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Avatar, Assembled

The Social and Technical Anatomy of Digital Bodies

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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 Four: Boobs & Butts: The Babes Get the Gaze (Jesse Fox)

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CHAPTER FOUR

Boobs & Butts

The Babes Get the Gaze

JESSE FOX



Given the primitive graphics of early videogames, it took several years for game developers to enable human-like representations. With the development of human characters and related plots or storylines, it became necessary for designers to create representations with human-like traits such as biological sex and gender to illustrate these narratives. Historically, representations of women have been distinguished physiologically by accentuating the curvature of women’s bodies, whereas men were imbued with masculine traits such as muscularity or facial hair. Moreover, this physiology may be exaggerated. Male characters are often hypermasculine, emphasizing traits such as a strong jaw line and excessive musculature. These features are associated with power and aggression and are often relevant to character goals. Female characters, on the other hand, are often hypersexualized. Breasts and butts are exaggerated to unrealistic proportions, creating an idealized hourglass shape with an excessively narrow waist. This figure is further accentuated through revealing and often impractical clothing. Rather than conveying strength or other relevant capacities, such depictions focus on women’s sexuality.

Although both male and female avatars may appear in revealing clothing, it is a false equivalence to suggest that these depictions are the same. Men are typically shown shirtless to flaunt musculature and strength, whereas the revealing nature of women’s clothing is designed to highlight their sexuality. If male characters were similarly sexualized, they might don...

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