an idea for a theatrical chat client that stirs aspects of dramatic
performance into textual chat. But first, a review of relevant work.
have been wildly successful in instant messaging and chat rooms
because they for the first time enabled communication along emotional
back channels. Part of their beauty is that they convey succinctly
an appropriate range of emotions, and their just-in-time use helps
to disambiguate and enrich textual communication. Faces can communicate
six basic emotions almost universally (Ekman's six: happy, sad,
fear, anger, surprise, disgust). Their purposefully abstract quality
allows them to convey emotions at-a-glance, more so than more realistic
avatars have in the past, allowed for a much wider degree of expressivity
and personalization than basic emoticons. This is by design, because
graphical avatars were thought of as giving an individual a virtual
presence; therefore, it's natural to allow a high degree of customization,
such as selecting facial features, or comic characters. Customization
allows a person to express his/her identity. The expressivity of
avatars usually involves animation. The import of animation to chat
is that the receiver of a message can respond with more synchronicity
to the text of a message than with static emoticons, allowing a
higher degree of verisimilitude to real face-to-face chat. The typical
trouble with emoticons is that they are sent asynchronously with
the actual part of the message being addressed affectively.
there are also some problems with graphical avatars. They are not
as succinct as emoticons in communicating emotions. They are not
readable at-a-glance like emoticons, which since entering into our
affective vocabulary, seem to have become almost pre-attentive.
Graphical avatars are typically too detailed, too complicated, and
reading the emotion from them requires calibration to the relative
ranges of emotional expressiveness of each avatar character.
theatrical emoticonic avatar chat, we combine the synchronicity
and presence of avatars, with the succinct, standardized, at-a-glance
nature of emoticons. To establish synchronicity, chat in EAC is
a performance chat, and text is synchronous to typing. Synchronicity
of the response is garnered from the actual facial reactions of
the chat participants, as recognized by a computer webcam hookup.
Because computer vision can only recognize facial expressions
if they are exaggerated, and because users are still at option to
be deceptive about the facial emotions that are availed, there is
the interesting open question about how such a system can make chatting
quite theatrical. An important corrollary is how a user would experience
a chat differently in light of having performed emotional
characatures through chatting.
sketch followed by a written sketch of Emoticonic Avatar Chat follows:
Emoticonic Avatar Chat is a synchronous chat client. Every letter
typed and deleted is broadcast in real-time. Say that Mary has just
posted a message and Tom begins to type. His message will begin
a new line on both their clients. If Mary interrupts, her message
will begin a new line below Tom.. this corresponds to interruption
in a real-life face-to-face chat. Emoticons are used not manually,
but automatically. A webcam hook up on both client machines is fed
through image processing software to map each user's expression
into a standard set of emoticons. The listener's emoticons are mapped
to the right side of the blinking cursor of the speaker. This strategic
location allows the speaker to jist the live reaction of the listener
without having to refocus attention elsewhere on the screen. Complicated
avatars or video would not fit in this space to the right of the
blinking cursor, whereas the emoticon is a perfectly small and concise
graphic that does fit.
history is handled by the conventional log of messages, although
EAC adds the twist of synchronous display of the typing of the most
current message. If the listener interrupts before a post is committed,
there appears graphically an act of interruption. The strategically
placed emoticon mediates the real live expressions of the message
receiver, thus offering more focused and immediate feedback to the
Avatar Chat seems to be immediately implementable with current technology
for facial recognition and chat protocols.