Educational Gaming Avatars

Educational Gaming Avatars

Colette Wanless-Sobel (Inver Hills Community College and University of Phoenix, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-195-9.ch408

Abstract

Avatar (abbreviated Av) in online educational gaming refers to a virtual self or agent who, immersed in a real-time distributed, synthetic environment, vicariously collaborates and learns-by-doing, using virtual artifacts and peer networking to construct knowledge (Walker, 1990; West, 1994). Avatars can also be embodied agents, which are mathematical or computational formulae designed to accomplish specific goals in the online environment. Avatars, which can be 2D, 3D, or animated, are not limited, then, to humanoid or life-form representations in education; avatars can also be embodied in multimedia representations (Guynup, Broglio & Demmers,2004) and in computer software processes, such as bots and AIs (artificial intelligence). Technically speaking, an avatar simulates or embodies the human mind of the computer user onscreen, making the computer mouse the first occasion when a user’s body enters the online environment (Biocca, 1997). No longer limited to a computer mouse, avatars in 2007 have varying degrees of photographic and behavioral realism, which can take the form of a talking head, such as Ananova, or can entail the physiognomy of a human being or other life forms, such as aliens, robots, and animals (furries), who possess various kinesthetic abilities, such as walking and flying; communicative features, such as voice, eye contact, gesture, and attitude; and even the sense of hearing when an avatar is situated in a soundscape. Avatar capability and sophistication vary greatly, depending on the software and the user’s knowledge base and creative persistence.
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Introduction

Avatar (abbreviated Av) in online educational gaming refers to a virtual self or agent who, immersed in a real-time distributed, synthetic environment, vicariously collaborates and learns-by-doing, using virtual artifacts and peer networking to construct knowledge (Walker, 1990; West, 1994). Avatars can also be embodied agents, which are mathematical or computational formulae designed to accomplish specific goals in the online environment. Avatars, which can be 2D, 3D, or animated, are not limited, then, to humanoid or life-form representations in education; avatars can also be embodied in multimedia representations (Guynup, Broglio & Demmers,2004) and in computer software processes, such as bots and AIs (artificial intelligence). Technically speaking, an avatar simulates or embodies the human mind of the computer user onscreen, making the computer mouse the first occasion when a user’s body enters the online environment (Biocca, 1997). No longer limited to a computer mouse, avatars in 2007 have varying degrees of photographic and behavioral realism, which can take the form of a talking head, such as Ananova, or can entail the physiognomy of a human being or other life forms, such as aliens, robots, and animals (furries), who possess various kinesthetic abilities, such as walking and flying; communicative features, such as voice, eye contact, gesture, and attitude; and even the sense of hearing when an avatar is situated in a soundscape. Avatar capability and sophistication vary greatly, depending on the software and the user’s knowledge base and creative persistence.

As an educational concept, avatar transverses many fields: computer and scientific modeling; artificial intelligence; informatics; graphic design; anthropology; theater; behavioral science, including the psychology of play (ludology;) sociology; and kinesiology. Avatar use in civilian education is a new venture with limitless possibilities for expressive communication and human development, entailing a paradigm shift in how education is conceived and delivered (Owen, 1991; Tiffin & Rajasingham, 2003). Avatars offer education platforms intense interactivity with simultaneous telepresence; dynamic pictorial simulations; collaboration of geo-distributed partners; and social presence to garner the psychological and emotional investment of the learner. Role-playing, case studies, and simulations are common uses of educational avatars.

Avatar applications in online gaming continue to develop and expand and are expected to be an integral component of 21st century education world-wide, although many educators are resistant to avatars and educational games. Avatar use in mainstream education also has other obstacles, such as high-end technological requirements, development cost issues, high learning curves for avatar platforms, and ethical issues entailed with mimetic behavior in online classrooms.

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Background

The word avatar is derived from Hindi philosophy and refers to the bodily manifestation of a higher being in some form onto planet Earth (Indopedia, 2004). Internet adaptation of the word avatar is attributed to science fiction writer William Gibson, whose book Neuromancer (1984) depicts a computer network where users project their digital representatives (avatars) into a simulated world.

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