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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 Eighteen: Spells & Statistics: Inside the Black Box (Christopher A. Paul)


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Spells & Statistics

Inside the Black Box


As detailed throughout this book, both developers and players are presented vast options for avatar customization when they start designing or playing videogames. Developers get to set the initial terms for avatar creation and typically offer players all kinds of options for players to develop their own representations in a game. Increased computing power, combined with industry trends toward photorealism in graphics, present players with a dizzying array of choices to make about everything from what an avatar looks like to how it plays out in practice. World of Warcraft (WoW; 2004), for instance, lets players customize both their physical incarnation, and also their race, class, spells, and talents. NBA 2K16 (NBA2K; 2015), like most sports games, includes a MyPLAYER mode that allows players to create ball-player characters, selecting their height, weight, skin color, tattoos, clothing, position, and key basketball attributes. The part deck building, part battle arena game Clash Royale (CR; 2016) strips down player choice even further, as players are left with choices about what cards to include in their deck and considerations to make about how they spend their resources, like gold and gems, but no options about their appearance in the game, beyond their player and clan names.

Effectively these choices fall into two categories: representational issues that are about graphics and how the player is represented in the...

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