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Performative Avatars 001

Updated: Jan 31, 2022


Instructor: Matt Romein

In-Class activities:

1. Making avatars in Mii

My feeling about making avatars:

Why do people (at least me) want to make the avatar look like themselves? (Even when I want to build the ideal version of myself or a totally different character, it still looks like me to some degree. Is it possible that this phenomenon may have something related to Narcissism??? )

2. Uncanny valley

(Movie: Mars needs moms)

Q: Do you agree with the premise of the film, that we’ve crossed the uncanny valley? Why or Why not?

My answer:

From my perspective, I just can't get the idea of “uncanny valley” (maybe because of my own experience, which we will talk about later). But through this video, I have a strong feeling that the reliability of CGI characters is rising, and (for me personally) the satisfaction is higher and higher by watching the more realistic virtual characters. If my satisfaction is the opposite of the fear for other people, then I think the uncanny valley problem is getting solved(?)

Q: What personal experience have you had with the uncanny valley?

Have there been times where you felt the visceral response described in this chart?

My answer: I can’t feel uncanny valley at all (is this the right way of expression?) Maybe because I have always been very fond of human-shaped dolls.

Q: What do you make of the concept of Post-Truth?

My answer: “Deep fake” exhibition in the museum of moving images (my favorite museum in the whole universe!!! Highly recommend)

An interesting idea is given by Matt:

“The uncanny valley maybe because of the fear of the dead body.”

Recommendation from Matt:

Recommended tutorials are:

  • Introducing Unreal Engine

  • Making The Switch From Unity To Unreal Engine

  • Blueprints - Essential Concepts

  • Getting Started in Unreal Engine


Go Over Tutorials

Sign up to lead a discussion group

Complete Readings

  • Avatars & Identity

  • Discussion Group Leaders prep to lead discussions (I'll email you)

Self Portrait Exercise:

  • Create a self portrait with two different avatar creation systems. Be creative in finding avatar creation tools?

  • Write a blog post with images describing the two self portraits.

  • What did you have control over? Were there things you wanted to have control over that you didn’t?

  • Is this avatar an accurate representation of you? What is missing?

  • How do the two avatars compare to one another? What is the original context for this avatar (what game or social platform was this for)?

  • I recommend doing a time lapse screen recording if you can

  • Upload the blog post to the Homework Spreadsheet

For the second avatar, I spent around 10 minutes, on the Avatarmaker made a 2D avatar for myself.

For the first one, I spent 2 hours using metahuman, to create an avatar as similar to me as possible.

I tried my best to make it more like me, but there are some details that can't be changed.

I'll list them below.


double-fold eyelids

nose root

shape of the lip (the M shape)

the side of nose

epicanthic fold

Nasal Columella

(These are the parts that Asian women(China) like to have plastic surgery on.)

About Reading:

Why can’t w be friends

“Over the past decade, it has become increasingly common for people to develop intense one-sided relationships with famous people on the internet.”

“like the McElroys are my friends, that if we saw each other on the street, we could have a nice chat about our lives and maybe share a beer. I know, of course, that the McElroy brothers are not my friends. But the feeling remains that we could be friends, if we actually spent time in one another’s company.”

“The psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary showed in this 1995 paper that people’s need to belong is satisfied only when pleasant interactions with other people are framed in a predictable and regular structure. ”

History of “friendship”

“Like the personality programs of the 1950s, parasocial media today are characterized by a calculated performance of intimacy. Performers speak to us conversationally, they let us know about their personal lives, they reveal what are framed as their vulnerabilities.”

“If people shame parasocial content creators like Travis McElroy, they might stop calling themselves “the internet’s best friend” and encourage a healthier and more sustainable kind of media consumption instead.”

“In this sense, the prevalence of parasocial media reveals the disappointing parasocial interaction at heart of the internet more broadly.”

“We look into the cameras, we talk to our audience directly, we make the gestures of friendship, so that the people observing us are cued into thinking we are responding to them and them alone. But we are responding to something else, a fantasy of how we should be or the image of ourselves reflected back to us on the screen.”

I can deeply be related to the phenomenon described in this article cause I personally have a huge “friendship crush” on a YouTuber (not YouTuber exactly, Upper, the Chinese version of YouTuber). She studied Philosophy at Cambridge University who offered me countless thought-provoking ideas during my college life. I couldn’t find anyone to talk to about the topic that matters to me or get any wise advice. For a long time, I thought that I might be the very rare number of people who have this wide obsession with a person that doesn’t really exist in my daily life. Thanks to this article, I know that I’m not a weirdo.

But one thing I learned in another class, “This is how you make a living on YouTube” is “the people who subscribe to your channel actually won’t watch your videos, those who watch your videos won’t subscribe to your channel. This phenomenon is somewhat contradictory to what is mentioned in the article. So what are the unveiled facts behind this?


“ Making a distinction between the different psychological processes players can experience, and the diverse sensations they can feel while relating to a video game character would help game designers to design better experiences. “

“Identity itself is a blurred, fluid concept. Identity is a process, more than a state. For this reason, everything that might alter it or interfere with it can’t possibly be perfectly framed; we can only catch glimpses of it—fleeting ideas which will probably never answer the question: What is identity? After all, as the Patriots say in the final speech in one of the most beautiful and witty works of fiction revolving around the concept of identity, Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (Konami Computer Entertainment Japan, 2001): “Does something like a ‘self’ exist inside of you?”.

I’m very sorry that I didn’t get it too much about this article. Maybe the main problem is that I can’t relate to it, I don’t play video games, so I don’t have a strong feeling or have deep thoughts about an avatar in a virtual world. But I do agree with some of the ideas, I didn’t agree with them in the way that based on my understanding or experience playing or having connections in the virtual world, but I saw similarities that some views in this article can relate to social media (or things like it) environment.

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