I chose the 3D goggles as a student learning 3D environments and being able to add the cat was a nice touch. I believe the avatar creators with fewer options must allow the user to buy into the environment in order to care about the characters they are creating. South Park was definitely the more successful builder for this reason.

Discussion Questions:

Are we more empathic towards avatars that look like us? Is this a tactic used for engagement by game designers? In what context is that ethical or unethical?

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