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The Imago Effect Identity in Games Harvey Smith Midway Studios-Austin Studio Creative Director.

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Presentation on theme: "The Imago Effect Identity in Games Harvey Smith Midway Studios-Austin Studio Creative Director."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Imago Effect Identity in Games Harvey Smith Midway Studios-Austin Studio Creative Director

2 Who are you really? You’re sitting there…no one is in your head The person next to you can’t know you You sort of think of yourself a certain way You have some vague sense of self It changes based on mood or circumstance Each of your friends sees you differently You’ll play many roles throughout your life You’ll change jobs a few times

3 Who are you really? All your cells roll over every so many years You’ve probably forgotten a lot already… …maybe as much as you remember Your linear sense of time is in question Someone else probably has your name Someone else probably looks like you So who are you, really?

4 Introduction Avatars and archetypes What avatar choices mean Identity is multi-layered Identity is constructed Wrap-up

5 Today’s topic Player identity during a game The player-to-avatar relationship Why people make specific identity choices There's a lot going on in the player's mind –Related to game avatars and sense of self

6 Customization –Character stats –Factions –Cosmetics –Literary archetypes –Online names Intentionality –Strategic play –Improv actions –Plan formulation –Optional pathways Self-expression opportunities

7 High Concept People love self-expression –Constructing and communicating self –This is who I am, this is who I’m not Game avatars facilitate self-expression –Numerically –Stylistically –Archetypically

8 Fascination with Identity

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11 Early TUTOR game “dnd” –Gary Whisenhunt and Ray Wood, 1974

12 Fascination with Identity

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16 Honda S2000

17 Modern Participatory Culture …reflects primal human drives Facilitates our desire for more agency, self expression, differentiation Asserting your will, your view, your identity –Web 2.0, Amazon account, Netflix queue, iTunes/iPod, MySpace page, etc We want lots of things to customize

18 Meaningful moments Character creation with “action figures” –Tearing toys apart –Reassembling them as “my guy”

19 Meaningful moments Early RPG realization –Some players assume a different persona –Some players express some idealized aspect of themselves –Lots of arguments about these two approaches

20 Meaningful moments FireTeam –Voice tech –Revealed Gender Age Accent –Contrast w/ projected teammate identity

21 Meaningful moments Character identity arguments The writer-game designer negotiation Adventure game, shooter, RPG? JC Denton or me? We were missing the point… In the end, the player was both

22 Introduction Avatars and archetypes What avatar choices mean Identity is multi-layered Identity is constructed Wrap-up

23 Avatars are masks

24 Similar to choosing a mask for a ball –Self expression –Idealized representation Simple short-hand for iconic representations An identity you take on, in part, while playing

25 Avatars are masks Anonymity Freedom from social constraint

26 Archetypes, Differentiated Roles

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30 Channeling Marshall McLuhan The archetype is the goal –The nature of the Sam Fisher character implies all of his goals in Splintercell –Same with Agent 47 from Hitman –Or Superman You’d never play Superman trying to assassinate a world leader during a geopolitical crisis

31 Democratizing Heroics Interactivity is key to our medium… The player’s importance is a key way in which games are significant and different… The player assumes a hybrid role of self and protagonist The player is not entirely empathizing with some separate entity The player is not some lesser being, hearing a tale of heroics The player is the hero, in part

32 Introduction Avatars and archetypes What avatar choices mean Identity is multi-layered Identity is constructed Wrap-up

33 Expression via Avatar Choice So what do the player’s choices mean? What does Marlon Brando represent to people? When they choose some incarnation of Brando, what’s going on in their minds?

34 Online Brando Avatars

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36 What does an avatar say?

37 What about Manson and bin Laden?

38 What does an avatar say? Avatar choice communicates some sense of personal identity or mood state Helps the player develop an understanding of self through personal fantasy construction

39 Henry Jenkins “All of us move nomadically across the media landscape, cobbling together a personal mythology of symbols and stories taken from many different places. We invest those appropriated materials with various personal and subcultural meanings.”

40 Meta-levels of Expression Even in games without character creation –Players are making implicit character creation choices when choosing which game to buy –Players engage in self expression when they choose between Sam Fisher or Lara Croft

41 Meta-levels of Expression

42 What does an avatar say? Avatar choice communicates some sense of personal identity or mood state Helps the player develop an understanding of self through personal fantasy construction

43 Introduction Avatars and archetypes What avatar choices mean Identity is multi-layered Identity is constructed Wrap-up

44 Double-consciousness Aside from what’s happening on screen… –What’s going on in the player’s mind? Games are multi-layered in terms of identity experience Game characters allow us to temporarily and dynamically restructure our sense of self

45 Rules of Play Player-avatar relationship is not simple –“Double-consciousness” Player enters an imaginary world via avatar –Relationship can be intense and immersive At the same time, the avatar is a puppet –Player is aware of character-as-artificial-construct

46 Aspects of identity during play Fictional character Perceived sense of idealized self Player, solving problems, completing tasks Self as a person, with life demands Player, sense of skill level/rep Literary, pop, or mythic archetype Primal emotions –Anger, fear, joy, sadness

47 Double-consciousness I am a thinking person I am the player of this game I am the avatar in this game I am some more primal drives –Represented by the game’s verbs –I am my anger, I am my desire for power

48 Susan O’Connor “Playing God of War, I was constantly aware of driving this little avatar forward as I played, having fun and accomplishing goals. Meanwhile, I felt completely guilty for pushing Kratos forward into misery, as part of the game’s (interesting) plot.”

49 FPS double-consciousness Playing young Vasili in COD2 –Only aware of Russian identity when called by name –Throwing potatoes instead of grenades

50 Identity Absorption Scott McCloud My car becomes an extension of my body It absorbs my sense of identity I become the car “Hey, she side-swiped me!” –She and me –Rather than her car and my car

51 Identity Absorption At run-time, avatars are not literary characters Avatars are masks, archetypes, cartoons, icons When the player chooses an avatar, he often reflects some aspect of himself Identity during play is multi-layered The player becomes the avatar –And stays himself

52 Double-consciousness Games are multi-layered in terms of identity experience Game characters allow us to restructure our sense of self

53 Introduction Avatars and archetypes What avatar choices mean Identity is multi-layered Identity is constructed Wrap-up

54 Judith Butler Core aspects of identity are constructed The coherence of gender categories seems natural –But this is constructed via repeated stylized acts –This establishes the appearance of coherent gender Butler theorizes gender/sexuality as performative –Governed by social regimes –Appearing as coherent or "natural"

55 Identity construction Identity is constructed by repeated stylized acts –We’re all engaged in character creation all the time –Avatars facilitate this Games reinforce identity via stylized gameplay acts –COD2 potato throwing –Diablo II health restoration Everyone heals (ie, re-adds life points) –Necromancer—transferring damage to a minion –Paladin—healing others with auras –Barbarian—taking the blood from fallen foes Stylized healing reinforces identity

56 Harvey Smith Midway Studios-Austin Blacksite Creative Director Introduction Avatars and archetypes What avatar choices mean Identity is multi-layered Identity is constructed Wrap-up

57 Summary Players find self expression powerful, enjoyable People express themselves all the time, often unconsciously Players make specific choices based on subjective reasons Patterns come up as archetypes –Players gravitate toward/away from archetypes Archetypes aid people in understanding/creating identity Identity is multi-layered –Avatars are a combo of player, self and character Avatars are vessels –As much as players project onto them, avatars influence players

58 Thanks! Harvey Smith Game Director Current Project: Unannounced Arkane-Studios

59 Useful References Gary Allen Fine, Shared Fantasy Judith Butler, Gender Trouble Matt Hanson, The End of Celluloid Janet H. Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck Cassell/Jenkins, From Barbie to Mortal Kombat Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics John Suler, The Psychology of Cyberspace Salen/Zimmerman, Rules of Play


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