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Avatar, Assembled

The Social and Technical Anatomy of Digital Bodies


Edited By Jaime Banks

Avatar, Assembled is a curated volume that unpacks videogame and virtual world avatars—not as a monolithic phenomenon (as they are usually framed) but as sociotechnical assemblages, pieced together from social (human-like) features like voice and gesture to technical (machine-like) features like graphics and glitches. Each chapter accounts for the empirical, theoretical, technical, and popular understandings of these avatar "components"—60 in total—altogether offering a nuanced explication of avatars-as-assemblages as they matter in contemporary society and in individual experience. The volume is a "crossover" piece in that, while it delves into complex ideas, it is written in a way that will be accessible and interesting to students, researchers, designers, and practitioners alike.
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Chapter Three: Race & Otherness: The Utopian Promise and Divided Reality (Kristine L. Nowak)


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Race & Otherness

The Utopian Promise and Divided Reality


Imagine walking into a room where you are surrounded by flying pigs, lobsters with three claws, talking unicorns, and a host of human bodies that are different from yours. Consider how you would move and feel if your body was suddenly a different gender, race, or species—the body of an “Other.” This ability to experience “Otherness”—states of being alien to one’s own social identities (Miller, 2008)—in digital spaces emerges from the customization and editability of avatars. Thus, digital avatars can allow people to embody (to be digitally represented by) a digital body that presents another race with different skin color and hair and eyes, or an other species such as an alien, or a fantasy creature. Will people alter gaits, postures, speech, or behaviors when their digital bodies present an Other? How will they shake hands or move if they embody a tree, or a person with only one arm, or a coral reef? The ability to engage in this experimentation with appearance, movement, and interaction can allow people to experience the bodies of others, frequently called identity tourism (Nakamura, 2002). In this way, avatars can give people unique embodiment experiences and perspectives that may allow them to experiment with different parts of own their identities and potentially—even problematically—see Others in a unique light. ← 33 | 34 →

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