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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 Eleven: Alignments & Alliances: Associations of Value (Kristine Ask / Mark Chen)


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Alignments & Alliances

Associations of Value


Avatars are not alone. While avatars invite players to experience the world through (usually) a single digital embodiment, this body is only meaningful because it is situated in specific historical, social, and material contexts. They are constructed through associations among players, games, and stories, and among people, technologies, and fantasies. Through these associations, the digital representation of self is rendered into a subject with values and positions, with histories and futures, with friends and enemies. In this chapter, we will further investigate the avatar’s relationship to other actors, features, and symbols in and outside the game, and how they construct a preferred way of playing by unpacking the social components of alignments (the relative values held by the avatar as a character) and alliances (the formal associations held by the player and/or avatar).

Drawing on actor network theory (Latour, 2005), avatars may be understood as distributed through networks, or assemblages, as the avatars engage in different alliances to position themselves as encoded/enacted constructs. This approach highlights the relational; how phenomena come to be through associations between different actors (both human and non-human), and how such associations produce avatars with specific values and worldviews. Avatar’s alignments are created through alliances in four ways: alignment through systems, alignment through factions, alignment through players, and alignment through technologies. For each alignment, different values are inscribed...

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