Microsoft patents anatomically correct avatars

Data facilitates 'honest' online interaction

Microsoft recently filed a patent for a dynamic game avatar system that limits avatar or even gameplay options based on a user's physiological data.

Filed under the working title "Avatar Individualized by Physical Characteristic," the new application makes claims on a number of new physiological game sensors and their interactions with a persistent online avatar-based gaming network (i.e. Xbox Live.) The new systems include provisions for sensing physical data (via pedometers, cameras, or health information repositories like Microsoft HealthVault,) psychological characteristics (including levels of alertness or mood changes) and even demographic information like "education level, geographic location, age, sex, intelligence quotient, socioeconomic class, occupation, marital/relationship status, religious belief, political affiliation, etc."

All this data is collected with or without the user's knowledge in order to facilitate honest online interaction between users ("the artificiality of the avatars often results in frustration and miscommunication, thwarting useful virtual social interaction for many people and reducing the potential for competitive interactions") and to encourage healthy living by penalising players who neglect their physical well-being.

"Physical data that reflect a degree of health of the real person can be linked to rewards of capabilities of a gaming avatar, an amount of time budgeted to play, or a visible indication," reads the summary. "Thereby, people are encouraged to exercise."

Physical data is easily gathered via physiological sensors or even Microsoft's upcoming Natal system (a similar story at GameSpot highlights Natal's capability for scanning a user and representing their physical silhouette online,) but the ambitious patent also includes provisions for gleaning psychological characteristics like "intelligence, religious beliefs, political affiliations, and hobbies that affect the rendering of an avatar."

Gathering this data encourages voluntary segregation among users, as Microsoft writes "providing such candid physical characteristics can be rewarded by gaining access to social virtual environments wherein such disclosure is required."

The patent makes further provisions for implementing the system beyond gaming consoles, implying that a gamer's home computer, smartphone and portable game system may eventually work together to incentivise "healthy and/or virtuous behaviours."

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Alex Wawro

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