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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 Thirteen: Relationships & Reputation: Part of the Main(frame) (Nicholas David Bowman)


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Relationships & Reputation

Part of the Main(frame)


“Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an [island], entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

—DONNE (1624/2007, p. 108, emphasis added)

The emphasized above line is taken from a sermon from English poet and cleric John Donne, intended to remind parishioners that a deeper understanding of the self cannot be attained in isolation. Rather, the self can best (and perhaps only) understood upon reflection of the relationships that one has with others and, by proxy, the reputations that emerge from those relationships. In a sense, Donne’s philosophy can be applied to how we might understand avatars in videogames. Applied in a literal sense, one could argue that a comprehensive understanding of what an avatar “is” cannot be complete without understanding that avatar’s relationships and reputations with myriad elements in the gaming environment. For the most part, avatars are the central contact that a player has with the gameworld and, as such, avatars mediate the player’s understanding of...

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