Three game-related research presentations by Dr. Robby Ratan

GEL Lab researcher Dr. Robby Ratan and colleagues presented three game-related talks at the ICA conference last weekend!

Razing the Virtual Glass Ceiling: Gendered Economic Disparity in Two Massive Online Games

Rabindra A. Ratan Vili Lehdonvirta Tracy L. M. Kennedy Dmitri Williams

Research has consistently shown a gap between male and female income earners. Explanations have been found in social expectations and mechanisms relating to gender roles. In this paper, we investigate what happens to gendered economic disparity when those mechanisms are removed. We examine wealth creation within the virtual economies of two massively-multiplayer online games (MMOs)—environments where gender cues are malleable and meritocracy trumps identity—in the first study on economic disparity within multiple MMOs. Observed measures of player behavior indicate that player sex and character gender have a statistically significant relationship with virtual wealth, but in practice the effect is very small. While further research is needed on observed gender differences in play styles and motivations in virtual environments, the present results support an optimistic argument: as workplaces turn increasingly virtual, obfuscating physical gender cues and traditional allocation mechanisms, gendered economic disparity in society is likely reduced.

The Avatar Shadow Passenger: Physiological Effects of Self-Presence After Disconnection From the Avatar

Rabindra A. Ratan Christelle Williams Michael Dawson

The present article examines the role of self-presence in the ways that people feel connected to their avatars after avatar use, thereby contributing to an understanding of how people are influenced by avatar use even when they are no longer using their avatars.
Physiological measures of arousal (heart rate) and emotional valence (facial muscle movement) were taken after avatar use, while participants watched, without controlling, their avatars in a context where the avatars received negative treatment. The comparison of these measures to self-reported feelings of connection to their avatars (i.e., self-presence) suggests that people are more strongly affected by their avatars after avatar use when they develop greater emotion- or identity-level, but not body-level connections to their avatars during avatar use. These findings are relevant to a growing body of research on avatar use effects as well as to the development of virtual worlds and video games. The paper describes some of these implications and suggests future work based on the present findings.

Designing the Virtual Self: How Psychological Connections to Avatars May Influence Outcomes of Use

Rabindra A. Ratan Béatrice Susanne Hasler

The present paper examines how two important facets of avatar design – customization and personalization – may influence users’ psychological connections to avatars and outcomes of avatar use. Responses from students who engaged in collaborative learning within a virtual environment suggest that avatar design influences psychological connections to avatars, that the various measures of such connections included in this project are interrelated in notable ways, and that these connections may influence substantive outcomes of virtual world use. More specifically, this research suggests that virtual environments may best facilitate education-related outcomes by encouraging psychological projection of personality characteristics onto avatars as well as body-level connections to avatars, but limiting extreme avatar customization and personalization.

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