Uncanny Valley and MMO’s — Part 1 of 2

A few months ago I came upon the hypothesis of Uncanny Valley (in relation to MMO’s). In a basic summary, it means that as robotics become more realistic, humans will begin to think of them more in terms of a human than a machine and will develop sy(e)mpathy for them. I’m looking at this in relation to MOGers and their avatars. I suppose the title of this post is a bit misleading, because I’m twisting it (or perhaps pushing it further.) While I can see players thinking their characters are realistic, and seeing them as more of a real entity, will the average player (barring psychological issues) ever relate to their avatar enough that they feel a part of their character? MMO’s can be incredibly enjoyable and you can have a lot of fun with your characters, but rarely (at least for me) do I ever feel as though I have just experienced it rather than my character. I’m going to break this up into two elements which are technical and emotional. I’m going to focus on some of the technical aspects here that I can currently think of, focusing on how realistic your character looks and their movements and such. The emotional will focus on character freedom and social interaction and such which I’ll look at in another post.

There are definitely several elements to this, but I think currently the main element has to be graphics. As of now, there aren’t really any games out there that are realistic enough to be considered lifelike to sympathize with your character or actually feel connected to them. While Vanguard and Lord of the Rings Online have upped the bar on graphical expectations of MMO’s, they are still not realistic enough to feel as though you are looking at a living, breathing being. Perhaps with the wave of MMO’s hitting the shelves in Q4 2007 through Q2 of 2008 this distinction will become less noticeable, but it isn’t likely to see extremely lifelike characters until probably 2012 or later. Is that enough, though?

As an extension of the graphics issue, character creation is not nearly customizable enough to make a character that really looks like you currently. Also, there are a lot of people that won’t want to make a character that looks exactly like them anyway. Most people want to make characters that are aesthetically pleasing, regardless of the fact that it won’t look anything like them. This isn’t that unusual as it is a game hence it’s a break from reality, so making a character unlike yourself isn’t strange whether we could do it or not. So if we choose to make characters that don’t look like ourselves, does this break the possibility of truly relating to our character? This is also taking into account only human characters, not elves, dwarves, gnomes, ogres, etc. To me this doesn’t seem possible to truly relate to your character as a different race, but maybe that’s just me putting a limit on my imagination.

Another element that I think breaks the illusion in MMO’s (and many other games) is the third person view. This is sort of bordering on emotional, but it is also technical in the way you actually see your character. While you can use a first-person view in most MMO’s to do so would greatly reduce your field of vision and hamper your game play, so it’s not really feasible to do this. That said, if you are looking for more a role-playing version of the game, then you can do this, but you would always be facing the fact that you are limiting yourself, so could you do this?

The last aspect that I want to focus on right now is actually controlling the way your character moves. While this might not be possible with the current mouse-and-keyboard setup, this will be a very big barrier in terms of believing in our characters and believing they are an extension of ourselves that needs to be solved for this possibility.

I guess the bigger question that needs to be answered is whether we even desire to relate more to our characters or not. I’m sure there are a lot of elements that I haven’t covered, but I’m in a slight hurry right now but I really wanted to get this out, so let me know what you think and I’ll be back later with the second part of this topic.

-Kanthalos

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