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Attention Internet: Vote on Which GIFS Best Express Emotion

Can we vote on how GIF is pronounced already?

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Don’t post that pic of Oprah giving side eyes! There may be a more effective way to convey your views on Crimea. Two MIT students have created a “GIF sorting” game that tackles assumptions about the universal emotional or cultural significance of certain images, reminding users that our screaming Walter White is someone else’s laughing Squidward.

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Grad students Travis Rich and Kevin Hu are the internet geniuses behind GIFGIF: a game that randomly generates two gifs from a database of 5,659 possibilities and has players decide which of the options best expresses one of 17 emotions. The more participants help rate and categorize selections, the more gif options Rich and Hu will add.

The students explain on GIFGIF’s website that there’s a surprising amount of academic and cultural significance to compiling countless Adventure Time screenshots, saying:

An animated gif is a magical thing. It contains the power to convey emotion, empathy, and context in a subtle way that text or emoticons simply can’t . . . Does a gif’s emotional variance impact how it’s received? (We have a hunch that emotional variance is why :) is pretty acceptable but ;) is typically an awkward mix of creepy/sexy/playful/pirate-y). Does a gif’s emotional content vary between cultures? For example, what is the best representation of happiness for Germans, compared to a Canadian’s impression? And certainly let’s not forget, we just want to build a better way to find gifs that capture that exact emotion you’re looking for.

A picture is worth a thousand words, especially when those pictures move, so it’s easy to forget that, prior to GIFGIF at least, even the images that speak to us the most don’t have a definitive meaning for others. In a time when creating an image that uses cultural context to express personal opinions is so easy, Rich and Hu have built a reminder that harnessing the meaning behind those images and symbols is still as difficult and unpredictable as it was pre-dial up.

More importantly, though, GIFGIF is a lot of fun. I laughed almost the entire time I played, and not just because it was clear that my ideal representation of “pride” differed from other players’. (Gob Bluth, people! COME ON!)

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It was obvious from playing that even when there are more means of of communicating content than ever, universal agreement on the significance of that content is still, as Gob would say, an illusion.

Check out the game’s results page to see which images users have already voted on as appropriate emotional expressions. They’ve even got a search feature with its own emotional stat chart to find the perfect GIF for how you’re feeling.

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In the future, Rich and Hu say players will also be able to upload and rank their own gifs, so the GIFGIF experiment is really just getting started. In case the following image doesn’t speak as clearly to you as it does to me, I find that news very exciting.

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(via io9, images via GIGIF)

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