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g2gp 17-01-2009
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Section 4: Collaborative Virtual Environments#

4.2 User representation#

In collaborative virtual environments, users are generally represented by a virtual embodiment, commonly referred to as an avatar. An avatar represents a user's awareness and identity within a virtual space, allowing interactions to take place. In CVEs, an avatar allows a user's movements and whereabouts to be seen by other inhabitants of the virtual space.

Figure 2: Cartoon avatar from Blaxxun


In most on-line communities there is a choice of avatar, although this choice may be large or small depending on the software and the world visited. Avatars may be realistic representations of human beings or creatures that are more cartoon-like. They may be rigid objects that move around as if they are on rails, or animated virtual bodies that can move or gesture. Users may be able to design their own avatar and then use it in the community of choice. Most on-line CVE providers will support avatars designed in VRML (See Section 3.7).

An avatar provides a way for others to understand a user's intended persona and identity. Avatars also help users to establish a feeling of actually 'being there', of self-location or presence in the virtual world.

Figure 3: Customised avatar from ActiveWorlds


Figure 4: Humanoid avatar from Blaxxun


In systems that support communication between participants, an avatar can provide direct feedback about one particular user's actions, attention and current state to the other inhabitants. Avatars can be used to convey the user's emotions through gestures, postures or even facial expressions. For example, a user might indicate elation by making their avatar jump up-and-down. However, a jumping avatar could mean that another user is trying out some of the buttons on the browser's interaction panel!


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