In 2013 Chong-U Lim wrote a research paper for MIT wordily titled Modeling Player Performance in Avatar Customization Using Social Network Data: A Case Study Using Virtual Items in Team Fortress 2. It’s all about the correlation between in-game loot —digital items people win or buy on the Steam marketplace— and player’s social status in an online competitive game called Team Fortress 2. What a phenomenal research topic! It’s a dense paper, so thankfully Tommy Thompson at the AI & Games YouTube channel breaks it down.
One interesting piece was how the study talks about players creating a “phantasmal identity” —a projection of real-world human ideas onto a digital avatar— and how the player’s identity is often projected in a “ridiculous and exaggerated fashion”. A machine learning model was able to classify and predict (with ~60% accuracy) a player’s social status (social interactions) based on their status performance (value of in-game hats). I think about this often, because it’s a fascinating look at the relationship between digital cosmetics (hats, skins, avatars, sprays) and social status broadcasting. Louis Vuitton, but Loot Boxes.