Who do you think you are? What does your avatar say about you?


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When using social virtual reality, people hide behind avatars. But is it really hiding or is it a way of expressing our new digital selves? A new Trinity study, published in the Journal of Digital Social Research suggests that it’s both – experimenting with one’s avatar can be a creative act of self-expression, but also an act of conformity or escapism.

“Any experiment is dictated by the limitations of technology, an app, the community involved, or the user themselves, but it still represents a way to feel better or more secure in digital worlds that now involve more and more activity in the physical world replace,” says Dr. Kata Szita from Trinity who led the research.

“And of course, the accelerating trend towards engagement in virtual environments has been further fueled by the physical isolation that many people have encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic, making this research all the more relevant.”

dr Szita, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow at the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute and ADAPT Center of Excellence for AI-Driven Digital Content Technology hosted by Trinity, has defined a new framework based on her findings, which combines intersectionality and social identity theory.

Intersectionality addresses how a combination (overlapping) of identities defines one’s inclusion or discrimination in certain social contexts, while social identity theory observes social dynamics about belonging to groups and explains that one’s self-image is shaped by belonging to these groups.

“As in the ‘real’ world, humans have different identities that define their social interactions – be it as a female elf warrior in a massively multiplayer online game or as a professional representation of themselves in the metaverse,” adds Dr. Szita added.

“Intersectionality has its origins in the black feminist movements of the 1970s and highlights that black women can face systematic oppression because they are black and because they are women. This applies to other intersecting identities and is in social virtual reality settings as they are in everyday life.”

“Avatars can also represent overlapping characteristics, so users may be similarly subject to privilege or bias based on two or more demographics. What is interesting here, however, is the dimension of fictionality: that these avatars, in turn, can differ from the users behind them, they see or identify themselves personally – that is why it is important to approach the question of VR identities from the other side, from the perspective of social groups, to approach.”

When choosing an avatar, a user may need to adapt their visible or recognizable representation to what is available: for example, some social VR applications only support a binary system of genders and stereotyped body representations to express their age. At other times, one might want to look a certain way to conform to the community one is interacting with. In any case, the digital body influences social interactions and whether or not they fit certain social groups.

“This research was important because digital bodies serve as the basis for millions of social interactions in virtual environments every day, but they don’t necessarily reflect the identities and characteristics of the user behind them. This requires a different perspective than when we observe social interactions between the physical world and the physical world.

“The next time you’re choosing a character while playing a video game or connecting with others around the world in a virtual environment, I encourage you to think about why you make the choices you make and consider which ones Effects they may have on your interactions with others.”

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More information:
Kata Szita, a virtual safe space?, Journal of Digital Social Research (2022). DOI: 10.33621/jdsr.v4i3.91

Provided by Trinity College Dublin

Citation: Who do you Think You Are? What does your avatar say about you? (2022, September 19) Retrieved September 19, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-09-avatar.html

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