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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 Nine: Gear & Weaponry: Market Ideologies of Functional and Cosmetic Items (William Robinson / David Calvo)


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Gear & Weaponry

Market Ideologies of Functional and Cosmetic Items


Often referred to as “loot,” conventional depictions of the items videogame avatars use and carry include the blurry distinction of the things avatars wear (gear) and use to harm (weapons). The accumulation of items is enabled by a variety of game design techniques that dwindle or proliferate depending on socially negotiated preferences that emerge through in-game chat, forums, advertisement, and selective purchasing. Regularly, players are tasked with deciding what their avatars will hold and wear. This process is often central to building a narrative of progress, as the protagonist-avatar becomes richer and more capable. We can trace this power fantasy to antiquity, with what Joseph Campbell refers to as “supernatural aid,” in which the willing adventurers receive items as both rewards for their perseverance and as tools to continue their journey (2008, p. 63). While Campbell demonstrates that this narrative arc is found throughout the world’s myths and history, fiction has elevated the concept to a trope. In particular, Elias Lonnrot’s 1835 retelling of the Finnish oral tales, collectively known as the Kalevala, emphasizes the relationships between mythical artifacts and heroes. Inspired by this work, J. R. R. Tolkien published The Lord of the Rings in 1954, once again depicting protagonists receiving magical items that help advance their quests. These objects, often properly named, such as Bilbo’s Sting or Gandalf’s...

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