Making a game of fashion consumption and social interaction

Author: Thomas Makryniotis //

A screenshot of Thomas Makryniotis's fashion game.

A screenshot of Thomas Makryniotis’s fashion game.

In role-playing computer games – titles such as the Final Fantasy series (Square Enix) and the Elder Scrolls series (Bethesda) – the avatar develops over time by means of power-ups and new items. These power-ups and items work as an expansion of the avatar’s abilities so that it can surpass increasingly difficult obstacles. Role-playing games are games that depend on arrays of attributes, and sets of abilities. In this way, the identity of the player is constructed in a simulational sense as an array of numeric and textual attributes. Most games work similarly, even as they hide such internal mechanics from the player under visual representation, i.e. graphics and animation.

This has psychological consequences, as the player strives to improve the avatar, which can be regarded as a metaphor for the player’s ideal self, given that the avatar represents the player’s agency over the game’s environment. The avatar is a symbol of progressing and reaching an ideal state, which is sometimes never achieved, but however remains an endless process of improvement. In a sense, participating in a virtual world may be seen as an activity based on narcissistic fascination through agency, and the expansion of this agency through consumption, while this underlying system of numbers is symbolic of the real-world socio-economic system – this is my own thesis (Makryniotis, 2011).

Digital games are products that present the avatar as the commodification of identities. Identity is not located in the human body, in its clothing, in the computer, or in its avatar in the virtual world, but rather in all of these. Identity is affected by anything that happens on everything that we turn into a semiological extension of our bodies.

Based on this premise, I have built a fashion game that utilises dress in social performance as its sole gameplay mechanic. Play progresses through multiple choices of dress in a system that combines a graphical user interface, text, and three-dimensional graphics. The game attempts to act as an abstract fashion system. In-game currency and time in the game are prime resources, which can be used and exchanged for other resources, such as fashion and lifestyle items, mainly related to status. The management of these resources is dependent on the player’s choices and performance. The focus of the game, however, is on expressive social performance, to which the attire of the avatar contributes, as do body language and verbal communication. The “physical” characteristics of the avatar (attractiveness, size, proportions, expressions, gestures, posture and movement) affect the gameplay, and the body of the avatar is divided into parts on which articles such as underwear, clothes, coats, shoes, scarves, and handbags can be placed. The game’s logic establishes which parts of the body are covered, what they are covered with, and in what manner, and different combinations produce different significations.

The purpose of this research is to look into factors that drive consumption, such as identity and social status, and to explore the socio-economic forces behind the current fashion system.

Six screenshots of Thomas Makryniotis's fashion game.

Six screenshots of Thomas Makryniotis’s fashion game.

References

Makryniotis, T. 2011. Identity through Fashion in Virtual Environments (PhD Thesis). University for the Creative Arts, Rochester.

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