Avatar (computing)

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Encyclopedia
In computing
Computing
Computing is usually defined as the activity of using and improving computer hardware and software. It is the computer-specific part of information technology...

, an avatar is the graphical representation of the user
User (computing)
A user is an agent, either a human agent or software agent, who uses a computer or network service. A user often has a user account and is identified by a username , screen name , nickname , or handle, which is derived from the identical Citizen's Band radio term.Users are...

 or the user's alter ego
Alter ego
An alter ego is a second self, which is believe to be distinct from a person's normal or original personality. The term was coined in the early nineteenth century when dissociative identity disorder was first described by psychologists...

 or character
Player character
A player character or playable character is a character in a video game or role playing game who is controlled or controllable by a player, and is typically a protagonist of the story told in the course of the game. A player character is a persona of the player who controls it. Player characters...

. It may take either a three-dimensional
3D computer graphics
3D computer graphics are graphics that use a three-dimensional representation of geometric data that is stored in the computer for the purposes of performing calculations and rendering 2D images...

 form, as in games or virtual worlds, or a two-dimensional form as an icon
Computer icon
A computer icon is a pictogram displayed on a computer screen and used to navigate a computer system or mobile device. The icon itself is a small picture or symbol serving as a quick, intuitive representation of a software tool, function or a data file accessible on the system. It functions as an...

 in Internet forum
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 at least temporarily archived...

s and other online communities. It can also refer to a text construct found on early systems such as MUD
MUD
A MUD , pronounced , is a multiplayer real-time virtual world, with the term usually referring to text-based instances of these. MUDs combine elements of role-playing games, hack and slash, player versus player, interactive fiction, and online chat...

s. It is an object representing the user. The term "avatar" can also refer to the personality connected with the screen name, or handle, of an Internet user.

History


The use of the term avatar for the on-screen representation of the user was coined in 1985 by Chip Morningstar
Chip Morningstar
Chip Morningstar is an author, academic and developer of software systems for online entertainment and communication. A University of Michigan graduate, he participated in Project Xanadu, for which the word hypertext was first coined. Later, he overhauled the chat environment known as The Palace,...

 and Joseph Romero in designing LucasFilm
Lucasfilm
Lucasfilm Limited is an American film production company founded by George Lucas in 1971, based in San Francisco, California. Lucas is the company's current chairman and CEO, and Micheline Chau is the president and COO....

's online role-playing
Massively multiplayer online role-playing game
Massively multiplayer online role-playing game is a genre of role-playing video games in which a very large number of players interact with one another within a virtual game world....

 game Habitat
Habitat (video game)
Lucasfilm's Habitat was an early and technologically influential online role-playing game developed by Lucasfilm Games and made available as a beta test in 1986 by Quantum Link, an online service for the Commodore 64 computer and the corporate progenitor to America Online...

. The computer game Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar was released in 1985, but does not use the word in this sense, only in its original religious sense
Avatar
In Hinduism, an avatar is a deliberate descent of a deity to earth, or a descent of the Supreme Being and is mostly translated into English as "incarnation," but more accurately as "appearance" or "manifestation"....

; the player's in-game final objective is to become an "Avatar". Later games in the Ultima series use the term in the same sense as Habitat and introduce Habitat-style customization of avatars. Another early use of the term was in the pen and paper role-playing game Shadowrun
Shadowrun
Shadowrun is a role-playing game set in a near-future fictional universe in which cybernetics, magic and fantasy creatures co-exist. It combines genres of cyberpunk, urban fantasy and crime, with occasional elements of conspiracy fiction, horror, and detective fiction.The original game has spawned...

(1989).

Norman Spinrad


In Norman Spinrad
Norman Spinrad
Norman Richard Spinrad is an American science fiction author.Born in New York City, Spinrad is a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science. In 1957 he entered City College of New York and graduated in 1961 with a Bachelor of Science degree as a pre-law major. In 1966 he moved to San Francisco,...

'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 describes itself:

The galactic receiver is programmed to derive species specific full sensory input data from standard galactic meaning code equations. By controlling your sensorium input along species specific parameters galactic songs astral back-project you into approximation of total involvement in artistically recreated broadcast realities...


From the last page of the chapter titled "The Galactic Way" in a description of an experience that is being relayed via the galactic receiver to the main characters:

You stand in a throng of multifleshed being, mind avatared in all its matter, on a broad avenue winding through a city of blue trees with bright red foliage and living buildings growing from the soil in a multitude of forms.

William Gibson


Although William Gibson
William Gibson
William Gibson is an American-Canadian science fiction author.William Gibson may also refer to:-Association football:*Will Gibson , Scottish footballer...

's notion of cyberspace
Cyberspace
Cyberspace is the electronic medium of computer networks, in which online communication takes place.The term "cyberspace" was first used by the cyberpunk science fiction author William Gibson, though the concept was described somewhat earlier, for example in the Vernor Vinge short story "True...

 as a consensual virtual reality
Virtual reality
Virtual reality , also known as virtuality, is a term that applies to computer-simulated environments that can simulate physical presence in places in the real world, as well as in imaginary worlds...

 hallucination representing data as a 3D matrix is not remotely how users access or perceive the Internet
Internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...

, his cyberpunk
Cyberpunk
Cyberpunk is a postmodern and science fiction genre noted for its focus on "high tech and low life." The name is a portmanteau of cybernetics and punk, and was originally coined by Bruce Bethke as the title of his short story "Cyberpunk," published in 1983...

 novel Count Zero
Count Zero
Count Zero is a science fiction novel written by William Gibson, originally published 1986. It is the second volume of the Sprawl trilogy, which begins with Neuromancer and concludes with Mona Lisa Overdrive, and is a canonical example of the cyberpunk sub-genre.Count Zero was serialized by Isaac...

(1986) described in detail a character's representation socializing in an online world:

A square of cyberspace directly in front of him flipped sickeningly and he found himself in a pale blue graphic that seemed to represent a very spacious apartment, low shapes of furniture sketched in hair-fine lines of blue neon. A woman stood in front of him, a sort of glowing cartoon squiggle of a woman, the face a brown smudge. "I'm Slide," the figure said, hands on its hips...[She] gestured, a window suddenly snapping into existence behind her.


"Right," Bobby said. "What is this? I mean, if you could sort of explain." He still couldn't move. The "window" showed a blue-gray video view of palm trees and old buildings.


..."Hey, man, I paid a designer an arm and a leg to punch this up for me. This is my space, my construct. This is L.A., boy. People here don't do anything without jacking. This is where I entertain!"

Neal Stephenson


The use of Avatar to mean online virtual bodies was popularised by Neal Stephenson
Neal Stephenson
Neal Town Stephenson is an American writer known for his works of speculative fiction.Difficult to categorize, his novels have been variously referred to as science fiction, historical fiction, cyberpunk, and postcyberpunk...

 in his cyberpunk
Cyberpunk
Cyberpunk is a postmodern and science fiction genre noted for its focus on "high tech and low life." The name is a portmanteau of cybernetics and punk, and was originally coined by Bruce Bethke as the title of his short story "Cyberpunk," published in 1983...

 novel Snow Crash
Snow Crash
Snow Crash is Neal Stephenson's third novel, published in 1992. Like many of Stephenson's other novels it covers history, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, religion, computer science, politics, cryptography, memetics, and philosophy....

(1992). In Snow Crash, the term Avatar was used to describe the virtual simulation of the human form in the Metaverse
Metaverse
The Metaverse is our collective online shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet...

, a fictional virtual-reality application on the Internet
Internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...

. Social status
Social status
In sociology or anthropology, social status is the honor or prestige attached to one's position in society . It may also refer to a rank or position that one holds in a group, for example son or daughter, playmate, pupil, etc....

 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
Hacker (computer security)
In computer security and everyday language, a hacker is someone who breaks into computers and computer networks. Hackers may be motivated by a multitude of reasons, including profit, protest, or because of the challenge...

 and programmer
Programmer
A programmer, computer programmer or coder is someone who writes computer software. The term computer programmer can refer to a specialist in one area of computer programming or to a generalist who writes code for many kinds of software. One who practices or professes a formal approach to...

 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:

The idea of a "virtual reality" such as the Metaverse is by now widespread in the computer-graphics community and is being used in a number of different ways. The particular vision of the Metaverse as expressed in this novel originated from idle discussion between me and Jaime (Captain Bandwidth) Taffe...The words avatar (in the sense used here) and Metaverse are my inventions, which I came up with when I decided that existing words (such as virtual reality) were simply too awkward to use...after the first publication of Snow Crash, I learned that the term avatar has actually been in use for a number of years as part of a virtual reality system called Habitat...in addition to avatars, Habitat includes many of the basic features of the Metaverse as described in this book.

Internet forums


Despite the widespread use of avatars, it is unknown which Internet forums 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
Persona
A persona, in the word's everyday usage, is a social role or a character played by an actor. The word is derived from Latin, where it originally referred to a theatrical mask. The Latin word probably derived from the Etruscan word "phersu", with the same meaning, and that from the Greek πρόσωπον...

, beliefs, interests or social status in the forum.

The traditional avatar system used on most Internet forums is a small (80x80 to 100x100 pixel
Pixel
In digital imaging, a pixel, or pel, is a single point in a raster image, or the smallest addressable screen element in a display device; it is the smallest unit of picture that can be represented or controlled....

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 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
Animation is the rapid display of a sequence of images of 2-D or 3-D artwork or model positions in order to create an illusion of movement. The effect is an optical illusion of motion due to the phenomenon of persistence of vision, and can be created and demonstrated in several ways...

, consisting of a sequence
Sequence
In mathematics, a sequence is an ordered list of objects . Like a set, it contains members , and the number of terms is called the length of the sequence. Unlike a set, order matters, and exactly the same elements can appear multiple times at different positions in the sequence...

 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.

Other avatar systems exist, such as on Gaia Online
Gaia Online
Gaia Online is an English-language, anime-themed social networking and forums-based website. Gaiaonline was founded in 2003. but the name was changed to GaiaOnline.com in 2003 from go-gaia by its owner, Gaia Interactive...

, WeeWorld
WeeWorld
WeeWorld is an avatar-based computer game, as well as a virtual world for 13+ year-olds. Users sign up for free and are given a WeeMee, which is an animated avatar that can be integrated onto WeeWorld partner sites and services like AOL, Microsoft and Turtles, A Weemee legend "Wzzy" quit :WeeWorld...

, Frenzoo or Meez
Meez
Meez is a social network service based in San Francisco, CA....

, 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. Identicon
Identicon
An Identicon is a visual representation of a hash value, usually of the IP address, serving to identify a user of a computer system; compare avatars. The original Identicon is a 9-block graphic, which has been extended to other graphic forms by third parties, some of whom have used MD5 instead of...

s are formed as visually distinct geometric images derived from a digest hash of the poster's IP address. In this way, a particular anonymous user can be uniquely identified from session to session without the need for registration or authentication. In the cases where registration has occurred, the identicon serves as a means to associate a particular user with a particular geometric representation. If an account is compromised, a dissimilar identicon will be formed as the attacker is posting from an unfamiliar IP address.

Internet chat


GIF avatars were introduced as early as 1990 in the ImagiNation Network
ImagiNation Network
The ImagiNation Network , aka The Sierra Network , was an early online multiplayer gaming system. Developed by Sierra On-Line in 1989, and first available to the public in 1991, the ImagiNation Network was a unique online gaming network that gave subscribers from all over the United States of...

 (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 1995, KeepTalking, a product of UNET2 Corporation, was one of the first companies to implement an avatar system into their web chat software.

In 1995, Cybertown
CyberTown
CyberTown is a free , family friendly, online community that has declined to a virtual ghost town over the last few years. There are places available either through a 2D or 3D chat environment...

 first introduced three dimensional avatars to internet chat.

In 1996 Microsoft Comic Chat
Microsoft Comic Chat
Microsoft Comic Chat is a graphical IRC client created by Microsoft, first released with Internet Explorer 3.0 in 1996...

, an IRC client that used cartoon avatars for chatting, was released.

Instant messaging
Instant messaging
Instant Messaging is a form of real-time direct text-based chatting communication in push mode between two or more people using personal computers or other devices, along with shared clients. The user's text is conveyed over a network, such as the Internet...

 programs


America Online invented instant messaging for its membership in 1996 and introduced 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. Today, many other instant-messaging services support the use of avatars.

Instant messaging avatars are usually very small., AIM icons, have been as small as 16x16 pixels but used more commonly at the 48x48 pixels size, although many icons can be found online that typically measure anywhere from 50x50 pixels to 100x100 pixels in size. A wide variety of these imaged avatars can be found on web sites and eGroups
EGroups
eGroups.com was an email list management web site. The site allowed users to create their own mailing lists and allowed others to sign up for membership on the list. The web site provided archives of the messages as well as list management functionality. Each group also had a shared calendar, file...

.

The latest use of avatars in instant messaging is dominated by dynamic avatars. The user chooses an avatar that represents him while chatting and, through the use of text to speech technology, enables the avatar to talk the text being used at the chat window. Another form of use for this kind of avatar is for video chats/calls. Some services, such as Skype (through some external plugins) allow users to use talking avatars
Interactive online characters
An automated online assistant is a program that uses artificial intelligence to provide customer service or other assistance on a website. Such an assistant may basically consist of a dialog system, an avatar, as well an expert system to provide specific expertise to the user.Automated online...

 during video calls, replacing the image from the user's camera with an animated, talking avatar.

American Online began to use AIM buddy icons as a marketing tool, known as "Expressions," for music, movies, and computer games in 2001. Since then many advertising firms have as well

Blogs


Although blog comment pages can sometimes act like Internet forums, there is no single way to provide avatar support on blogs. One solution is to link to an image file controlled by the user. Another solution is to use a service like Gravatar
Gravatar
Gravatar is a service for providing globally unique avatars which was created by Tom Preston-Werner.- Designs :...

 and resolve the user avatar from his/her mail address.

Artificial intelligence



Avatars can be used as virtual embodiments of embodied agents, which are driven more or less by artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is the intelligence of machines and the branch of computer science that aims to create it. AI textbooks define the field as "the study and design of intelligent agents" where an intelligent agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its...

 rather than real people. Automated online assistants 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
Natural language processing is a field of computer science and linguistics concerned with the interactions between computers and human languages; it began as a branch of artificial intelligence....

. Some of these avatars are commonly known as "bots". Famous examples include Ikea
IKEA
IKEA is a privately held, international home products company that designs and sells ready-to-assemble furniture such as beds and desks, appliances and home accessories. The company is the world's largest furniture retailer...

's Anna, an avatar designed to guide users around the Ikea website.

Such avatars can also be powered by a Digital conversation
Digital conversation
A Digital Conversation is a scripted dialogue which takes place between a person and a computer via any digital medium from web browsers and PDAs to mobile phones and Interactive television.-Introduction:A Digital Conversation is scripted by a human, uploaded to a server where it can be accessed...

 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.

Both types of avatar provide a cost effective and efficient way of engaging with consumers.

Video games


Avatars in video games are essentially the player's physical representation in the game world. In most games, the player's representation is fixed, however increasingly 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
Carl "CJ" Johnson
Carl "CJ" Johnson is a fictional character in the Grand Theft Auto video game series, serving as the protagonist, anti-hero/hero and player-controlled character in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. He was voiced by Young Maylay...

, the avatar from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is a 2004 open world action video game developed by British games developer Rockstar North and published by Rockstar Games. It is the third 3D game in the Grand Theft Auto video game franchise, the fifth original console release and eighth game overall...

, can be dressed in a wide range of clothing, can be given tattoo
Tattoo
A tattoo is made by inserting indelible ink into the dermis layer of the skin to change the pigment. Tattoos on humans are a type of body modification, and tattoos on other animals are most commonly used for identification purposes...

s and haircuts, and can even body build
Bodybuilding
Bodybuilding is a form of body modification involving intensive muscle hypertrophy. An individual who engages in this activity is referred to as a bodybuilder. In competitive and professional bodybuilding, bodybuilders display their physiques to a panel of judges, who assign points based on their...

 or become obese
Obesity
Obesity is a medical condition in which excess body fat has accumulated to the extent that it may have an adverse effect on health, leading to reduced life expectancy and/or increased health problems...

 depending upon player actions.

Aside from an avatar's physical appearance, its dialogue, particularly in cut scenes, may also reveal something of its character. A good example is the crude, action hero stereotype
Stereotype
A stereotype is a popular belief about specific social groups or types of individuals. The concepts of "stereotype" and "prejudice" are often confused with many other different meanings...

, Duke Nukem
Duke Nukem (character)
Duke Nukem is a fictional character and action hero who has been the protagonist in over a dozen video games.The character first appeared in the 1991 video game Duke Nukem developed by Apogee Software...

. Other avatars, such as Gordon Freeman
Gordon Freeman
Gordon Freeman is a fictional character and the main protagonist of the Half-Life video game series. He is a theoretical physicist who finds himself thrust into a battle for survival against both alien and human forces. Throughout the series, Gordon must prevail in hostile situations despite...

 from Half-Life, who never speaks at all
Silent protagonist
In video games, a silent protagonist is a character, often controlled by the player, who does not speak for the entire duration of the game except sometimes an interjection or short phrase. A silent protagonist may be employed to lend a sense of mystery or uncertainty of identity to the gameplay...

, 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).

Massively multiplayer online game
Massively multiplayer online game
A massively multiplayer online game is a multiplayer video game which is capable of supporting hundreds or thousands of players simultaneously. By necessity, they are played on the Internet, and usually feature at least one persistent world. They are, however, not necessarily games played on...

s (MMOGs) are the source of the most varied and sophisticated avatars. Customization levels differ between games; For example in EVE Online
EVE Online
Eve Online is a video game by CCP Games. It is a player-driven, persistent-world MMORPG set in a science fiction space setting. Characters pilot customizable ships through a galaxy of over 7,500 star systems. Most star systems are connected to one or more other star systems by means of stargates...

, 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. Felicia Day
Felicia Day
Kathryn Felicia Day is an American actress, known for her work as "Vi" on the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and for parts in movies such as Bring It On Again and June, as well as the Internet musical, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog...

, creator and star of The Guild
The Guild
The Guild is an American comedy web series created and written by Felicia Day, who also stars as Cyd Sherman . It premiered on YouTube on July 27, 2007. Subsequent webisodes premiered on Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace, Zune Marketplace, and MSN Video. The webisodes were later made available on...

 web series
Web series
A web series is a series of episodes released on the Internet or also by mobile or cellular phone, and part of the newly emerging medium called web television. A single instance of a web series program is called an episode .While the popularity of web series is continuing to rise, the concept...

, created a song called "(Do You Wanna Date My) Avatar
(Do You Wanna Date My) Avatar
" Avatar" is a 2009 song created and performed by the cast of the web series The Guild, with lead vocals by singer-actress Felicia Day...

" which satirizes avatars and virtual dating.
Alternatively, City of Heroes
City of Heroes
City of Heroes is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game based on the superhero comic book genre, developed by Cryptic Studios and published by NCsoft. The game was launched in North America on April 27, 2004 and in Europe on February 4, 2005 with English, German and French language...

offers one of the most detailed and comprehensive in-game avatar creation processes, allowing players to construct anything from traditional superheroes to aliens, medieval knights, monsters, robots, and many more.

Nintendo
Nintendo
is a multinational corporation located in Kyoto, Japan. Founded on September 23, 1889 by Fusajiro Yamauchi, it produced handmade hanafuda cards. By 1963, the company had tried several small niche businesses, such as a cab company and a love hotel....

's Wii
Wii
The Wii is a home video game console released by Nintendo on November 19, 2006. As a seventh-generation console, the Wii primarily competes with Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3. Nintendo states that its console targets a broader demographic than that of the two others...

 console allows for the creation of avatars called "Mii
Mii
A is a digital avatar used in Nintendo's Wii and Nintendo 3DS gaming consoles. They allow users to capture a likeness of themselves and others. After creating one using the Wii's Mii Channel or the Nintendo 3DS's Mii Maker, they can be used as playable characters in various titles for the...

s" 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 sports game developed and published by Nintendo as a launch title for the Wii video game console , and part of the Touch! Generations. The game was first released in North America along with the Wii on November 19, 2006, and was released in Japan, Australia, and Europe the following month...

. In some games, the ability to use a Mii as an avatar must be unlocked, such as in Mario Kart Wii
Mario Kart Wii
is a racing video game developed by Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development and published by Nintendo for the Wii video game console. It is the sixth installment in the Mario Kart series and the second Mario Kart title to use the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. The game was released worldwide...

.

On November 19, 2008, Microsoft
Microsoft
Microsoft Corporation is an American public multinational corporation headquartered in Redmond, Washington, USA that develops, manufactures, licenses, and supports a wide range of products and services predominantly related to computing through its various product divisions...

 released an Xbox 360
Xbox 360
The Xbox 360 is the second video game console produced by Microsoft and the successor to the Xbox. The Xbox 360 competes with Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii as part of the seventh generation of video game consoles...

 Dashboard update which featured the introduction of Avatars 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. On August 11, 2009, the NXE Avatar program was updated with the inclusion of an Avatar Marketplace feature that allows users to purchase additional product and game branded clothing, jewelry, full body suits, and animated props. On initial release of the update, game branded content included items from Gears of War 2
Gears of War 2
Gears of War 2 is a third-person shooter video game developed by Epic Games with lead design by Cliff Bleszinski, and published by Microsoft Game Studios for the Xbox 360. It is the second installment of the Gears of War series. The game was officially released in North America, Europe and...

, BioShock 2
BioShock 2
BioShock 2 is a first-person shooter video game developed by 2K Marin for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The sequel to the 2007 video game BioShock, it was released worldwide on February 9, 2010....

, Star Wars
Star Wars
Star Wars is an American epic space opera film series created by George Lucas. The first film in the series was originally released on May 25, 1977, under the title Star Wars, by 20th Century Fox, and became a worldwide pop culture phenomenon, followed by two sequels, released at three-year...

, Fable II, Halo 3
Halo 3
Halo 3 is a first-person shooter video game developed by Bungie for the Xbox 360 console. The third installment in the Halo franchise, the game concludes the story arc begun in Halo: Combat Evolved and continued in Halo 2...

, and The Secret of Monkey Island
The Secret of Monkey Island
The Secret of Monkey Island is a graphic adventure game developed by Lucasfilm Games and published by the same company after its name was changed to LucasArts. The game spawned a number of sequels, collectively known as the Monkey Island series...

special edition. The Xbox LIVE Avatar Marketplace is updated weekly with new items.

PlayStation Home
PlayStation Home
PlayStation Home is a virtual 3D social gaming network developed by Sony Computer Entertainment's London Studio for the PlayStation 3 on the PlayStation Network . It is available directly from the PlayStation 3 XrossMediaBar under PlayStation Network. Membership is free, and only requires a PSN...

 for Sony
Sony
, commonly referred to as Sony, is a Japanese multinational conglomerate corporation headquartered in Minato, Tokyo, Japan and the world's fifth largest media conglomerate measured by revenues....

's PlayStation 3
PlayStation 3
The is the third home video game console produced by Sony Computer Entertainment and the successor to the PlayStation 2 as part of the PlayStation series. The PlayStation 3 competes with Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Nintendo's Wii as part of the seventh generation of video game consoles...

 console also features 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 worlds are used as two- or three-dimension
Dimension
In physics and mathematics, the dimension of a space or object is informally defined as the minimum number of coordinates needed to specify any point within it. Thus a line has a dimension of one because only one coordinate is needed to specify a point on it...

al human or fantastic
Fantastic
The Fantastic is a literary term that describes a quality of other literary genres, and, in some cases, is used as a genre in and of itself, although in this case it is often conflated with the Supernatural. The term was originated in the structuralist theory of critic Tzvetan Todorov in his work...

 representations
Representations
Representations is an interdisciplinary journal in the humanities published quarterly by the University of California Press. The journals was established in 1983 and is the founding publication of the New Historicism movement of the 1980s. It covers topics including literary, historical, and...

 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.

In non-gaming universes, the criteria avatars have to fulfill in order to become useful can depend to a great extent on the age of potential users. Research suggests that younger users of virtual communities
Virtual community
A virtual community is a social network of individuals who interact through specific media, potentially crossing geographical and political boundaries in order to pursue mutual interests or goals...

 put great emphasis on fun and entertainment aspects of avatars and their practical functionalities (such as whispering). They are also interested in the simple ease of use of avatars, and their ability to retain the user’s anonymity
Anonymity
Anonymity is derived from the Greek word ἀνωνυμία, anonymia, meaning "without a name" or "namelessness". In colloquial use, anonymity typically refers to the state of an individual's personal identity, or personally identifiable information, being publicly unknown.There are many reasons why a...

. Meanwhile, older users pay great importance to an avatar’s ability to reflect their own appearance, identity
Online identity
An online identity, internet identity, or internet persona is a social identity that an Internet user establishes in online communities and websites...

, and personality . Most older users also want to be able to use an avatar’s expressive functionalities (such as showing emotions), and are prepared to learn new ways of navigation to do it. Social scientists at Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab examine the implications, possibilities, and transformed social interaction
Transformed social interaction
-External links:* - A research lab based at Stanford University that has an emphasis on experimental research in Transformed Social Interaction.* - A research lab based at UCSB that also studies Transformed Social Interaction....

 that occur when people interact via avatars.

Avatar-based non-gaming universes are usually populated by age groups whose requirements concerning avatars are fulfilled. For example, most users of Habbo Hotel
Habbo Hotel
Habbo is a social networking site aimed at teenagers. The website is owned and operated by Sulake Corporation. The service began in 2000 and has expanded to include 11 online communities , with users in over 150 countries. As of August 2011, over 230 million avatars have been registered...

, Ty Girlz
Ty Girlz
Ty Girlz are girl dolls manufactured by Ty Inc. Similar to the Ty Beanie Babies the Ty Girlz are on a limited release pattern with dolls being introduced and older ones retired at various times. Ty Girlz are plush toys that are connected to an online virtual world at TyGirlz.com...

 and Webkinz
Webkinz
Webkinz are toy stuffed animals that were originally released by the Canadian Ganz company on April 29, 2005. The toys are similar to many other small plush toys, however, each Webkinz toy has an attached tag with a unique "Secret Code" printed on it that allows access to the "Webkinz World" website...

 are aged 10 to 15 years, while users of Gaia Online
Gaia Online
Gaia Online is an English-language, anime-themed social networking and forums-based website. Gaiaonline was founded in 2003. but the name was changed to GaiaOnline.com in 2003 from go-gaia by its owner, Gaia Interactive...

 and WeeWorld
WeeWorld
WeeWorld is an avatar-based computer game, as well as a virtual world for 13+ year-olds. Users sign up for free and are given a WeeMee, which is an animated avatar that can be integrated onto WeeWorld partner sites and services like AOL, Microsoft and Turtles, A Weemee legend "Wzzy" quit :WeeWorld...

 are 13 to 18. The reason may well be the properties and functionalities of the avatars of these virtual communities, as well as what the games are able to give to their players. In contrast, There
There (internet service)
There is a 3D online virtual world created by Will Harvey and Jeffrey Ventrella. There Inc. was founded in the spring of 1998. Closed beta began in July 2001, with various stages of beta following, and ending with an October 2003 launch date...

 and Kaneva Game Platform target users aged 22 to 49 and their avatars allow for a wide range of social interactions, including the expression of emotions: laughing, waving, blowing kisses, and rude gestures. The Palace
The Palace (computer program)
The Palace is a software program used to access graphical chat room servers, called palaces, in which users may interact with one another using graphical avatars overlaid on a graphical backdrop...

, most of whose users seem to be older, allows users to use their own images as avatars. This turns the avatar into a direct reflection of users' real-life appearance, as desired by older users.

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
Second Life is an online virtual world developed by Linden Lab. It was launched on June 23, 2003. A number of free client programs, or Viewers, enable Second Life users, called Residents, to interact with each other through avatars...

 avatars are created by residents and take any form, and range from lifelike humans to robots, animals, plants and mythical creatures. Avatar customization is one of the most important entertainment aspects in non gaming virtual worlds, such as Second Life
Second Life
Second Life is an online virtual world developed by Linden Lab. It was launched on June 23, 2003. A number of free client programs, or Viewers, enable Second Life users, called Residents, to interact with each other through avatars...

, IMVU
IMVU
IMVU, Inc. is an online social entertainment destination in which members use 3D avatars to meet new people, chat, create, and play games created by Fydor Guthenschlag. IMVU has over 50 million registered users, 10 million unique visitors per month and three million monthly active users...

, and Active Worlds
Active Worlds
Active Worlds is a 3D virtual reality platform. The Active Worlds client runs on Windows. Users assign themselves a name, log into the Active Worlds universe, and explore 3D virtual worlds and environments that other users have built. Users can chat with one another or build structures and areas...

. Many virtual worlds are providing users with tools to customize their representations, allowing them to change shapes, hair, skins and also genre. Moreover there is a growing 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
Koinup
Koinup is an image and video hosting website, web portal and online community for virtual worlds users. It is used both as a photo and video repository platform and as tool to share virtual worlds screenshots, photographs and machinima....

, Myrl, and Avatars United
Avatars United
Avatars United was a web community for avatars of online games and virtual worlds. It was launched in March 2008 by Sweden-based Enemy Unknown and closed in October 2010...

.

Generators


To meet the demand for millions of unique, customised avatars, generator tools and services have been created.

Portals


As avatars grow in use, services to centralize design, management, and transportation of digital avatars start to appear. They can offer to deployed in virtual worlds, online games, social networks, video clips, greeting cards, and mobile apps, as well as professional animation and pre-visualization projects. For example, Evolver (3D Avatar Web Portal)
Evolver (3D Avatar Web Portal)
The web site Evolver claims to be the first solution to provide a central portal to design, manage and transport 3D digital avatars. Evolver enables social media experience through "avatars or user's representation" across applications which use them, such as virtual worlds, video games and social...

 seems to be the first solution to bring together complex 3D modeling, consumer ease of use, and fully interoperable avatars.

See also

  • Michaelmas (novel)
    Michaelmas (novel)
    Michaelmas is a science fiction novel by Algis Budrys.-Story:The novel is set in the near future ....

     - 1977 Algis Budrys
    Algis Budrys
    Algis Budrys was a Lithuanian-American science fiction author, editor, and critic. He was also known under the pen names "Frank Mason", "Alger Rome", "John A. Sentry", "William Scarff", and "Paul Janvier."-Biography:...

     novel
  • Player character
    Player character
    A player character or playable character is a character in a video game or role playing game who is controlled or controllable by a player, and is typically a protagonist of the story told in the course of the game. A player character is a persona of the player who controls it. Player characters...

  • Proteus effect
    Proteus effect
    The Proteus effect is an effect that appears when the behavior of an individual conforms to their digital self-representation.The Proteus effect holds that one's identity presentation changes based on their online avatar...


Further reading

  • Holzwarth, Martin, Janiszewski, Chris, Neumann, Marcus: "The Influence of Avatars on Online Consumer Shopping Behavior" in: Journal of Marketing, October 2006, Volume 70, Issue 4
  • Meadows, Mark Stephen (2008) "I, Avatar; The Culture and Consequences Of Having A Second Life," Peachpit / New Riders, ISBN 0-321-53339-9
  • 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
  • Wood, Natalie T, Michael R. Solomon and Basil G. Englis (2005) “Personalization of Online Avatars: Is the Messenger as Important as the Message?” International Journal of Internet Marketing and Advertising, 2 (1/2), 143-161.

External links