THE UNCANNY VALLEY EXPO
Update, 10/2: See all the Expo submissions here.
A New World Notes talent search for the virtual soul...
Two views of fashion doyenne Torrid Midnight, taken from an archived NWN post, screenshots created within minutes of each other. I like both, but I like one distinctly more. While both are gorgeous, the image on the right seems more, well, human. I happened to take it just as Torrid was launching a custom animation in which she sticks out her tongue, catching her in a moment of apparent irritation. It's like capturing magic, an eerie instance where a Second Life avatar has successfully crossed the "uncanny valley", the term used to describe a simulated human which looks real, but somehow, creepily "off". (My pal tech writer Clive Thompson has been a one-man advocate for getting videogame animation over this crevice.) In rare times, as with Torrid's face-making, you're not interacting with a photogenic-but-
lifeless avatar; for a few precious seconds, you get the genuine sense of interacting with a real person. (Of course you're always peripherally aware of the real person behind the avatar, at another computer, but I mean the rare times when the avatar itself takes on a life of its own, so to speak.)
Trouble is, most avatars don't look as emotive as this, most of the time, as you can see on this blog, just as you can see on sites containing compilations of screenshots from online worlds. (Even, surprisingly enough, the SL fashion blogs.) Instead, you usually see pictures of dramatic but expressionless avatars, appealing if they're attractive or unique, but not emotionally engaging. This is frustrating to me as a virtual world journalist, trying to convey in screenshots the very real emotions that are being expressed in interviews by residents, through their text or through their builds. Occasionally, an avatar's expression does match what the person behind it is trying to convey, and it's profoundly moving:
So believably expressive avatars aren't just a matter of getting better screenshots-- they're about enabling people across the world to engage in an online community on a level that's heartfelt and empathic, not just through chat, but in real time 3D.
Which is a long way of introducing New World Notes' Uncanny Valley Expo 2006, an ongoing showcase of screenshots and video clips that depict avatars at their most soulful-- and I'm taking submissions for it, starting now. The top entries will be featured in an extended NWN write-up, with the ultimate winner getting a no-cost ad on NWN.
Full details for sending your attempts across the forboding Valley after the break.
Update, 1:20PM: The pot just got sweeter: Clive Thompson himself-- New York Times contributor, Wired News columnist, and author of the super-excellent blog Collision Detection (a wonderful Malcom Gladwell-meets-Boing Boing sort of deal)-- has just agreed to be a Celebrity Judge, and help me choose the Uncanny Valley Expo finalists. Read on for submission guidelines!
UPDATE, 9/1: Submission deadline is September 6th. No submissions accepted after that!
E-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) a
.jpeg screenshot or link to a YouTube video depicting an avatar expressing a believably human emotion. Bonus consideration for depicting complex emotions, such as pride, jealousy, or contempt, as opposed to "primary color" emotions like mirth (i.e., laughter) and fight-or-flight emotions such as anger and fear.
For credit, include:
- Submitter's SL name
- SL name of model
- Name of the animation or gesture used to create the emotion, and its creator
- Title of screenshot or movie (if any)
- I'll post screenshots and link to YouTube videos as I receive them to New World Notes, and as they fit the guidelines.
- Uncanny Valley Expo 2006 will last until end of September or as long as submissions continue.
- Screenshot submissions should not be larger than 1 meg.
- All elements of screenshot or video must be taken from within SL. Absolutely no Photoshopping or other post-production elements. Videos should not contain music or other external elements that heighten or "cue" the emotional expression.
- All submissions posted in NWN-- or not-- at my discretion.
- At the end of the Expo, I'll nominate up to ten finalists, with the final winner decided by reader vote.
- Top two-three Expo vote getters featured in an extended NWN entry. Top vote getter wins a free 125x125 SL-based ad on NWN for a year or the next NWN Uncanny Valley Expo, whichever comes first.