Skip Links

Keep your avatars happy or else

By Layer 8 on Mon, 03/19/07 - 8:30pm.

Smile and the world smiles with you? Seems so, even in cyberspace. Ohio State University research released today says the simulated emotions of digital characters on Web sites have a real impact on potential customers looking at them.

The study, appearing in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, found that digital characters might be better merchants if they act consistently happy, even if the products they're selling-such as novels or movies-are heart-wrenchingly sad. The study says many Web sites feature digital human-like characters or avatars and happier avatars can sell more products than sad ones.

The study suggests more emotion might impact the computer gaming industry, which uses countless computer characters - in many cases being blown to bits. "People playing these games want characters to have emotion," said Li Gong , an assistant professor of communication who conducted the research. "Digital characters are becoming increasingly important as more kids grow up with computers," Gong said. "When a digital character can't pick up emotional cues in text, it's better to be happy, even if the topic or product is sad," Gong said. "The age-old idea that positivity outweighs negativity also applies here."

Depends. If your avatar is going down to protest Second Life headquarters, you might want to look a little mean. Still, others note these avatars, happy or not tend to give their digital representations a bit of an odd feel.

One writer said even when filmmakers scan in the motions of real-life actors and then animate over them, they wind up looking creepy and rubbery, as in "The Polar Express" and "Monster House."