The term role-play pedagogy was first coined in 1963 by Howard Barrows, a professor at the University of Southern California.
Barrows ran a series of experiments where students took on specific roles to help them understand unfamiliar, complex, or ambiguous concepts. After months of research, the professor concluded that the practice of embodying a new identity broadened perspectives and enhanced capabilities to respond to unfamiliar situations, articulate choices and exhibit empathy. Experiments by gaming PHD Jane McGonical showed how game-spawned simulations serve as a perfect form of this play based learning; honing player skills in responding to novel situations - everything from birthday parties to pandemics. She also proved that in-game role play furthered abilities to anticipate the second, third, and fourth order consequences of future events which would otherwise remain ambiguous.
This is because, when engaging in-game players immerse themselves in worlds where the environment, aesthetic, and rules of interaction, provide an engrossing divorce from their familiar realities. So how do we ensure such immersion? Allowing the benefits of role-play pedagogy to fully form in-game, anchors on the development of various immersive elements. There is of course the game’s storyline; the tasks that need to be completed and the lore behind them. There’s also wider in-game environments – comprising not only aesthetics, but also the rules for navigation and interaction within each virtual world.
Arguably however, nothing is more central to role-play, immersion and its advantages, than the embodiment of alternate identities aka. our avatars.
This month in The Digital Fashion (club)House I shared the stage with leaders constructing these characters, and defining their routes to self-expression.
Each guest came to the stage with a different perspective; from digital artist Blake Kathryn who’s created 3D ‘muses’ for Lil Nas X, Paris Hilton and Pabllo Vittar to Star Atlas co-founder Pablo Quiroga who’s in the midst of designing the next intergalactic race (and the world they live in), and Amber Slooten, who’s revolutionized what fashion designers create, and who they can create for through The Fabricant.
Our discussions ranged from the science and art behind creating and clothing characters, to where to scale the walls of the uncanny valley; from how our direct-to-avatar relationships will evolve over time, to what we can define as identity. Here were some of our conclusions:
THE POWER OF THE COLLECTIVE
Pablo Quiroga is not just building avatars, he’s building a Metaverse.
Describing his game Star Atlas as a "next generation gaming Metaverse emerging from the confluence of state of the art blockchain, real time graphics, multiplayer video games, and decentralised financial technology" Pablo rejects claims that the rules of the transformational experience he is working to create are defined by his 80+ strong team. Instead, core to his new world is its community.
Within Star Atlas “shared experience” is consistently evident; through in-game mechanics, characterised by fractionalized ownership and shared space(ship)s for collaborative creation, to the spawning of in-game characters with rich shared histories, such as Ustur. Defined by Pablo as “an android race spawned by an advanced multigenerational AI expressing themselves through physicalised form” Ustur are a race of intergalactic wanders defined by the same collective phenomena as their human counterparts. These come to manifest in both their aesthetics and behaviours. In terms of appearance, the Ustur race has their collective story shown through tattoo-like markings which evolve with time; influenced by each individual Ustur’s lived experience as well as his cultural heritage. Equally Ustur has a love for “space pop-culture and fashion” baked into his DNA; inherited by the AI that spawned him, giving him a particular predilection for avant-garde Digital Fashion such as that created by #UsturRemixChallenge winner Ndjcnc. So what is the role of a collective history in avatar immersion?
By providing avatars with a unified narrative a player is enabled to empathise with beings otherwise unrelatable on the grounds of appearance (and extra-terrestrial descent…). Similarly, providing a multi-layered identity; first of the individual Ustur, and secondly of his wider race, helps to engross a player in the larger story. When interacting with, or navigating the Star Atlas world, as Ustur, players must absorb themselves in the heritage of their character, forcing their own identities to slip away and for immersive role-play, and all its benefits, to fill the void.
TRANSFERRING THE SELF TO THE ETHER
Pablo’s creation of collectives stands in contrast to the craft of celebrated digital artist Blake Kathryn, who captures the essence of her muses; often with a saccharine sheen.
Commonly commissioned to bring clients into the 3D realm, Blake is tasked with immortalising subjects, ranging from Paris Hilton to Pabllo Vittar, as avatars; often within her own RGB dreamscapes.
Anyone who has tried to build themselves in a 3D platform; be it Roblox, The Sims or Genies knows that capturing essence is a challenge. And that’s when it’s your own…
Blake’s craft tackles the challenges of bringing another to digital-life in ways that make them feel both seen, and transcendent. A task which involves understanding what people perceive as their unique signifiers, and bringing these to the fore in 3D.
When I asked Blake how she navigates these hurdles of digital portraiture she replied that the key is not trying to create exact replicas of subjects. Rather she finds a number of distinguishing features to anchor her creations, then imbues them with a style that makes them her own. In her own words: “What I do is take features and caricature these… making sure they’re in the subject’s likeness but not over the top” She went on to explain how stylisation helps avoid the pressures of the uncanny valley (clients protesting that work doesn't look exactly like them) and equally that it stops her avatar’s from dating as technology evolves. But how does this stylisation ensure one's avatar is a gateway to valuable dissociation? Blake’s strong stylisation, accompanied by her process of creation (converging collaborative vision sessions with clients, with inspiration from her own lucid dreams) allows her avatars to separate themselves from her original subjects; moving them from personifications of an individual, to novel 3D beings which speak to her own identity just as much as the human inspiring them. This not only makes for beautiful art (if you haven’t checked out her Instagram you definitely should!) but it means that when there’s “someone behind her creations” (aka. a player using them to navigate a digital space) the user has permission to live a separate life from the original human subject, essential to imbuing them with their own decisions and behaviours. FASHION: YOUR ELECTIVE ENABLER Just as in the physical world, fashion holds transformative potentials in-game. Both influencing how one regards themself, and how they request others to regard them. In conversation with Fabricant co-founder and creative director Amber Slooten my own Toni Maticevski overcoat was discussed as we considered fashion’s role as a signaller. “What if you were wearing that in an in-game world, what would that say about your mood today?” “How would people approach you? … Would they approach you?” Well… only the brave... or those with a death wish. When created properly Digital Fashion can enable a user, not only to express how they wish to be regarded in-virtual worlds, but to manifest new abilities associated with their garment, which bring its aesthetics to life. The Toni Maticevski overcoat serves as a perfect example. Welded from liquid metal, spilling into the area around it, and christened with a collar of snakes, when seen phygitally it signals that the wearer means business ((and not the friendly kind). However when brought to life in the digital space, these appearances of intimidation and power can become realities; the liquid metal could seep out to smother any players that came close, the snakes could hit, spit and dart at those who are unfamiliar. This transforms fashion from a sculptor of perception to a facilitator of realities. So the Wardrobe of the Metaverse is a toolkit for making avatars come to life? Yes. For two specific reasons: First of all, fashion is an elective element within avatar creation. It allows you to choose how you want your avatar to be perceived and what abilities they should have. This elective element allows you to further fuse your identity with the character you embody in the Metaverse (or utterly separate yourself… whichever you wish) and by doing so, further immerse yourself in an in-game environment with your favoured persona. Secondly, fashion is a tool for defining interaction. Whether this is signalling your mood, your alliances and associations, or whether players should approach (If you’re wearing Toni Maticevski the answer is probably no) it allows players to understand your preference and the ways you participate in-game; this is key to the success of your virtual experience. (A)DRESSING OUR FUTURE SELVES
Blake, Pablo, Amber and l all agreed that as humans become more comfortable with the digital space, the avatars we create will evolve. Many of us currently define our identities in the digital realm as linked to sets of characteristics we’re tied to in physical spaces. Often this is aesthetic, like hair colour or skin tone, however it can also be a username or handle that mimics our human name or another phrase we feel represents us. However with time, as we become more comfortable with the Metaverse, these identities will hold entirely new representational links.
“What if I want to be a cloud?” Amber asked, “What if I want to be a river?”
You can and you will be. As Blake stated “The digital space doesn’t need to be biologically accurate or rooted in reality and to not take advantage of this does it a disservice” The wardrobe of the Metaverse, is key in ensuring our abilities to immerse continue; no matter what form we choose to take. The first experimentation here at The Fabricant began with Ustur; the first non-humanoid muse. However he still had two legs, two arms, a neck and a head. But what if you’re choosing to play as a river, how would you dress one?
Ultimately, as our avatars evolve the wardrobe of the Metaverse will evolve with them; allowing us to retain the power of preference when we express ourselves in virtual worlds; and partake in the rich immersive experiences that result.
From dresses spanning entire maps, to garment elements which compel interaction, the wardrobe of the Metaverse is as vast as the imaginations of its wearers.
For those no-longer tethered to physical forms, Digital Fashion provides opportunities to broaden perspectives past the bounds of reality; into oceans of imagination where our prospects are elected through partnerships and shaped by the surreal.
- Dani, This Outfit Does Not Exist