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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 Ten: Companions & Vehicles: Permutations of Digital Entities (Rabindra A. Ratan)

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CHAPTER TEN

Companions & Vehicles

Permutations of Digital Entities

RABINDRA A. RATAN



Do you have a cat? A dog? A Zandalari Footlasher? If so, your pet likely fills a special need in your life, such as companionship, cognitive stimulation, or even—in the case of the World of Warcraft Footslasher raptor—assistance on quests of dire importance to the realm. Similarly, do you drive a car? Ride a motorcycle? Fly a Banshee? If so, your vehicle likely transforms your experience in the world, augmenting your mobility, capabilities, and (in the case of Halo’s deadly aircraft) potential to unleash carnage on the enemy. Companions and vehicles play important roles in our everyday, individual experiences. Similarly, digital companions and vehicles facilitate and augment the user’s digitally mediated experiences, functioning alongside and in tandem with avatars. However, whereas an avatar is often perceived as an on-screen reflection of the user—one’s digital self—digital companions and vehicles do not necessarily reflect any aspect of the user’s self (e.g., behavior, appearance). So how exactly do digital companions and vehicles relate to avatars?

To address this question, it is useful to consider what an avatar is and does, relative to the user. According to the dual-congruity perspective of avatar use (Suh, Kim, & Suh, 2011), avatars vary in the extent to which their use is functionally congruent (utilitarian and task-related) versus self-congruent (expressive and identity-oriented). These congruencies vary in digital...

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