September 30, 2006

Flat Daddy

by Andrew Stern · , 2:40 am


I’ve posted numerous times about virtual characters (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8), and in my posts I’ve always been critical of shallow, cardboard-cutout characters. I’ve always had trouble understanding how players can tolerate them.

However, sometimes a cardboard cutout is all you’ve got, and it’s better than nothing.

The Maine National Guard is giving life-size from-the-waist-up pictures of soldiers to the families of deployed guard members. Guard officials and families say the cutouts, known as Flat Daddies or Flat Soldiers, connect families with a relative who is thousands of miles away. The Flat Daddies are toted everywhere from soccer practice to coffee shops to weddings.

That’s from an article today in the NYTimes; there’s another from a month ago in the Boston Globe.

Boston Globe

“I prop him up in a chair, or sometimes put him on the couch and cover him up with a blanket,” said Kay Judkins of Caribou, whose husband, Jim, is a minesweeper mechanic in Afghanistan. “The cat will curl up on the blanket, and it looks kind of weird. I’ve tricked several people by that. They think he’s home again.”

My first reaction was, this is incredibly sad. That image of the kid on the swing next to his Flat Daddy is heartbreaking, and also creepy.

But then I read this part of the NYTimes article:

Ms. Sorenson said it helped Sarah, now 4, recognize her father when he came home on leave. “She saw him on the jetway and said, ‘Daddy, Daddy,’ ” Ms. Sorenson said. “There was no anxiety.”

That helped me remember why virtual characters, or fictional characters of any kind really, can be so powerful and useful to people. And depending on the circumstance, even a flat character can be effective.

(These virtual daddies and mommies aren’t “characters” of course, they’re of real people, but I think the same principles apply.)

While it’s still sad to me, it also feels positive. Now I see the Flat Daddies and Flat Mommies as being really important, especially for kids. It’s more than a photo; because you can carry them around, and they’re life size, they’re almost like big dolls, really. So strange.

2 Responses to “Flat Daddy”

  1. Patrick Says:

    So, cardboard cut-out NPCs are okay?

    Seriously though, no matter how generative or emergent your archetechture, you’re always going to be fighting a battle of content creation in order to prevent the user from seeing behind the facade, so to speak. This could even be true, in a darkly metaphorical sense, of human relationships, the amount of time you invest, providing content to the person you interact with, is directly related to that person’s sense of your reality.

  2. 21 Days to Better Halo « Save the Robot - Chris Dahlen Says:

    […] is a miracle nowadays. I’m pretty close to sticking my kid with one of those “flat daddies,” at least to get through my next month’s deadlines. […]

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