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Body Language On-line

Sociology 135: Non-verbal Communication
Prof. D. Archer
Copyright © 1999 B. A. Collie Collier



All six respondents agreed that actions or poses, as textually portrayed on the MU*, were synonymous with body language in their view, giving me a 100% agreement rate amongst my respondents (Table A). All six also believed there was a distinct difference between on-line, typed dialogue and on-line, typed poses, with one caveat from Dimitri, who wrote

Sometimes I use a pose to lead into dialogue. It then becomes a more literary media, and more enjoyable to play and read. However, anything said, in either a pose or say, is put between quotation marks. Again, this has more literary roots.

In this case, Dimitri refers to using a pose with included dialogue (i.e. Santiago jumps up, and says, "Hello!"), and notes that the body language portion of the pose is kept distinct from the dialogue portion via use of quotation marks.

All six agreed that poses are used to communicate ideas or concepts that are definitely not only textual dialogue, although Horatio noted that poorly written body language is simply confusing. Four of my respondents, or 66.67%, felt that on-line kinesics improved the quality of CMC by adding a level of detail, subtlety, or intensity; while one noted that he used body language primarily for gestures and flirtation. Half my respondents found body language easier to use on-line; as Dimitri succinctly noted, "It's much easier than in RL because for the character it's conscious and defined. You have to make the character pose it, it just doesn't happen naturally or unconsciously." Horatio declined to answer the question, stating, "Hrm... I don't think I can answer that. Body language in RL is something natural, we do it without a second thought. On-line we have to consciously use it." One correspondent, Morgan, believed there was no difference. Finally, according to Rokhan, RL body language was much easier to use, because

I read what the previous entry was, and then look at the little 'movie in my head,' and visualize what Rokhan's response would be, then write it down. What made it hard was the sheer volume of typing I had to do to get this across, and sometimes the pauses would 'cool the moment' ... Usually it was the speed [i.e. he could not respond fast enough on-line].

This theme of the on-screen text as internally visualized occurs repeatedly, and I will examine it more closely in the Discussion section of this paper.

Use of on-line body language did not seem to facilitate RL kinesics for half my correspondents, although Horatio felt that he noticed RL kinesics more since his use of on-line body language. On-line body language was considered an excellent place to explore kinesics by 33.33%, or as Carroll noted, "I can experiment with things online with less repercussion than I can RL." Rokhan felt the two had no correlation, noting, "I use the body language I have in RL mostly subconsciously. With Rokhan, I am watching a performance of a character I control, and reporting it."

Approximately 83% of my respondents reported used emoticons (some more than they wished to), and one respondent did not know if he did so. Only one respondent did not report seeing emoticons as an OOC form of body language. All six reported using say-verbs at one time or another, although two thirds of them noted they found incongruity between the say-verb and the dialogue to be jarring, and that ordinarily they would not use the say-verbs in order to maintain flexibility in their communications. Unsurprisingly, all six found differences between communicating on-line, as opposed to RL communication, with five of the six also noting the difficulty of communicating accurately on-line, and one of them also noting that in some ways VR allowed one a greater measure of control as to how one portrays oneself.

Socialization and improved chances of role-playing gaming was cited as the reason for being on-line by 83% of my respondents. Of those five, one mentioned how much 'safer' VR was, allowing one to portray a more perfect 'persona' than one could iRL, and both he and another correspondent noted the advantage of anonymity as well. The last respondent was on-line specifically for the advantages of on-line gaming over FTF gaming.

Finally, it should be noted that during the interviews, there was a constant use of gestural kinesics by all my respondents (i.e. 'scratches his head,' 'hmms,' 'nods,' 'shrugs,' 'looks blank,' etc.). Also, after the interview my friend Maki posed, spoke, and used an emoticon to tease me:

Maki kisses the back of your hand. "Happy to be of assistance, m'lady."

Maki sneaks a goose with his other hand. ;)

while Rokhan, to my fascination, behaved during the whole interview as if he were in character:

Rokhan settles forward in the chair and steeples his fingers, looking above your head for a moment in thought, before he meets your gaze again. Mildly, he says, ....

Furthermore, even as we interviewed I found myself also reacting to my correspondents' use of body language, and adding poses to my own dialogue with them.

After the interviews I analyzed the logs for nonverbal communication by the 'speaking' person, i.e. I did not include their use of clarifying examples, but only what they themselves performed. The most common form of body language was gestural in nature, with 143 examples of kinesics. Of those examples, 62 were body-related kinesics which all my respondents used, and 81 were facially oriented, as used by 5 of my respondents. Playful use of body language occurred on four separate occasions, as evinced by 50% of my respondents. All of my respondents used emoticons (a total of 37 occurrences), but only one had a say-verb set. One respondent, as has been noted earlier, remained IC throughout the interview.



The Non-verbal Communication Paper:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • References
  • Appendix
  • Tables