A Manifesto of
Avatar Expression
Featured in the book:
Virtual Body Language
by Jeffrey Ventrella

1. Outer Your Inner Avatar

'Avatar', from Hindu mythology, is Sanskrit for 'descent' (from heaven to earth). It is a deliberate descent - a purposeful manifestation. 'Avatar' is also the embodied nonverbal communication locus on the internet.

2. Keep your Body

Technology can be used as a way to become more Human, rather than more Machine. Subvert technology to the laws of Human Nature. If you are confused because human nature is a moving target, look to our earthly ancestors for inspiration and grounding. We are shifting between animal and post-human. We must not abandon our animal origins.

3. Behavioral Realism is Key

The concept of 'Realism' is still heavily influenced by references to High Renaissance painting. Visual, optical, perspective realism does not contribute to communication in virtual worlds, and in fact, it may detract. Behavioral Realism is the key. Realism in virtual worlds is tied to believability (as it is in fiction). It is not a computer graphic rendering problem. It is a Human Computer-Interaction problem.

4. Own Your Body Language

A virtual world company may have a financial bottom-line, an ideology, or a business agenda. And the shareholders may not share, or hold, your values. Own your own expression in these virtual worlds. If your avatar generates a nonverbal lie, make sure it is your lie. If you cannot generate your own nonverbal lie, or if your lie is generated within the virtual world without your consent, switch to another virtual world that supports user-created content. User-generated content is an important part of internet life. And the most important kind of user-generated content is your own expression.

5. Promote Physical Health Through Technology

If you are a software developer, educator, web designer, hardware engineer, or business entrepreneur, help find ways to accelerate more innovations like the Wii device. These kinds of interfaces can help reduce childhood obesity and diabetes.

6. Promote a Mathematics of Social Connectedness

Maximally-social virtual body language means seamless translation between the local (personal) coordinate system and the global (social) coordinate system. Mathematically-speaking, that means having software interfaces to transform the local geometry of the body to the global geometry of the world. Without this translation, we have unresponsive, socially-inept avatars. This is a simulation methodology that ultimately impacts virtual embodied communication.

7. Humanize Technology

Those of us with roots in the humanities and arts must embrace software technology, harness it, and loosen the grip of a left-brain dominated software culture. Computing is not about numbers. It is about intuition, knowledge sharing, and Intelligence Amplification (IA, not just AI). If you are an artist, boldly engage the software world. Use whatever strategies you have available to make software less machine, more human.

8. Foster Global Affective Communication

Virtual Body Language is not an Ivory Tower academic subject. It is part of our future (and present). We have an opportunity to build the foundations of deep affective communication over the internet, to foster understanding and intercultural communication in the global village.