In this work, we investigate how people exhibit and construct forms of self-expression in virtual environments including computational systems such as online social networks, or videogames. For example, in everyday life people dress in certain ways to reflect their individual senses of fashion, thereby expressing their social and personal knowledge regarding clothing. However, looking at a large number of people, distinctive categories may become apparent such as “formal,” “business casual,” or “leisurewear.” Such identity-related phenomena take place in computational systems as well. In representing oneself in computational systems, certain aspects of one's identity, including preferences and knowledge, are imparted. By comparing and contrasting these representations between the different computational systems, we may begin to understand how these systems support, or hinder, the user in terms of representing themselves adequately. More importantly, we may begin to identify, and model, phenomena that exists within the real world computationally too, enabling us as developers and designers to understand the consequences and implications of choices made in the development and design of such systems.
The Advanced Identity Representation (AIR) Project ($535,060/5 years, NSF CAREER Award #0952896) is a new transdisciplinary approach to the problem of designing identity technologies to enable imaginative self-representations and to counter social stigmas by implementing dynamic social identity models grounded in computing and cognitive science. The AIR Project seeks to: (1) Develop models of social computational identity (e.g., virtual characters, avatars, and social networking profiles) to enable user representations that dynamically change in response to context and use, and can minimize implicit stigma built into underlying infrastructure, (2) Implement an identity modeling toolkit for constructing empowering, cross-application self-representations (crucially, both back-end semantic data structures and graphical representations), (3) Use the AIR toolkit to build integrated social networking and narrative/game applications, and empirically assess the quality and nature of user representations constructed in contrast with the quality and nature of current systems.
Chameleonia: Days of Lost Selves is a prototype sketch of a game based on shifting identities where the construction of self is at stake. Players make gestures associated with traits such as aggression, commerce, ideology, and more. Player's avatars, and their opponents', then transform in response. One moment the player character is a bazooka-toting cowgirl/boy sipping a softdrink - at the next moment a gold chain and pocketwatch wearing tycoon with stock charts bursting from its top-hatted head.