avatar (computing)
   HOME

TheInfoList



OR:

In
computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computer, computing machinery. It includes the study and experimentation of algorithmic processes, and development of both computer hardware , hardware and software. ...
, an avatar is a graphical representation of a user or the user's character or
persona A persona (plural personae or personas), depending on the context, is the public image of one's personality, the social role that one adopts, or simply a fictional character. The word derives from Latin, where it originally referred to a thea ...
. Avatars can be two-dimensional
icon An icon () is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, in the cultures of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Catholic Church, Catholic churches. They are not simply artworks; "an icon is a sacred image used in religious devo ...
s in
Internet forum An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. They differ from chat rooms in that messages are often longer than one line of text, and are at least tempor ...
s and other online communities, where they are also known as profile pictures, userpics, or formerly picons (personal icons). Alternatively, an avatar can take the form of a three-dimensional model, as used in online worlds and video games. The term ' () originates from
Sanskrit Sanskrit (; attributively , ; nominalization, nominally , , ) is a classical language belonging to the Indo-Aryan languages, Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. It arose in South Asia after its predecessor languages had Trans-cul ...
, and was adopted by early computer games and science fiction novelists.
Richard Garriott Richard Allen Garriott de Cayeux ('' né'' Garriott; born July 4, 1961) is an American video game developer A video game developer is a broad term for a software developer specializing in video game development – the process and related disc ...
extended the term to an on-screen user representation in 1985, and the term gained wider adoption in
Internet forums An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. They differ from chat rooms in that messages are often longer than one line of text, and are at least temporar ...
and MUDs. Nowadays, avatars are used in a variety of online settings including
social media Social media are interactive media technologies that facilitate the Content creation, creation and information sharing, sharing of information, ideas, interests, and other forms of expression through virtual communities and Network virtualization, ...
,
virtual assistant An intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) or intelligent personal assistant (IPA) is a software agent that can perform tasks or services for an individual based on commands or questions. The term "chatbot" is sometimes used to refer to virtual ...
s,
instant messaging Instant messaging (IM) technology is a type of online chat allowing real-time text transmission over the Internet or another computer network. Messages are typically transmitted between two or more parties, when each user inputs text and trigge ...
platforms, and digital worlds such as ''
World of Warcraft ''World of Warcraft'' (''WoW'') is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) released in 2004 by Blizzard Entertainment. Set in the ''Warcraft'' fantasy universe, ''World of Warcraft'' takes place within the world of Azeroth ...
'' and ''
Second Life ''Second Life'' is an online multimedia platform that allows people to create an avatar (computing), avatar for themselves and then interact with other users and user created content within a multi player online virtual world. Developed and ...
''. They can take the form of an image of one's real-life self, as often seen on platforms like
Facebook Facebook is an online social media and social networking service owned by American company Meta Platforms. Founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg with fellow Harvard College students and roommates Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dusti ...
, or a virtual character that diverges from the real world. Often, these are customised to show support for different causes, or to create a unique online representation. Academic research has focused on how avatars can influence the outcomes of communication and digital identity. Users can employ avatars with fictional characteristics to gain social acceptance or ease social interaction. However, studies have found that the majority of users choose avatars that resemble their real-world selves.


Origins

The word ''
avatar Avatar (, ; ), is a concept within Hinduism Hinduism () is an Indian religions, Indian religion or ''dharma'', a religious and universal order or way of life by which followers abide. As a religion, it is the Major religious groups, w ...
'' is ultimately derived from the
Sanskrit Sanskrit (; attributively , ; nominalization, nominally , , ) is a classical language belonging to the Indo-Aryan languages, Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. It arose in South Asia after its predecessor languages had Trans-cul ...
word (' ); in
Hinduism Hinduism () is an Indian religions, Indian religion or ''dharma'', a religious and universal order or way of life by which followers abide. As a religion, it is the Major religious groups, world's third-largest, with over 1.2–1.35 billion ...
, it stands for the "descent" of a deity into a terrestrial form."avatar"
''
Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary ''Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary'' is a large American dictionary, first published in 1966 as ''The Random House Dictionary of the English Language: The Unabridged Edition''. Edited by Editor-in-chief Jess Stein, it contained 315,0 ...
''.
It was first used in a
computer game Video games, also known as computer games, are electronic games that involves interaction with a user interface or input device such as a joystick, game controller, controller, computer keyboard, keyboard, or motion sensing device to gener ...
by the 1979
PLATO Plato ( ; grc-gre, wikt:Πλάτων, Πλάτων ; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was a Greeks, Greek philosopher born in Athens during the Classical Greece, Classical period in Ancient Greece. He founded the Platonist school of thou ...
role-playing game A role-playing game (sometimes spelled roleplaying game, RPG) is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal ...
''
Avatar Avatar (, ; ), is a concept within Hinduism Hinduism () is an Indian religions, Indian religion or ''dharma'', a religious and universal order or way of life by which followers abide. As a religion, it is the Major religious groups, w ...
''. In Norman Spinrad's novel '' Songs from the Stars'' (1980), the term ''avatar'' is used in a description of a computer generated virtual experience. In the story, humans receive messages from an alien galactic network that wishes to share knowledge and experience with other advanced civilizations through "songs". The humans build a "galactic receiver" that allows its users to engage in "artificial realities". One experience is described as such: The use of the term ''avatar'' for the on-screen representation of the user was coined in 1985 by Richard Garriott for the computer game '' Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar''. In this game, Garriott desired the player's character to be their earth self manifested into the virtual world. Due to the ethical content of his story, Garriott wanted the real player to be responsible for their character; he thought only someone playing "themselves" could be properly judged based on their in-game actions. Because of its ethically nuanced narrative approach, he took the Hindu word associated with a deity's manifestation on earth in physical form, and applied it to a player in the game world. Other early uses of the term include
Lucasfilm Lucasfilm Ltd. LLC is an American film and television production company and a subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios (division), Walt Disney Studios, which is a business segment of The Walt Disney Company. The studio is best known for creating and pr ...
and Chip Morningstar's 1986 online role-playing game ''
Habitat In ecology, the term habitat summarises the array of resources, physical and biotic factors that are present in an area, such as to support the survival and reproduction of a particular species. A species habitat can be seen as the physical ...
'',Morabito, Margaret. "Enter the Online World of LucasFilm." Run Aug. 1986: 24–28 and the 1989 pen and paper role-playing game ''
Shadowrun ''Shadowrun'' is a science fantasy Science fantasy is a hybrid genre within speculative fiction that simultaneously draws upon or combines trope (literature), tropes and elements from both science fiction and fantasy. In a conventional scie ...
''. The use of ''avatar'' to mean online virtual bodies was popularised by
Neal Stephenson Neal Town Stephenson (born October 31, 1959) is an American writer known for his works of speculative fiction. His novels have been categorized as science fiction, historical fiction, cyberpunk, postcyberpunk, and baroque. Stephenson's work exp ...
in his 1992
cyberpunk Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction in a dystopian Futurism, futuristic setting that tends to focus on a "combination of low-life, lowlife and high tech", featuring futuristic technological and scientific achievements, such as artificial in ...
novel ''
Snow Crash ''Snow Crash'' is a science fiction novel by the American writer Neal Stephenson, published in 1992. Like many of Stephenson's novels, it covers history, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, religion, computer science, politics, cryptography, ...
''. In ''Snow Crash,'' the term ''avatar'' was used to describe the virtual simulation of the human form in the '' Metaverse'', a fictional virtual-reality application on the
Internet The Internet (or internet) is the global system of interconnected computer networks that uses the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to communicate between networks and devices. It is a '' network of networks'' that consists of private, p ...
.
Social status Social status is the level of social value a person is considered to possess. More specifically, it refers to the relative level of respect, honour, assumed competence, and deference accorded to people, social group, groups, and organizations in a ...
within the Metaverse was often based on the quality of a user's avatar, as a highly detailed avatar showed that the user was a skilled
hacker A hacker is a person skilled in information technology who uses their technical knowledge to achieve a goal or overcome an obstacle, within a computerized system by non-standard means. Though the term ''hacker'' has become associated in popu ...
and
programmer A computer programmer, sometimes referred to as a software developer, a software engineer, a programmer or a coder, is a person who creates computer software, computer programs — often for larger computer software. A programmer is someone ...
while the less talented would buy off-the-shelf models in the same manner a beginner would today. Stephenson wrote in the "Acknowledgments" to ''Snow Crash'':


Types and usage

An avatar can refer to a two-dimensional picture akin to an
icon An icon () is a religious work of art, most commonly a painting, in the cultures of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Catholic Church, Catholic churches. They are not simply artworks; "an icon is a sacred image used in religious devo ...
in
Internet forum An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. They differ from chat rooms in that messages are often longer than one line of text, and are at least tempor ...
s and other online communities. This is also known as a profile picture or userpic, or in early Internet parlance, a 'picon' (personal icon). With the advent of social media platforms like
Facebook Facebook is an online social media and social networking service owned by American company Meta Platforms. Founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg with fellow Harvard College students and roommates Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dusti ...
, where users are not typically anonymous, these pictures often are a photo of the user in real life. Alternatively, avatars can also be
three-dimensional Three-dimensional space (also: 3D space, 3-space or, rarely, tri-dimensional space) is a geometric setting in which three values (called ''parameters'') are required to determine the position (geometry), position of an element (i.e., Point (m ...
digital representations, as in games such as
World of Warcraft ''World of Warcraft'' (''WoW'') is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) released in 2004 by Blizzard Entertainment. Set in the ''Warcraft'' fantasy universe, ''World of Warcraft'' takes place within the world of Azeroth ...
or
virtual world A virtual world (also called a virtual space) is a Computer simulation, computer-simulated environment which may be populated by many users who can create a personal Avatar (computing), avatar, and simultaneously and independently explore the virt ...
s like
Second Life ''Second Life'' is an online multimedia platform that allows people to create an avatar (computing), avatar for themselves and then interact with other users and user created content within a multi player online virtual world. Developed and ...
. In MUDs and other early systems, they were a construct composed of text. The term has been also sometimes extended to refer to the personality connected with the screen name, or handle, of an Internet user.


Internet forums

Despite the widespread use of avatars, it is unknown which
Internet forums An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. They differ from chat rooms in that messages are often longer than one line of text, and are at least temporar ...
were the first to use them; the earliest forums did not include avatars as a default feature, and they were included in unofficial "hacks" before eventually being made standard. Avatars on Internet forums serve the purpose of representing users and their actions, personalizing their contributions to the forum, and may represent different parts of their
persona A persona (plural personae or personas), depending on the context, is the public image of one's personality, the social role that one adopts, or simply a fictional character. The word derives from Latin, where it originally referred to a thea ...
, beliefs, interests or social status in the forum. The traditional avatar system used on most Internet forums is a small (80x80 to 100x100
pixel In digital imaging, a pixel (abbreviated px), pel, or picture element is the smallest addressable element in a Raster graphics, raster image, or the smallest point in an all points addressable display device. In most digital display devices, pi ...
s, for example) square-shaped area close to the user's forum post, where the avatar is placed in order for other users to easily identify who has written the post without having to read their username. Some forums allow the user to
upload Uploading refers to ''transmitting'' Data (computing), data from one Computer, computer system to another through means of a Computer network, network. Common methods of uploading include: uploading via Web browser, web browsers, FTP client–s ...
an avatar image that may have been designed by the user or acquired from elsewhere. Other forums allow the user to select an avatar from a preset list or use an auto-discovery algorithm to extract one from the user's homepage. Some avatars are
animated Animation is a method by which image, still figures are manipulated to appear as Motion picture, moving images. In traditional animation, images are drawn or painted by hand on transparent cel, celluloid sheets to be photographed and exhibited ...
, consisting of a
sequence In mathematics, a sequence is an enumerated collection of mathematical object, objects in which repetitions are allowed and order theory, order matters. Like a Set (mathematics), set, it contains Element (mathematics), members (also called ''eleme ...
of multiple images played repeatedly. In such animated avatars, the number of images as well as the time in which they are replayed vary considerably.Designing Isometric Avatars
/ref> Other avatar systems exist, such as on Gaia Online, WeeWorld, Frenzoo or Meez, where a pixelized representation of a person or creature is used, which can then be customized to the user's wishes. There are also avatar systems (e.g. Trutoon) where a representation is created using a person's face with customized characters and backgrounds. Another avatar-based system is one wherein an image is automatically generated based on the identity of the poster. Identicons are formed as visually distinct geometric images derived from a digest hash of the poster's
IP address An Internet Protocol address (IP address) is a numerical label such as that is connected to a computer network that uses the Internet Protocol for communication.. Updated by . An IP address serves two main functions: network interface Identi ...
or user ID. These serve as a means to associate a particular user with a particular geometric representation. When used with an IP address, a particular anonymous user can be visually identified without the need for registration or authentication. If an account is compromised, a dissimilar identicon will be formed as the attacker is posting from an unfamiliar IP address.


Internet chat and messaging

GIF avatars were introduced as early as 1990 in the ImagiNation Network (also known as Sierra On-Line) game and chat hybrid. In 1994, Virtual Places offered VOIP capabilities which were later abandoned for lack of bandwidth. In 1996 Microsoft Comic Chat, an IRC client that used cartoon avatars for chatting, was released.
America Online AOL (stylized as Aol., formerly a company known as AOL Inc. and originally known as America Online) is an American web portal and online service provider based in New York City. It is a brand marketed by the current incarnation of Yahoo (2017 ...
introduced instant messaging for its membership in 1996 and included a limited number of "buddy icons," picking up on the avatar idea from PC games. When AOL later introduced the free version of its messenger, AIM, for use by anyone on the Internet, the number of icons offered grew to be more than 1,000 and the use of them grew exponentially, becoming a hallmark feature of instant messaging. In 2002, AOL introduced "Super Buddies," 3D animated icons that talked to users as they typed messages and read messages. The term Avatar began to replace the moniker of "buddy icon" as 3D customizable icons became known to its users from the mainstream popularity of PC Games. Yahoo's instant messenger was the first to adopt the term "avatar" for its icons. Instant messaging avatars were usually very small; AIM icons have been as small as 16×16 pixels but are used more commonly at the 48×48 pixel size, although many icons can be found online that typically measure anywhere from 50×50 pixels to 100×100 pixels in size. More recently, services such as Discord have added avatars. With a paid subscription, users can select individual identities for different communities.


Online assistants

Avatars can be used as virtual embodiments of embodied agents, which are driven more or less by
artificial intelligence Artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence—perceiving, synthesizing, and inferring information—demonstrated by machines, as opposed to intelligence displayed by animal cognition, animals and human intelligence, humans. Example tasks in ...
rather than real people.
Automated online assistant An intelligent virtual assistant (IVA) or intelligent personal assistant (IPA) is a software agent that can perform tasks or services for an individual based on commands or questions. The term "chatbot" is sometimes used to refer to virtual ...
s are examples of avatars used in this way. Such avatars are used by organizations as a part of automated customer services in order to interact with consumers and users of services. This can avail for enterprises to reduce their operating and training cost. A major underlying technology to such systems is
natural language processing Natural language processing (NLP) is an interdisciplinary subfield of linguistics, computer science, and artificial intelligence concerned with the interactions between computers and human language, in particular how to program computers to proc ...
.Implementing an online help desk system based on conversational agent
Authors: Alisa Kongthon, Chatchawal Sangkeettrakarn, Sarawoot Kongyoung and Choochart Haruechaiyasak. Published by ACM 2009 Article, Bibliometrics Data Bibliometrics. Published in: Proceeding, MEDES '09 Proceedings of the International Conference on Management of Emergent Digital EcoSystems, ACM New York, NY, USA. ,
Some of these avatars are commonly known as "bots". Famous examples include
IKEA IKEA (; ) is a Netherlands, Dutch Multinational corporation, multinational conglomerate (company), conglomerate based in the Netherlands that designs and sells , kitchen appliances, decoration, home accessories, and various other goods and hom ...
's Anna, an avatar designed to guide users around the IKEA website. Such avatars can also be powered by a digital conversation which provides a little more structure than those using NLP, offering the user options and clearly defined paths to an outcome. This kind of avatar is known as a Structured Language Processing or SLP Avatar.


Video games

Avatars in
video game Video games, also known as computer games, are electronic games that involves interaction with a user interface or input device such as a joystick, game controller, controller, computer keyboard, keyboard, or motion sensing device to gener ...
s are the player's representation in the game world. The first video games to include a representation of the player were ''
Basketball Basketball is a team sport in which two teams, most commonly of five players each, opposing one another on a rectangular court, compete with the primary objective of shooting a basketball (approximately in diameter) through the defender' ...
'' (1974) which represented players as humans, and ''
Maze War ''Maze'', also known as ''Maze War'', is a 3D multiplayer first-person shooter list of maze video games, maze game originally developed in 1973 and expanded in 1974. The first version was developed by high school students Steve Colley, Greg Thomp ...
'' (1974) which represented players as eyeballs. In some games, the player's representation is fixed, however many games offer a basic character model, or template, and then allow customization of the physical features as the player sees fit. For example, Carl Johnson, the avatar from '' Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas'', can be dressed in a wide range of clothing, can be given
tattoo A tattoo is a form of body modification made by inserting tattoo ink, dyes, and/or pigments, either indelible or temporary, into the dermis layer of the skin to form a design. Tattoo artists create these designs using several Process of tatt ...
s and haircuts, and can even body build or become
obese Obesity is a medical condition, sometimes considered a disease, in which excess Adipose tissue, body fat has accumulated to such an extent that it may negatively affect health. People are classified as obese when their body mass index (BMI) ...
depending upon player actions. One video game in which the avatar and player are two separate entities is the game '' Perspective'', where the player controls both themself in a 3-dimensional world and the avatar in a 2-dimensional world. Aside from an avatar's physical appearance, its dialogue, particularly in
cutscene A cutscene or event scene (sometimes in-game cinematic or in-game movie) is a sequence in a video game that is not interactive, interrupting the gameplay. Such scenes are used to show conversations between characters, set the mood, reward the ...
s, may also reveal something of its character. A good example is the crude,
action hero An action hero (sometimes action heroine for women) is the protagonist of an action film or other form of entertainment which portrays action, adventure, and often violence. Other media in which such heroes appear include swashbuckler films, Wes ...
stereotype In social psychology, a stereotype is a generalized belief about a particular category of people. It is an expectation that people might have about every person of a particular group. The type of expectation can vary; it can be, for example ...
,
Duke Nukem ''Duke Nukem'' is a video game series named for its main character, Duke Nukem (character), Duke Nukem. Created by the company Apogee Software Ltd. (now 3D Realms) as a series of video games for personal computers, the series expanded to games ...
. Other avatars, such as Gordon Freeman from ''
Half-Life Half-life (symbol ) is the time required for a quantity (of substance) to reduce to half of its initial value. The term is commonly used in nuclear physics to describe how quickly unstable atoms undergo radioactive decay or how long stable ato ...
'', who never speaks at all, reveal very little of themselves (the original game never showed the player what he looked like without the use of a console command for third-person view). Many
Massively multiplayer online game A massively multiplayer online game (MMOG or more commonly MMO) is an online video game with a large number of players, often hundreds or thousands, on the same server. MMOs usually feature a huge, persistent open world, although there are ...
s (MMOGs) also include customizable avatars. Customization levels differ between games; for instance, in ''
EVE Online ''Eve Online'' (stylised ''EVE Online'') is a space trading and combat game, space-based, persistent world massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) developed and published by CCP Games. Players of ''Eve Online'' can participate ...
'', players construct a wholly customized portrait, using a software that allows for several changes to facial structure as well as preset hairstyles, skin tones, etc. However, these portraits appear only in in-game chats and static information view of other players. Usually, all players appear in gigantic spacecraft that give no view of their pilot, unlike in most other RPGs. Alternatively, '' City of Heroes'' offers one of the most detailed and comprehensive in-game avatar creation processes, allowing players to construct anything from traditional
superheroes A superhero or superheroine is a stock character that typically possesses Superpower (ability), ''superpowers'', abilities beyond those of ordinary people, and fits the role of the hero, typically using his or her powers to help the World peac ...
to aliens, medieval knights, monsters, robots, and many more. Robbie Cooper's 2007 book "Alter Ego, Avatars and their creators" pairs photographs of players of a variety of MMO's with images of their in-game avatars and profiles; recording the player's motivations and intentions in designing and using their avatars. The survey reveals wide variation in the ways in which players of MMO's use avatars.
Felicia Day Kathryn Felicia Day (born June 28, 1979) is an American actress, writer, and web series creator. She is the creator and star of the web series ''The Guild (web series), The Guild'' (2007–2013), a show loosely based on her life as a gamer. She ...
, creator and star of '' The Guild''
web series A web series (also known as a web show) is a series of scripted or non-scripted online videos, generally in episodic form, released on the Internet, which first emerged in the late 1990s and became more prominent in the early 2000s. A single ...
, created a song called " (Do You Wanna Date My) Avatar" which satirizes avatars and virtual dating.
Nintendo is a Japanese Multinational corporation, multinational video game company headquartered in Kyoto, Japan. It develops video games and video game consoles. Nintendo was founded in 1889 as by craftsman Fusajiro Yamauchi and originally produce ...
's
Wii The Wii ( ) is a home video game console A home video game console is a video game console that is designed to be connected to a display device, such as a television, and an external power source as to play video games. Home consoles ...
,
3DS The is a handheld game console produced by Nintendo. It was announced in March 2010 and unveiled at E3 2010 as the successor to the Nintendo DS. The system features backward compatibility with Nintendo DS video games. As an eighth-generatio ...
and
Switch In electrical engineering, a switch is an electrical component that can disconnect or connect the conducting path in an electrical circuit, interrupting the electric current or diverting it from one conductor to another. The most common type of ...
consoles allow for the creation of avatars called " Miis" that take the form of stylized, cartoonish people and can be used in some games as avatars for players, as in ''
Wii Sports ''Wii Sports'' is a 2006 sports game, sports simulation game, simulation video game developed and published by Nintendo for the Wii video game console. The 1.0 (pre-release) version of the game was released in North America along with the Wii on ...
''. In some games, the ability to use a Mii as an avatar must be unlocked, such as in '' Mario Kart 8''. In late 2008,
Microsoft Microsoft Corporation is an American multinational corporation, multinational technology company, technology corporation producing Software, computer software, consumer electronics, personal computers, and related services headquartered at th ...
released an
Xbox 360 The Xbox 360 is a home video game console developed by Microsoft. As the successor to the Xbox (console), original Xbox, it is the second console in the Xbox series. It competed with Sony Interactive Entertainment, Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nin ...
Dashboard update which featured the introduction of
Avatars Avatar (, ; ), is a concept within Hinduism that in Sanskrit literally means "descent". It signifies the material appearance or incarnation of a powerful deity, goddess or Spirit (vital essence), spirit on Earth. The relative verb to "alight, ...
as part of the console's New Xbox Experience. With the update installed users can personalize the look of their Avatars by choosing from a range of clothing and facial features. In October 2018 Microsoft launched a new version of their Xbox avatars for Xbox One and Xbox on
Windows 10 Windows 10 is a major release of Microsoft's Windows NT operating system. It is the direct successor to Windows 8.1, which was released nearly two years earlier. It was Software release cycle#Release to manufacturing (RTM), released to ma ...
, featuring increased detail and having a focus on inclusivity. PlayStation Home for
Sony , commonly stylized as SONY, is a Japanese Multinational corporation, multinational conglomerate (company), conglomerate corporation headquartered in Minato, Tokyo, Japan. As a major technology company, it operates as one of the world's la ...
's
PlayStation 3 The PlayStation 3 (PS3) is a home video game console developed by Sony Interactive Entertainment, Sony Computer Entertainment. The successor to the PlayStation 2, it is part of the PlayStation brand of consoles. It was first released on Novemb ...
console also featured the use of avatars, but with a more realistic style than Nintendo's Miis or Microsoft's Avatars.


Non-gaming online worlds

Avatars in non-gaming
online world A virtual world (also called a virtual space) is a Computer simulation, computer-simulated environment which may be populated by many users who can create a personal Avatar (computing), avatar, and simultaneously and independently explore the virt ...
s are used as two- or three-
dimension In physics and mathematics, the dimension of a Space (mathematics), mathematical space (or object) is informally defined as the minimum number of coordinates needed to specify any Point (geometry), point within it. Thus, a Line (geometry), lin ...
al human or fantastic
representations ''Representations'' is an interdisciplinary journal in the humanities published quarterly by the University of California Press. The journal was established in 1983 and is the founding publication of the New Historicism movement of the 1980s. It c ...
of a person's inworld self. Such representations are a tool which facilitates the exploration of the virtual universe, or acts as a focal point in conversations with other users, and can be customized by the user. Usually, the purpose and appeal of such universes is to provide a large enhancement to common online conversation capabilities, and to allow the user to peacefully develop a portion of a non-gaming universe without being forced to strive towards a pre-defined goal. The earliest avatars of this form were text-based descriptions employed by players within MUDs. These often allowed players to express an identity disparate from their public one within an interactive environment. For instance, LambdaMOO allowed a choice of 11 different genders, which could be changed at the user's will. The visually-based game ''Habitat'' also used the term to refer to players within the game world. A later example is Linden Labs' ''
Second Life ''Second Life'' is an online multimedia platform that allows people to create an avatar (computing), avatar for themselves and then interact with other users and user created content within a multi player online virtual world. Developed and ...
'', which has the player use a custom avatar to interact in a virtual 3D world; after peaking in 2007, its user count declined due to the encroachment of more traditional platforms such as
Facebook Facebook is an online social media and social networking service owned by American company Meta Platforms. Founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg with fellow Harvard College students and roommates Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dusti ...
. More recently, the concept has been combined with
virtual reality Virtual reality (VR) is a Simulation, simulated experience that employs pose tracking and 3D near-eye displays to give the user an immersive feel of a virtual world. Applications of virtual reality include entertainment (particularly video g ...
; VRChat allows the user to interact with other avatars in custom environments, and
Mark Zuckerberg Mark Elliot Zuckerberg (; born ) is an American business magnate, internet entrepreneur, and Philanthropy, philanthropist. He is known for co-founding the social media website Facebook and its parent company Meta Platforms (formerly Faceboo ...
's
Meta Platforms Meta Platforms, Inc., (file no. 3835815) trade name, doing business as Meta and formerly named Facebook, Inc., and TheFacebook, Inc., is an American multinational technology conglomerate based in Menlo Park, California. The company owns Facebo ...
has promoted it as part of his vision of a metaverse. Many modern virtual worlds provide users with advanced tools to customize their representations, allowing them to change shapes, hair, skins and also genre. Moreover, there is a secondary industry devoted to the creations of products and items for the avatars. Some companies have also launched social networks and other websites for avatars such as Koinup, Myrl, and Avatars United. Lisa Nakamura has suggested that customizable avatars in non-gaming worlds tend to be biased towards lighter skin colors and against darker skin colors, especially in those of the male gender. In
Second Life ''Second Life'' is an online multimedia platform that allows people to create an avatar (computing), avatar for themselves and then interact with other users and user created content within a multi player online virtual world. Developed and ...
avatars are created by residents and take any form, and range from lifelike
human Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most abundant and widespread species of primate, characterized by bipedality, bipedalism and exceptional cognitive skills due to a large and complex Human brain, brain. This has enabled the development of ad ...
s to robots,
animal Animals are multicellular, eukaryotic organisms in the biological kingdom Animalia. With few exceptions, animals consume organic material, breathe oxygen, are able to move, can reproduce sexually, and go through an ontogenetic stage i ...
s,
plant Plants are predominantly Photosynthesis, photosynthetic eukaryotes of the Kingdom (biology), kingdom Plantae. Historically, the plant kingdom encompassed all living things that were not animals, and included algae and fungi; however, all curr ...
s and
legendary creature A legendary creature (also mythical or mythological creature) is a type of fictional entity, typically a Hybrid beasts in folklore, hybrid, that has not been proven and that is described in folklore (including myths and legends), but may be feat ...
s. Avatar customization is one of the most important entertainment aspects in non gaming virtual worlds, such as ''
Second Life ''Second Life'' is an online multimedia platform that allows people to create an avatar (computing), avatar for themselves and then interact with other users and user created content within a multi player online virtual world. Developed and ...
'', IMVU, and Active Worlds. Some evidence suggests that avatars that are more anthropomorphic are perceived to be less credible and likeable than images that are less anthropomorphic. Social scientists at
Stanford Stanford University, officially Leland Stanford Junior University, is a Private university, private research university in Stanford, California. The campus occupies , among the largest in the United States, and enrolls over 17,000 students. S ...
's Virtual Human Interaction Lab examine the implications, possibilities, and transformed social interaction that occur when people interact via avatars.


Social media

Another use of the avatar has emerged with the widespread use of
social media Social media are interactive media technologies that facilitate the Content creation, creation and information sharing, sharing of information, ideas, interests, and other forms of expression through virtual communities and Network virtualization, ...
platforms. There is a practice in social media sites: uploading avatars in place of real profile image. Profile picture is a distinct graphics that represent the identity of profile holder. It is usually the portrait of an individual, logo of an organization, organizational building or distinctive character of book, cover page etc. Using avatars as profile pictures can increase users' perceived level of social presence which in turn fosters reciprocity and sharing behavior in online environments. According to MIT professor Sherry Turkle: "...we think we will be presenting ourselves, but our profile ends up as somebody else – often the fantasy of who we want to be".


Motion capture

Another form of use for avatars is for video chats/calls. Some services, such as Skype (through some external plugins) allow users to use talking avatars during video calls, replacing the image from the user's camera with an animated, talking avatar. Through the use of facial motion capture and a
webcam A webcam is a video camera which is designed to record or stream to a computer or computer network. They are primarily used in videotelephony, livestreaming and social media, and Closed-circuit television, security. Webcams can be built-in compute ...
, an avatar can be configured to mimic the motions and expressions of the user. This can be integrated directly into games, such as '' Star Citizen'', and via standalone software such as FaceRig. Virtual YouTubers use animated avatars designed in software such as Live2D, which often resemble
anime is Traditional animation, hand-drawn and computer animation, computer-generated animation originating from Japan. Outside of Japan and in English, ''anime'' refers specifically to animation produced in Japan. However, in Japan and in Japane ...
characters. A whole ecosystem of talent agencies and investors exists to manage these online personalities, which often differ from the creator's real-life persona. YouTube's 2020 Culture and Trends report highlighted VTubers as one of the notable trends of that year, with 1.5 billion views per month by October, and in May 2021, Twitch added a VTuber tag for streams as part of a wider expansion of its tag system.


In popular culture

Cartoons and stories sometimes have a character based on their creator, either a fictionalised version (e.g. the
Matt Groening Matthew Abram Groening ( ; born February 15, 1954) is an American cartoonist, writer, producer, and animator. He is the creator of the comic strip ''Life in Hell'' (1977–2012) and the television series ''The Simpsons'' (1989–present), ''Fut ...
character in some episodes of ''
The Simpsons ''The Simpsons'' is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical depiction of American life, epitomized by the Simpson family, which consists of Homer Simpson, Homer, Marge ...
'') or an entirely fictional character (e.g.
Hermione Granger Hermione Jean Granger ( ) is a fictional character in J. K. Rowling's ''Harry Potter ''Harry Potter'' is a series of seven fantasy literature, fantasy novels written by British author J. K. Rowling. The novels chronicle the lives o ...
in the Harry Potter, ''Harry Potter'' series has been said by J. K. Rowling to be based upon herself). Such characters are sometimes known as "author surrogates" or "author avatars".


Customisation

Early examples of customizable avatars include multi-user systems, including MUDs. Gaia Online has a customizable avatar where users can dress it up as desired. Users may earn credits for completing sponsored surveys or certain tasks to purchase items and upgrades to customize their avatar. Linden Lab's ''Second Life'' creates a
virtual world A virtual world (also called a virtual space) is a Computer simulation, computer-simulated environment which may be populated by many users who can create a personal Avatar (computing), avatar, and simultaneously and independently explore the virt ...
in which avatars, homes, decorations, buildings and land are for sale. Less-common items may be designed to appear better than common items, and an experienced player may be identified from a group of new characters before in-game statistics are seen.


Generators

To meet the demand for millions of unique, customised avatars, generator tools and services have been created. Many of them, such as the website Picrew, are based around works by original artists. The 2021 Electronic Entertainment Expo featured an avatar creator, to align with its new all-digital nature.


Awareness avatars

"Awareness avatars" have been used to creating rapid awareness in social media through avatar modification or a single icon's use. The awareness avatar may have first been used in the New Zealand Internet Blackout, to protest copyright law changes in New Zealand. Globally, protesters replaced their icons with black squares to show solidarity. The protest was successful and proved the method effective at both raising awareness and effecting change. Campaigns have used this method include: * Black avatar: February 16–23, 2009 New Zealand Internet Blackout protesting copyright law changes in New Zealand. * Yellow tint: Beginning June 17, 2009, to protest the increasing size and role of the United States government. * Green tint: Beginning June 18, 2009 support for Iran election protests. * French flag tint: Beginning November 13, 2015 to show support for France after the November 2015 Paris attacks. * During the COVID-19 pandemic, users added surgical masks and respirators on the faces of characters and avatars. Websites such as
Facebook Facebook is an online social media and social networking service owned by American company Meta Platforms. Founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg with fellow Harvard College students and roommates Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dusti ...
officially supported these efforts by adding the option for several frames supporting the COVID-19 vaccine. Conversely, anti-vaccine advocates have used profile frames to state their opposition to it. * Rainbow patterns to represent membership or solidarity with the LGBT community.


Academic study

Avatars have become an area of study in the world of academics. According to psychiatrist David Brunski, the emergence of online avatars have implications for domains of scholarly research such as technoself studies, which is concerned with all aspects of identity in a technological society. Across the literature, scholars have focused on three overlapping aspects that influence users' perceptions of the social potential of avatars: agency, anthropomorphism, and realism. According to researchers K. L. Novak and J. Fox, researchers must differentiate ''perceived agency'' (whether an entity is perceived to be human), ''anthropomorphism'' (having human form or behavior), ''identomorphism'' (how much the form of the avatar resembles the player), and ''realism'' (the perceived viability of something realistically existing). Perceived agency influences people's responses in the interaction regardless of who or what is actually controlling the representation. An earlier meta-analysis of studies comparing agents and avatars found that both agency and perceived agency mattered: representations controlled by humans were more persuasive than those controlled by bots, and representations believed to be controlled by humans were more persuasive than those believed to be controlled by bots. Additionally, researchers have investigated how anthropomorphic representations influence communicative outcomes and found that more human-like representations are judged more favorably; people consider them more attractive, credible, and competent. Higher levels of anthropomorphism also lead to higher involvement, social presence, and communication satisfaction. Moreover, people communicate more naturally with more anthropomorphic avatars. Anthropomorphism is also tied to social influence, as more human-like representations can be more persuasive. For the ''Harvard Business Review'', Paul Hemp analysed the effects of avatars on real-world business. He focuses on the game "Second Life", demonstrating that the creators of virtual avatars are willing to spend real money to purchase goods marketed solely to their virtual selves.


Representation of identity

The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication published a study of the reactions to certain types of avatars by a sample group of human users. The results showed that users commonly chose avatars which were humanoid and matched their gender. The conclusion was that in order to make users feel more "at home" in their avatars, designers should maximise the customizability of visual criteria common to humans, such as skin and hair color, gender, hair styles and height. Researchers at York University studied whether avatars reflected a user's real-life personality. Student test groups were able to infer upon extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, but could not infer upon openness and conscientiousness. Researchers have also studied avatars that differ from real-life identity. Sherry Turkle described a middle-aged man who played an aggressive, confrontational female character in his online communities, displaying personality traits he was embarrassed to display in the offline world. Research by Nick Yee of the Daedelus Project demonstrates that an avatar may differ considerably from a player's offline identity, based on gender. However, most players will make an avatar that is (proportionately) equal to their height (or slightly taller). Turkle has observed that some players seek an emotional connection they cannot establish in the real world. She described a case in which a man with a serious heart condition preventing him from ordinary socializing found acceptance and friendship through his online identity. Others have pointed out similar findings in those with mental disorders making social interaction difficult, such as those with autism or similar disabilities.


See also

* Michaelmas (novel), ''Michaelmas'' (novel) – 1977 Algis Budrys novel * NECA Project * Player character * Pointman (user interface) * Proteus effect * Thumbnail


References


Academic sources


Further reading

* Cooper, Robbie 2007. ''Alter Ego: Avatars and Their Creators''. London: Chris Boot. . * * * Sloan, R. J. S., Robinson, B., Cook, M., and Bown, J. (2008). "Dynamic Emotional Expression Choreography: Perception of Naturalistic Facial Expressions". In M. Capey, B. Ip and F. Blastland, editors, ''SAND Conference Proceedings, Swansea, UK 24–28 November 2008''. Swansea Metropolitan University: Swansea. *


External links

* {{DEFAULTSORT:Avatar (Computing) Internet culture Internet forum terminology MUD terminology Video game culture Video game terminology Virtual avatars, Virtual reality Identity management