A detailed overview of a workshop on the avatar affordances framework as it relates to the user experience of character creation interfaces. Specifically, I explore the difference between the original Skyrim character creation interface and the ‘mods’ created by the fan community to alter that interface.
In December 2017 I designed and led a workshop, it is based on scholarship positioned at the intersection of several areas of interest for me: games, human computer interaction, user experience, and information architecture. The workshop was designed with the objective of introducing, applying, and analyzing the Avatar Affordances Framework as introduced by McArthur et al. in 2015. Victoria McArthur later scaffolded on this work by advocating for the utilization of UX methodologies in the study of Character Creation Interfaces. I wanted to test how this proposed plan would interact with yet another one of my interests: participatory fandom culture.
To do so I crafted the following proposal:
I want to examine the relationship between Character Creation Interfaces (CCI) affordances in Skyrim and the Elder Scrolls’ fan community’s responses to those affordances. Modifications, or mods, are downloadable fan made content that add or alter a video game. For the most part these ‘mods’ are accessible only on PCs. I want to examine how these fans alter the information architecture of the game by adding and changing options. By surveying these options in reference to the Avatar Affordance framework as posed by McArthur et al I want to see if these changes alter the expectations on players, the results from players, and the feelings of players after some task oriented interaction with these interfaces.
I will be designing a workshop for the class in which we will compare the regular or “vanilla” Skyrim CCI and the modded Skyrim CCI made by Skyrim/Elder Scrolls fans. Ideally, this workshop will last 30 minutes and will allow me to assess the possibility of submitting it for SIGDOC ACM 2018.
After a great deal of planning, I finally sat down and established a full workshop proposal with a detailed schedule, a document of materials to use during the workshop, and a presentation to accompany the workshop. Below I have included that final document, workshop materials, and presentation.
Project 3 – Workshop Details
In 2015 Victoria McArthur, Robert John Teather, and Jennifer Jenson introduced the Avatar Affordances Framework as a method of examining the allowances and limitations of what they term ‘Character Creation Interfaces’ (CCIs). Later in 2017, McArthur advocated for the use of of UX methodologies to further test the usability and experience created by these interfaces. Throughout this workshop I will draw upon the common UX practice, user testing, to examine how affordances affect experience throughout goal oriented character creation.
The game Skyrim is the fifth game in the Elder Scrolls series and boasts one of the most dedicated fan communities in all of gaming. Even 6 years after the game was released the community is still active and thriving, mostly due to a participatory practice called “Modding”. Modding consists of altering game mechanics, textures (visuals), or even questlines(goals, objectives, narrative). All of which offer endless opportunity for customization. Some of these mods add humorous elements, some offer fixes for bugs in the game, some are simply absurd. Many mods obscure the original aesthetics such that the game may become unrecognizable with a few clicks. This ability to create and remix has allowed the fandom to explore whatever they can imagine, as long as the original game software can handle it.
One memorable mod is a mod that completely alters the Character Creation Interface. What was originally an unthrilling CCI with modest allowances (fine by 2011 standards) has been upgraded to a CCI with more affordances than could ever be used. This difference is where I will invite participants (in teams) to create a character in both “Vanilla” Skyrim and “Modded” Skyrim and compare the experience.
We will frame the day’s activities around questions such as:
- Did every participant feel as though they could represent themselves in the game?
- Does this mean realistically or a fantasy version of themselves?
- Did the CCI hierarchy change between the two interfaces?
- Do CCIs with more affordances rely on previous game knowledge or experience?
- Did either feel inherently better to work with? If you’re only going to use this interface a few times and play with a character in first person so you can’t really see them, does it matter?
The main objective of this workshop is to explore the user experience of the CCI in a very popular RPG Video Game and the differences afforded by participatory alterations by the community. This is meant to serve as a real time application followed by a group discussion of McArthurs work to see if there are fruitful results as she suggested.
Outline of Workshop:
Designed for a maximum of 10 participants.
- My PC, Skyrim purchased through Steam
- Mods: “Enhanced Character Edit” by ECE Team and “Race Menu” by Expired
- XBOX with Skyrim Disc
- Pictures of Characters that participants could choose to create:
- Carl from Pixar’s Up
- Ariel from The Little Mermaid
- Esmerelda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
- Kuzko from The Emperor’s New Groove
- Shrek from Shrek
- Storm from X Men
:00 Spend 5 minutes introducing Victoria McArthur, CCIs, and the AAF (with special focus on the functions). Link to presentation.
:05 Break off into 2 groups of 3-4 and play with both ‘Vanilla’ Skyrim and Modded Skyrim.
- I will be there to answer questions and help with usability if need be.
- TAKE A PICTURE OF YOUR CREATION!
:15 Switch groups – those who used Vanilla Skyrim switch to the modded version, and vise versa.
- TAKE A PICTURE AGAIN!
:25 Introduce discussion questions which compare the two groups’ experiences (Google Doc).
- Was it easier moving from one to another? (Vanilla to modded for example?)
- How did you feel about your character in either?
Compare the two CCIs using the avatar affordances framework:
Function → “the purpose(s) for the interface widget (e.g., select hairstyle, etc.)” (McArthur et al, 233)
Behaviour → “attributes derivable from the widget (e.g., choose 1 of n options, etc.).” (233)
Structure → “a technical description of the interface widget (e.g., slider, button, etc.).” (233)
Identifier → “what text and/or icons are used to convey the widget’s purpose? (e.g., text: select a gender).” (233)
Hierarchy → “a numerical value indicating a widget’s position in relation to the customization section of a hierarchical interface. For example, a hierarchy value of “2” indicates that the widget is part of a sub-section, while a hierarchy value of “0” indicates that it exists outside the customization section.” (233)
Default → “indicates whether the widget consistently defaults to a particular selection, i.e., they always present a particular configuration upon starting to create a new avatar. Where possible, additional qualifiers are added to indicate what the default value is (e.g., skin colour: white).” (234)