Attention gamers: If you find yourself overflowing with hatred and killing your virtual teammates when you're supposed to be helping them, you might want to reconsider that Grand Dragon of the Knights of White Purity avatar -- a new study out of UT suggests that your online persona can affect how you play with others in a virtual world.
Proving once again how totally necessary and non-ridiculous academia is, Assistant Communications Professor Jorge Pena randomly assigned study participants avatars "wearing physician or Ku Klux Klan-like uniforms," or white- and dark-cloaked avatars.
After the people with the KKK avatars finished burning crosses in Zilker Park (not really), all participants were told to write a story about a picture or play online with a team.
Can you guess where this is going?
"Consistently, participants represented by an avator in a dark cloak or a KKK-like uniform demonstrated negative or anti-social behavior in team situations and in individual writing assignments," according to UT's press release about the study. (The full study appears in the December issue of Communication Research, which, we understand, also has a hot Lara Croft centerfold).
Hair Balls has suspected this phenomenon for a long time, which is why we not only limit our avatar choices whenever possible to ponies, the American eagle, or Jesus, but we wear a white cloak while we play. We figure that, as long as we choose a positive online persona while playing video games for 18 hours straight, we're engaging in perfectly healthy, social behavior.
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Pena believes his study's findings could help game and combat-simulation developers.
"By manipulating the appearance of the avatar, you can augment the probability of people thinking and behaving in predictable ways without raising suspicion," he says.
Which seems to mean that the next time you find yourself on a virtual team with an avatar that looks vaguely like Kim Jong-il, there is apparently a fair chance that the person behind it might be up to no good.
Hair Balls is just a little jealous because we can get in trouble for playing WoW at work. Guess we need to go back to college to play games...