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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 Sixteen: Rules & Mechanics: Parameters for Interactivity (Andy Boyan / Jaime Banks)


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Rules & Mechanics

Parameters for Interactivity


Games are multifaceted media artifacts with which individual players interact in a variety of ways. People play simulations, live out fantasies, develop emotional bonds with characters, and compete with peers (Yee, 2000). However, one thread runs through all uses of games. First and foremost, games are systems of rules and mechanics that govern interactivity (Gee, 2003). The chapters preceding this one attest to the elements of avatars that help shape them as social entities—that make them seem variably human-like and social—but it’s also important to consider how a game’s governing frameworks shape the perception of and engagement with avatars. Said another way, our ability to control and connect with avatars is bound to certain parameters embedded in the code (see Kudenov, this volume), and these implicitly or explicitly implement functional affordances and constraints by which avatars interact with the digital gameworld.

Although a game’s governing rules and mechanics may seem interchangeable, they are markedly different. However, game designers and scholars vary in how they characterize these differences. For instance, some focus on the degree of action completion (Salen & Zimmerman, 2004), such that rules are “component elements of machines” and that mechanics are larger, game-like actions that are constrained by the rules (for example, jumping; Koster, 2011, para. 17). Alternately, the distinction has been framed in terms of their hierarchical...

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