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  Notes: ‘Virtual Worlds and Virtual Humans’  
Posted 2007-03-11 by Tony Walsh
My abbreviated notes from the interesting (and packed) SXSW panel "Virtual Worlds and Virtual Humans" follow...

Mark Stephen Meadows, HeadCase

Ben Cerveny, Playground Foundation
Justin Hall, Passively Multiplayer
Susan Wu, Charles River Ventures

Meadows- Everyone has weird backgrounds here... the common thread here is cognition... cognition as leash-length (in pre-scripted agents). There's a shorter leash on a personal avatar. The length of the leash is in proportion to cognitive strength. Do we really want virtual worlds with "pets" we don't have a very personal relationship with?

Cerveny- Because these are bounded systems, there's a relationship with the system around you. There can be a spiritual-style (ambient, animist) relationship with objects.

Wu- Why do avatars even matter? Why are we even talking about this. The underlying trend is that the dissonance between on and offline is dissipating. Avatars give a 3rd person view of an environment, affects relationships between people. What role do avatars play in immersion?

Meadows- Regardless of how you build your avatar, it represents some part of ourselves, the hero part.

Cerveny- Your avatar is "other" as "self."

Wu- We all have avatars online today... we just don't necessarily have a graphic metaphor to contain all these experiences. Even in non-world social spaces, you still have an avatar.

Cerveny- We are already aggregated sets of data... tools allow us to see pathways through data more effectively... an avatar is only visible with the right tools.

Hall- I've always loved the idea of OpenID for virtual worlds... portability between worlds...

Wu- Avatars are the most undervalued real estate on the web today. More than just a fun aesthetic. If you own that emotional expression of the user, you own their online experience.

Meadows- People are buying clothing and accessories in SL. The majority of sales are related to self-expression. That's where the money will be made. I want to be able to leave my avatar, but still have it represent me autonomously.

Cerveny- We may have a multiple of representations we can inhabit at any given time.

Wu- There are a lot of different ways to express presence, avatars are one, MyBlogLog makes me feel like I have an avatar...

Meadows- emotional user-interface... predictability is an outcome of rich data... we tell who a human being is based on their personality...

Cerveny- Social skills are a product of our use of online social networks... fragmented ID is interesting because avatars participate in multiple dimensions, microworlds... faceted by function (photography avatar, for example)...

Meadows- I have my business personality and my art personality...

Wu- I don't think we will have one avatar, but we will have one container... I support OpenID because it gives us a choice about what information we give to a certain community... What is the role of NPCs in a web service?

Hall- I lost my phone yesterday, and I talked to a bunch of Sprint NPCs.


[great phrase: "identity tourism" -- the idea of experimenting with identity using avatars different than oneself]

escapist = D&D
engagist = metagame, see book "Second Person," concept "Power Kill"
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Comment posted by TrevorFSmith
March 11, 2007 @ 9:44 pm
"Regardless of how you build your avatar, it represents some part of ourselves, the hero part."

That's a narrow view of peoples' motives when they represent themselves in online spaces. When you look at the spectrum of activity in virtual spaces today it seems like the times have changed from when the major personal narrative was heroic.
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