Choosing a ‘Religion’

Clearly, the offensive approach (see last post) is by far the more innovative one. The defensive one can be understood as pushing an evolution of the avatar equivalent to that of man – in the most negative way of interpreting it:

Evolution of Man -> Evolution of Avatar?

The upper half of the image depicts the evolution of man, the lower half illustrates the evolution of avatars that we can already observe in some attempts of making virtual worlds ‘productive’ to end users who want to collaborate online. The point I am trying to make here is that, following the defensive approach, we are tying avatars to interactive screens, just as we have tied ourselves to computer desks. We spend the bigger part of our work time sitting at desks, typing on keyboards and using mice while staring at flat screens (what, by the way, we also do a lot even after work). The fact that we use portable computers instead of fixed desktop computers nowadays doesn’t make it better but even worse, as we use just about any place we come across to sit down and stare at a screen, typing on a keyboard, trying hard to blind out our surroundings, reducing our body movement to finger strokes and mouse clicks, and thus damaging not only our eyes but innumerable other parts of our body in several ways. But, this blog is not about ergonomics and sustainability – it is about how the avatar can reshape the way we think.

The progress of evolution of avatars did seem very promising, especially when they were given the abilities to fly (move freely in 3D space) and play (interact with objects and with each other) in a fantastic world (a fully designable responsive environment) in which magic is accessible to everyone (easy user content creation, editing and scripting).

But then, in the last years, the path from there has been proven to be directed by the impulsive and narrow-sighted demand for immediate efficiency and productivity – the very same causes that keep us tied to our computers day by day. Motivation and engagement (not even to mention enjoyment) have become secondary. As the illustration above depicts, avatars experienced their high point of freedom and quality (or sense) of existence when interactive objects, a responsive environment, and the ability to collaborate with each other were in focus. This is starting to fade away with interactive 2D screens coming into play, as a focus of some newer virtual world platforms and developments. Believers of this what I earlier referred to as ‘defensive approach’ falsely understand 2D interactive screens as the right way towards productivity for virtual worlds, mislead by their actual work habits and an associated mindset that has come into being around online media: the fallacy of believing that imitating actual world designs and activity patterns in online media would generate the same experiences as those we get in face-to-face settings.

Truth is, though, that online media logically cannot generate the same experiences, since online media are greatly dissimilar from face-to-face settings. So, just as one should not try to simply walk in water in order to stay floating at the surface we should not try to make our avatars stand idle as their main activity, gazing into 2D screens. While walking instead of swimming in deep water will end in drowning, abusing avatars for bodiless labor on interactive screens will quickly end in frustration and in the question why this medium was chosen in the first place. (meeting online to collaboratively edit documents can be done much more efficient using slimmer, 2D collaboration tools somewhere in the ‘flat’ Web 2.0 instead – there are numerous tools that combine collaborative editing of office documents and text chat, sometimes also voice chat).

So, in conclusion, the new ‘element’ of virtual worlds requires us to regard its distinct properties and features in order to utilize it as a medium for engaging and fruitful collaboration experiences. This is the earlier termed ‘offensive approach’, the one that this blog, and my research, are pursuing.


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