Applying Psychology to MMORPGs: Automatic Mimicry
This has led researchers to hypothesize that automatic mimicry is an evolutionary adaptation to facilitate and express social affiliation and that the process is bi-directional - mimicry facilitates affiliation and prosocial behavior and affiliation goals increase mimicry (Lakin, Jefferis, Cheng, & Chartrand, 2003). This theory is also supported by studies that have shown that very young infants will mimic many facial expressions they perceive, such as sticking their tongue out, smiling and opening their mouths (Meltzoff & Moore, 1977).
Virtual environments in fact provide a perfect setting for embedding subtle mimicry behaviors in NPCs because details in the environment can be rendered differently for each user. The goal of embedding mimicry would be to increase prosocial behavior in general in the community. After all, loyalty and bonds with other players is what keeps players in a community.
Examples of this embedding range from the simple to the complex. Of course, the following are not meant to be employed with every single NPC interaction, but instead used intermittently to seed prosocial behavior.
- Align the NPCs appearance with the character's appearance. Match their hair color, their clothing style, or the weapon they are carrying.The often-assumed freedom that comes with virtual worlds is a double-edged sword. In the real world, laws constrain behavior, but in virtual worlds, code dictates behavior. If shouting is not allowed in virtual worlds, then you cannot shout in public spaces. You can communicate with other users only through tools provided by the virtual world. In a strange way, relationships in virtual worlds are not created as much as engineered by the mechanics of the world. As these environments evolve, they might - for better or worse - become tools of social engineering that were never imagined even possible in the real world.
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