From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
An avatar (abbreviations include AV, ava, avy and avvie) is an Internet user's representation of himself or herself, whether in the form of a three-dimensional model used in computer games, a two-dimensional icon used on Internet forums and other communities, or a text construct found on early systems such as MUDs. The term "avatar" can also refer to the personality connected with the screen name, or handle, of an Internet user.
The "avatar" derives from the Sanskrit word Avatāra, meaning "incarnation" and usually implying a deliberate descent into mortal realms for special purposes. The term is used primarily in Hindu texts, in reference to incarnations of Vishnu the Preserver, whom many Hindus worship as God. The Dasavatara are ten particular "great" incarnations of Vishnu.
As used for a computer representation of a user, the term dates at least as far back as 1985, when it was used as the name for the player character in the Ultima series of computer games. The Ultima games started out in 1981, but it was in Ultima IV (1985), that the term "avatar" was introduced. To become the "avatar" was the goal of Ultima IV. The later games assumed that you were the avatar and "avatar" was the player's visual on-screen in-game persona. The on-screen representation could be customized in appearance. Later, the term "avatar" was used by the designers of the role-playing game Shadowrun (1989), as well as in the online role-playing game Habitat (1987).
The use of Avatar to mean online virtual bodies was popularised by Neal Stephenson in his cyberpunk novel Snow Crash (1992).  In Snow Crash, the term Avatar was used to describe the virtual simulation of the human form in the Metaverse, a virtual-reality version of the Internet. Social status within the Metaverse was often based on the quality of a user's avatar, as a highly detailed avatar showed that the user was a skilled hacker and programmer while the less talented would buy off-the-shelf models in the same manner a forumer would today. Stephenson wrote in the "Acknowledgments" to Snow Crash:
- The idea of a 'virtual reality' such as the Metaverse is by now widespread in the computer-graphics community and is being implemented in a number of different ways. The particular vision of the Metaverse as expressed in this novel originated from idle discussion between me and Jaime (Captain Bandwidth)Taffe...The words 'avatar' (in the sense used here) and 'Metaverse' are my inventions, which I came up with when I decided that existing words (such as 'virtual reality') were simply too awkward to use...after the first publication of 'Snow Crash' I learned that the term 'avatar' has actually been in use for a number of years as part of a virtual reality system called 'Habitat'...in addition to avatars, Habitat includes many of the basic features of the Metaverse as described in this book,
Avatars on internet forums
Despite the widespread use of avatars, it is unknown which Internet forums were the first to use them; the earliest forums did not include avatars as a default feature, and they were included in unofficial "hacks" before eventually being made standard. Avatars on Internet forums serve the purpose of representing users and their actions, personalizing their contributions to the forum, and may represent different parts of their persona or social status in the forum.
The traditional avatar system used on most Internet forums is a small (100x100 pixels, for example) square-shaped area close to the user's forum post, where the avatar is placed. Some forums allow the user to upload an avatar image that may have been designed by the user or acquired from elsewhere. Other forums allow the user to select an avatar from a preset list or use an auto-discovery algorithm to extract one from the user's homepage.
Other avatar systems exist, such as on Gaia Online, where a pixelized representation of a person or creature is used, which can then be customized to the user's wishes.
Avatars in internet chat
In 1995, KeepTalking, a product of UNET2 Corporation, was one of the first companies to implement an avatar system into their chat software.
In 1996, Microsoft Comic Chat an IRC client that used cartoon avatars for chatting, was released.
Avatars in instant-messaging programs
AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) was the first popular instant-messaging program to use avatars, picking up on the idea from PC games. However, users of AIM commonly refer to avatars as buddy icons. Today, many popular instant-messaging clients use avatars, including Trillian, Gaim, MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger.
Instant messaging avatars are usually very small. AIM icons are 48x48 pixels, although many icons can be found online that measure 50x50 pixels. These icons look distorted when AIM resizes them for display.
AIM buddy icons have been used as an experimental form of viral marketing by some advertising firms.
Avatars in art
In 2006, Russian sociologist Vladislav Sychev (aka "riser," from livejournal) made two shot movies from MySpace and the livejournal blognet, both of which implemented avatars. He called those movies "FAQing smoke" and "Bu!". A later movie from riser was called Iconography/1 . 50 min. psychodelic movie had about 2000 avatars and was the perfect sociology presentation of the blogosphere.
Avatars in games
Avatars in video games are essentially the player's physical representation in the game world. In most games, the player's representation is fixed, however increasingly games offer a basic character model, or template, and then allow customization of the physical features as the player sees fit. For example, Carl Johnson, the avatar from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, can be dressed in a wide range of clothing, can be given tattoos and haircuts, and can even body build or become obese depending upon player actions.
Aside from an avatar's physical appearance, its dialogue, particularly in cut scenes, may also reveal something of its character. A good example is the crude, action hero stereotype, Duke Nukem. Other avatars, such as Gordon Freeman (from Half-Life), reveal very little of themselves.
Avatars in non-gaming universes
Avatars in non-gaming universes are used as two-dimensional or three-dimensional human or fantastic representations of a person's self. Such representations can explore the virtual universe with which they are in using their avatar, add to it, or conduct conversations with other users, and can be customized by the user. Usually, the purpose and appeal of such non-gaming universes is to provide a large enhancement to common online conversation capabilities, and to allow the user to peacefully develop a portion of a non-gaming universe without being forced to strive towards a pre-defined goal.
The criteria avatars in non-gaming universes have to fulfill, in order to become useful, can depend to a great extent on, for example, the age of potential users. Research suggests that younger users of virtual communities put great emphasis on fun and entertainment aspects of avatars, as well as on their practical functionalities (e.g. whispering). Younger users are furthermore interested in the simple ease of use of avatars, and their ability to retain the userís anonymity. Meanwhile, older users pay great importance to an avatarís ability to reflect their own appearance, identity and personality. Additionally, the majority of older users want to be able to make use of an avatarís expressive functionalities (e.g. showing emotions), while being prepared to learn new methods of navigation, in order to handle the use of more complex avatars. Social scientists at Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab  are examining the implications, possibilities, and transformations that occur when people interact via avatars.
Avatar-based non-gaming universes are usually populated by those age groups, whose requirements concerning avatars are fulfilled. The majority of users of Habbo Hotel, for example, are of the age of 10 to 15. The reason for this might well be found in the properties and functionalities provided by the avatars of this virtual community. In contrast, There has a target audience ranging from the age of 22 to 49. The avatars incorporated into this immersive environment allow for a wide range of social interactions, including the expression of emotions. Another example is The Palace, where the majority of users seem to belong to an older age group. Here, users have the option to use their own images as avatars. This functionality turns the avatar into a direct reflection of their real-life appearance, a feature most desired by members of older age groups. Again, the population of the non-gaming universe seems to be largely determined by the properties and functionalities of its avatars. This is less true of Second Life, where avatars range from lifelike humans to robots to furry animals. The main Second Life grid is open only to adults, and participation is driven by social, artistic and commercial motivations.
Lisa Nakamura and other researchers have suggested that customizable avatars in non-gaming worlds tend to be biased towards lighter skin colors and against minorities, especially male minorities.
- ^ Lessig, Lawrence. Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. Basic Books, 2000. ISBN 0-465-03913-8
- ^ Fink, Jeri. Cyberseduction: Reality in the Age of Psychotechnology. Prometheus Books, 1999. ISBN 1-57392-743-0
- ^ Blackwood, Kevin. Casino Gambling For Dummies. For Dummies, 2006. p.284. ISBN 0-471-75286-X
- ^ Jordan, Tim. Cyberpower: The Culture and Politics of Cyberspace and the Internet. Routledge, 1999. ISBN 0-415-17078-8
- ^ http://www.cwru.edu/help/webglossary.html
- ^ Stephenson, Neal. Snow Crash. New York: Bantam, 2003 (reissue). pp. 469-70.
- ^ http://blogcritics.org/archives/2005/11/11/205341.php
- ^ http://ps2.ign.com/objects/611/611957.html
- ^ http://www.thecomputershow.com/computershow/reviews/dukenukem3d.htm
- ^ Damer, Bruce. Avatars: Exploring and Building Virtual Worlds on the Internet. Peachpit Press, 1997. ISBN 0-201-68840-9
- ^ http://vhil.stanford.edu
- ^ Nakamura, Lisa. Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity on the Internet. Routledge, 2002. ISBN 0-415-93836-8
- Resident (Second Life)
- Entropia Universe
- Yahoo! Avatars
- Virtual model
- Virtual artifact