Enhancing Characters for Virtual Worlds and Interactive Environments through Human-Like Enhancements

Enhancing Characters for Virtual Worlds and Interactive Environments through Human-Like Enhancements

Stuart Slater (University of Wolverhampton, UK) and David Burden (Daden Ltd, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-762-3.ch002
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The work discussed in this chapter involves a proposal to add human like attributes (emotions in this instance) to characters in games and virtual worlds to enhance user experience. The chapter begins by defining these computer controlled characters in the context of both games and virtual worlds, followed by a discussion on the human like aspects currently being integrated into these characters by developers. The chapter continues by focusing specifically on a particular case study where emotional attributes were added to a conversational character in Linden Labs’ Second Life, after which a pilot experiment was conducted to ascertain the user response. The results from the study show that there is some support to the notion that users do prefer interacting with emotionally responsive characters.
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Commercial games such as the World of Warcraft by Blizzard Entertainment, and virtual worlds such as Second Life by Linden Lab, share similarities in that they involve the user interacting with the virtual environment through the use of a player-controlled character called an avatar. It is customary, and even more expected that not only do users control one of these avatars, but they have a degree of freedom to customize its appearance to reflect their own imagination, or to blend into the virtual world through the available character choices and customization options. Within the games domain, constraints by developers are often imposed to keep the mythos of the game intact, such as in the World of Warcraft where users have a limited set of custom avatar appearance changes to maintain the games flow in a fantasy setting of orcs, elves and related races. In some virtual worlds such as Second Life, users have a much greater degree of freedom to manipulate their avatar to allow it to appear as almost anything or anyone, through either buying in-world adaptions for their avatars, or creating customizable options themselves through in-world scripting. Though it might be expected that users choose to represent their real-world identity and personality in their avatar, it is customary that many users do not actually do this, and in fact enter the virtual world with virtual genders and supporting behaviors to create a virtual persona. This virtual persona means that it is often not clear how the avatar reflects the user mentally or physically when engaged in avatar-to-avatar conversation.

Avatars in virtual worlds such as Second Life and the World of Warcraft lack automatic facial expressions and bodily gestures unless the user specifically activates one through a keyboard shortcut or from a text prompt as shown in Table 1.

Table 1.
Gestures in Both Second Life and World of Warcraft
GestureTrigger in SLTrigger in WoW
Dance/dance1 to /dance8/dance

Key Terms in this Chapter

ChatBot: Non Player characters that are able to answer questions through text or voice.

Second Life: A virtual world developed and maintained by Linden Labs.

E-AI: An emotion architecture designed to be platform independent and enhance characters in virtual worlds ( Slater et al, 2008 )

Non Player Character (NPC): Characters in games and virtual worlds not controlled by the user.

Human-Like: Developments in games and virtual worlds that are designed to enhance characters by adding human attributes such as emotions, more realistic skin tones, applications of physics and movement.

Avatar: A virtual representation of a user, which is used to interact with a virtual world. Avatars can appear in many forms, genders or species.

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