Summary: Avatars aren’t just a form of creative expression, they also allow for conformity and escapism. Our digital representations affect how we interact with others and can determine whether we fit into or are excluded from social groups.
When we use social virtual reality, we hide behind avatars. But is it really hidden or is it a way to express our new digital self?
A new study from Trinity College Dublin suggests it’s both – experimenting with your avatar can be a creative act of self-representation, but also an act of conformity or escape.
“Any experimentation is driven by the limitations of the technology, of an application, of the community involved, or of the user themselves, but it always represents a way to feel better or safer in the digital worlds that replace now more and more the activities of the physical world,” says Dr Kata Szita of Trinity, who led the research.
“And the trend of accelerating engagement in virtual environments has of course been further fueled by the physical isolation many people have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, making this research all the more relevant. “
Dr. Szita, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie researcher at the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute and the ADAPT Center of Excellence for AI-Driven Digital Content Technology hosted by Trinity, has defined a new framework based on her findings that combines intersectionality and theory of social identity.
Intersectionality states that a combination (intersection) of identities defines its inclusion or discrimination in certain social contexts, while social identity theory observes social dynamics via membership in groups and explains that the The idea one has of oneself is shaped by one’s membership in these groups.
“As in the ‘real’ world, people have various different identities that define their social interactions – whether as an elven warrior in a massive multiplayer online game, or a professional representation of themselves in the metaverse” , adds Dr. Szita.
“Intersectionality has its basis in the black feminist movements of the 1970s and emphasizes that black women can be subjected to systematic oppression because they are black and because they are women. This is true for other intersecting identities, and it is just as real in the reality contexts of social virtuality as it is in everyday life.
“Avatars can also represent intersecting characteristics, so users may be equally subject to privilege or bias based on two or more demographic markers. But what’s interesting here is the dimension of the fictionality: that these avatars, again, may be different from how the users behind them present themselves or identify themselves in person – which is why it’s important to address the issue of VR identities on the other side , from the point of view of social groups.
When choosing an avatar, a user may need to adjust their visible or recognizable representation to what is available: some social virtual reality applications only support a binary system of genders and stereotypical body representations to express their age, for example.
At other times, one may want to look a certain way to conform to the community one is interacting with. Either way, a person’s digital body affects social interactions and whether they match or are excluded from certain social groups.
“Doing this research was important because digital bodies serve as the basis for millions of social interactions in virtual environments every day, but they do not necessarily reflect the identities and characteristics of the user behind them. This requires a different view than what we observe when we observe the social interactions of the physical world.
“The next time you choose a character when playing a video game or connecting with other people around the world in a virtual environment, I encourage you to think about why you are making the choices you do and the impact they may have on your interactions with others.”
About this psychology research news
Author: Thomas Dean
Contact: Thomas Deane – TCD
Image: Image is in public domain
Original research: Access closed.
“A virtual safe space? An approach to intersectionality and social identity behavior in virtual environments” by Kata Szita et al. Journal of Digital Social Research
A virtual safe space? An approach to intersectionality and social identity behavior in virtual environments
Sanitary measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic have confined millions of people to their homes and minimized social contact. During this period, a significant proportion of social activities, including work, education and leisure, has shifted to digital media platforms.
Among these platforms, social virtual reality (VR) has gained prominence by offering “alternative” realities in which users can interact with others, participate in cultural and sporting events, perform education and (mental) health treatment, to name but one. few functions.
With the growing popularity of social virtual reality and the growing range of activities these platforms can host, hitherto unexplored questions arise regarding social interactions and the representation of virtual bodies. Therefore, the goal of this article is to describe a potential framework for evaluating how avatars that represent various body types and demographic characteristics, such as gender or ethnicity, can impact behaviors and identify.
The article presents a theoretical study that combines social identity theory and intersectionality theories and applies them to the case of digitally created human-like bodies.
In doing so, it sheds light on the challenges and benefits of virtual reality platforms and digital body representations, including remote social interactions due to social isolation and character-based social dynamics online.