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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 Seven: Gesture & Movement: Indices of Presence (Sita Popat)


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Gesture & Movement

Indices of Presence


Three players bring their avatars to the same in-game location to start a quest together. As they arrive, the gnome bounces on the spot and waves. The elf throws back her head in laughter before dancing with a provocative hip sway. The human salutes smartly and bows. Each of these gestures communicates information about the avatars themselves and about the interaction choices of the players controlling them.

An avatar’s movement includes a range of motions, from programmed gaits and postures to the ways in which the avatar moves in and through digital space as guided by the player. Gestures are a subset of this movement—a specific kind of motion that encodes personal, social, and cultural information. Gestures can be decoded by others who share an understanding of the relevant codes, communicating information about intentions, emotions, and responses to events and to other people. Gesture and movement can play a key role in avatar-mediated relationships—both in interactions with other players and in information exchanges between players and their own avatars. The importance of these conveyances may be intensified in immersive gaming as an avatar’s digital body becomes more closely aligned with a player’s physical body, with the potential for influences on the player’s embodied experience.


As humans interact in physical spaces, there are inherent tensions between gestures...

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