When I first saw Ana, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds After publisher Krafton’s attempt to give a face to its artificial “virtual human” technology, I was disappointed to see that this alleged Web 3.0 innovation was really just another pretty, pale girl. She is airbrushed, but still tangible. She bites her tongue and looks at you. And I’m afraid she only exists to watch, and not much else.
Krafton has his first images of Ana. released on June 15. We have two tight close-ups of a vaguely East Asian woman with all the expected egirl accessories, dyed hair and adventurous ear piercings. Ana, which was created with Unreal Engine, has a lightning bold tattooed on her finger† It’s clearly visible when she puts her little finger to her lips to stare at you with clear, amorous intent.
Krafton unveiled its “virtual human” technology in February with a technical demonstration with “motion-based vivid movements, pupil movements enabled by rigging technique, colorful facial expressions and even the soft and baby hairs on the skin.” The publisher announced its intent to use carefully crafted virtual people not only in its games, but also in its Esports demonstrations, in hopes of creating more virtual influencers and singers like “robot” Instagrammer Miquela†
Those are influencers and singers, plural, so Ana is probably just the beginning of what I can only imagine as a circus troupe of PUBG robot babies. Robot babes are especially trendy right now because we haven’t grown at all since watching the film Hair in 2013. Before that, we got used to the idea that robots are malleable, emotionless women. In other words, “perfect” women.
In 2011, respectful female-coded virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa began to live in our devices, confirming the popular image of a loving, supportive electronic woman most recently informed by forward-looking Y2K media — think Cortana in Halo in 2001, or the virtual pop star in Disney’s 2004 movie Pixel perfect† In 2016, a man in Hong Kong spent $50,000 to build a robot that looked like Scarlett Johanssonwho happens to be the voice of the virtual assistant in the movie Hair† We really didn’t learn anything from that movie.
We also haven’t learned much from real artificial intelligence experts, who have emphasized over the years that female-coded robots alienate human female tech users. and reward harmful stereotypes about women servile and devoted whatever abuse they suffer. In 2019, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published a publication arguing that “Siri’s ‘feminine’ subservience – and the servility expressed by so many other digital assistants projected as young women – is a powerful illustration of gender bias encoded in technology products, ubiquitous in the tech sector and visible in the digital skills education.” But tech companies like Krafton continue to create within these gender biases, stitching tighter and deeper into our societal fabric.
This is partly due to gaming is contradictory but addicted relationship to sex, and the evil eye of the relentless, ever-judgmental male gaze. Regular developers have occasionally tried to move beyond the archetypal woman of video games to embrace more realistic graphics (to Reddit’s Big Disappointment), but female character designs in video games in general remain recursive: chubby and flexible. I love to embrace my inner bimbo as much as anyone else, but when women with stiletto heels and narrow waists are the only representation we have in video games, it reduces an entire gender to a repressive stereotype.
But even more than bendy women, tech and video game companies are horny for the ill-defined terms “Web 3.0” and “Metaverse.” Both are intended to evoke the idea of an empowered online individual, but in practice they are usually just ways to rehabilitate and market obsolete virtues (priority work productivity† individual property) for a new audience. Perhaps to take cover for rapidly crumbling blockchain “innovations” like pay-to-win video gamesNew Web3 proponents are holding on to comforting images of technological advancements, including those ethereal, chubby digital women who might be able to enter a roundhouse kick Mortal Kombat, but would never nag you about your stupid NFT investment. Criticism is not in their source code.
Calling all the right buzzwords for his Ana news, Krafton wrote in a press release that “ANA is designed to engage a global audience and help build KRAFTON’s Web 3.0 ecosystem” that “has sparked the interest and popularity of Gen. Z Will Attract” through music and a foray into influencer dom.
The company declined to answer my questions (“Do you think Ana’s design will alienate female gamers?” Does Krafton do anything to prevent Ana from relying on stereotypes?” Can you describe how Ana’s design and capabilities specifically appeal to Gen Z? “), who told me in an email that “there will be more announcements/details in the coming weeks!”
Ideally, over the next few weeks, we’ll be lucky enough to receive another close-up of Ana giving the camera meaningful bedroom eyes, except with a little more forehead. On behalf of my generation, we can’t get enough of a poreless forehead.
Sorry, I don’t want to be completely pessimistic about Krafton’s intentions. It’s possible that Ana will have a message under her neck indicating that she’s not another iteration of male developers conquering technology by shaping it into their favorite future – a skinny, pale, obedient woman. Who, by the way, also wants to sing with “advanced voice synthesis” and become a social media phenomenon, which you would be forgiven for as the only two career paths open to a beautiful woman.
Okay, so maybe I want to be pessimistic. It’s eternally frustrating to be a woman who gets turned on by video games and the Internet, only to see their potential routinely diluted into the same nasty tropes a straight man depends on to get out. Creating AI women who represent the same qualities Victorian found in the demure angel in the house is not “Web 3.0”, it’s the default, traditionally sexist. An AI-assisted voice can be represented by any image, blob or creature, but the best Krafton can think of is a woman I’ve seen in ads and thinspiration Tumblr since I could go online.
But I should bear it, shouldn’t I? This is how we live, spitting out the same images and rewriting the same opinions that no one listens to and yet finds time to disagree. I just don’t want Krafton pretending this is the future. Sometimes I feel like we’ve been stuck in history for as long as we record it.