The readings this week interestingly picked up and continued some of the points from last week, specifically the different ways people represent themselves to others and in tun how that affects their behavior. The duality of these articles was particularly fascinating once I became aware of it. The Goffman excerpt was about how people represent themselves through their appearance and behaviors in order to give a certain impression on others. And then the Yee study dealt with how a person’s online appearance actually alters and affects their behavior. Taken together it’s an interesting cycle between the two which seem to feed into each other.
The study involving the Proteus Effect made me think of how the phenomenon occurs when people play video games. An example from recent memory that came to mind was Grand Theft Auto 5, a blockbuster of a game that just came out a few month ago. In Grand Theft Auto 5 you play through a narrative that switches the players control between 3 individual protagonists who’s actions intertwine with one another. Michael is an older man who’s characterized as an old school type of mobster. He’s often dressed in luxurious suits. Franklin is a young black man entrenched in but trying to escape from gang violence. And Trevor is a crazy, homicidal man with a foul mouth and unpredictable behavior. He’s always dressed in random, usually trashy attire, or sometime just in his underwear. If the Proteus Effect is in play here than there should the different appearances of the characters should foster different play styles.
I’ve only played a little bit of the game. But I’ve watched my friends play a whole lot. Since I wasn’t looking for the Proteus Effect back then it’s a little hard to remember how much I saw of it. But a trend that definitely stood out to me was that when players were put in control of the crazy, off the walls Trevor, the already absurd antics of Grand Theft Auto seemed to jump to another level of craziness. I think faster than any other character, people immediately began committing crimes and drawing attention when they were playing as Trevor. As soon as people jumped into his body it seemed people would whip out a machine gun or a bazooka and begin a violent shooting spree or car chase. Now of course this is standard behavior for GTA players regardless of what installment or character they’re playing as, but there are a also a host of other features involved in the gaming including story missions, mini games and general exploration. And it just seemed to me that as Trevor people more often chose the violent route.
With GTAV it could be the character’s appearance that affects player behavior, but it could also be the player inferring behavior from the character’s story or dialogue, which is prominently presented in the game. Once people know and understand that Trevor is a homicidal maniac and witness is erratic violent behavior, they’re probably more inclined to play violently due to inherently believing that that is what the character would do. This can play into people’s avatars in virtual worlds too, as I’ve heard of people developing intricate back stories for characters in MMOS and other games. These back stories can in turn influence the actions players make from then on since they will probably try to adhere to the personality they believe their character embodies.