Understanding Avatars in Games and Social Media, Part 2

In addition to clarifying that “post-per-day” is turning into “post-per-business-day,” i’m going to spend today’s blogging time going over a quick diagram I made that helped me get together my thoughts about the various layers of information presented via avatars (discussed in my last post, Understanding Avatars in Games and Social Media).

Understanding Avatars Diagram

The big differentiator between top and bottom layers is whether a user has direct, explicit control over that portion of the avatar. This is a key distinction, as the presence of information in either side spreads information about that avatar’s community presence via different mechanisms. For example, a well-written biography and interesting external appearance (say, like a buddy icon in a forum) may give me a good sense of that avatar’s personality. However, when it comes to issues of trust, the bottom half of the information diagram become more crucial — what experience does the system tell me that the user has? These parts of an avatar are harder to fake, and therefore are more valuable in many contexts.

Within those two groups, I tried to distill each layer into different areas. First, we see Recognizable Marks, which are elements such as username, buddy icon, and/or directly controllable elements of a 3D avatar in a MMORPG. These are elements that can help one be identified easily as one participates within a community. They’re not always immutable or necessarily unique, as sites like Flickr allow easy modification of icon or username; however, they’re typically the kind of thing that individuals attempt to protect strongly within communities.

The second layer, Autobiographical Content is where the majority of the user-written narrative takes place, often in a profile page. In MMORPG’s, it’s what you see when you look at someone. These elements are not part of an everyday experience with people, but instead tend to be seen in close interactions with others, and so serious users in a community tend to spend a lot of time making these elements work well.

The bottom half of the diagram was pretty well explained in my last post. Visual Achievements are depictions of medals, trohpies, awards, items, etc. as icons or 3d objects that can be spotted easily, are aesthetically pleasing, and give us a visual cue as to the experience of a person within a community. Textual Achievements are more like dynamically updating signature images that give us a presentable summary view of a person’s data. And lastly, the Raw Play Data is usually less visible, but gives us the most detailed look into a user’s community participation.

I hope that this diagram helps explain what i’m getting at, and also partially why. Avatars can play a large role in improving participation in games and social media, and can arguably go a long way into transforming one into the other. Building these layers into a community system can definitely result in game dynamics, and I’d bet that it would improve network engagement, as well.

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