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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 Five: Face & Hair: Looks That Change Behaviors (Sun Joo (Grace) Ahn)


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Face & Hair

Looks That Change Behaviors


The face is often referred to as the “window to the soul” because it is an essential way of expressing emotions to others. More than 10,000 expressions can be made using facial muscles (Ekman, 1972) and among the human body parts used to express and communicate emotions, the face is one of the richest sources of nonverbal information (Collier, 1985). The ability to recognize these expressed emotions and identify a person from their facial appearance is an essential skill for daily social interactions (Weigelt, Koldewyn, & Kanwisher, 2012), because people often attempt to estimate others’ traits and characteristics—from trustworthiness to competency—through their facial features.

Then what about the facial features and expressions of digital figures, like those in videogames and digital worlds? With virtual reality and gaming technologies reaching the mainstream (Pew Internet Research, 2015), we are increasingly exposed to and interacting with digital agents (bodies driven by computer algorithms) and avatars (bodies driven by human users). Although these digital figures may not exist in the flesh and bone, research suggests that interacting with digital agents and avatars can not only influence the way that we think about them in the digital world but also change the way that we think and behave in the physical world. One reason that agents and avatars can be so influential may be...

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