2.4.14

Embodiment

Before any of that, I had to make my face.

The first step was picking among the fictitious races in Star Wars: Zabrak, Twi’lek, Human, Rodian. Most had high health and endurance: perfect for hand-to-hand combat. Not weird enough. Then I spotted the aquatic gentleman. A race called “Mon Calamarian,” made famous by that fishy admiral at the end of Return of the Jedi. The one who gruffly shouts the obvious, as dozens of ships speed toward the Death Star, “It’s a trap!!” My Mon Calamari came standard with low health, not much endurance, but an enormous reservoir of a mechanically useless attribute called “mind.”

Perfect.

Never before had a game presented me with so many options for body modification. The color, size, and spacing of my enormous fisheyes. My height, the musculature on my scaly arms. The green splashes of color on my brown calamari-shaped forehead.

And here, some researchers will bemoan the boring familiarity of most virtual worlds.

Nick Yee, Jason Ellis, and Nic Ducheneaut, in their paper Tyranny of Embodiment, remind that, “…we oftentimes forget that we can do the impossible in virtual worlds.” They think it’s fascinating that we’re so cozy with the idea of familiar realities that we, “...create a legion of artifacts that revolve around our bodies.” Including, “…virtual chairs, virtual tables, and virtual people.” That when we can make anything, anything at all, we make what we know. Rather than embody ourselves as floating triangles of pure energy, we pick fleshy blobs with arms and legs.

Virtual worlds allow us to hijack certain elements of embodiment. The speech patterns of living people within the game might add words like, “please,” or “thank you,” without the speaker’s knowledge or consent. People running tall avatars, or more attractive avatars, not only barter more aggressively. They more often get what they want. The confidence built while so embodied carried over to their Earth embodiment.

Galaxies did a few neat things. For the first time, when you spoke, other players would move their heads to look at you. Such seemingly simple details of animation joined a hundred others, and brought out a depth of emotion I couldn’t have gotten from Baldur’s Gate, to say nothing of the bullet-based communication in Counter-Strike. I was Mon Calamarian, in a Brave New Galaxy.

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