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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 Eight: Names & Labels: Strategic (De)Identification (Mark R. Johnson)


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Names & Labels

Strategic (De)Identification


Since the days of arcade high-scores, gamers have been identifying themselves through pseudonyms. Most arcade cabinets allowed players who reached a sufficiently high score to input three letters, generally capitals only, to record their identity within the device. In contrast to the contemporary ability to broadcast competitive gameplay to millions of connected viewers through live-streaming software, competitive gameplay in this era was “indirect” (McMillan, 2010, p. 184), whereby players would compete in the same games at different times and normally without directly witnessing the play of others. These names and their ordering thereby became sites of competition (Johnson, 2016)—players battled to reach ever-more perfect scores in arcade games, demonstrating their skills by placing three-letter signifiers next to high scores. Even at this earliest stage, and in an era far before online multiplayer games, something as seemingly trivial as a selection of three letters for denoting a player was already important. The (adopted) names and labels of gamers, and how they shape and influence play, therefore, go back almost as far as computer games themselves. Naturally, arcade tags are but one small component of names and labels and their roles in digital worlds, but the ability for even a simple three letters to have such social consequence begins to draw our attention to how important these might be, and how fundamentally they might structure how we...

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