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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 Twenty-Two: Glitches & Lag: Unanticipated Variables (Mark R. Johnson)


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Glitches & Lag

Unanticipated Variables


The online competitive multiplayer mode of 2004’s Halo 2, developed by Bungie Studios, is known primarily for two reasons. It is most commonly noted for its tremendous success as a multiplayer game mode: it boasted millions of players, a robust and generally well-developed matchmaking system, and a competitive multiplayer community with significant longevity (by the standards of games of that era). Secondly, to a smaller number of people, it is known for suffering from—or being enhanced by—two conditions: glitches and lag. These are both unintended game features or “interruptions” that impede, alter, or potentially augment avatar use.

A precise definition of the term “glitch” is surprisingly elusive (Lewis et al., 2010, p. 115) in large part due to the ambiguity over intended and unintended forms of gameplay, which can depend upon both technical specifics (Bainbridge & Bainbridge, 2007) and relevant social norms. Despite this terminological and epistemological fuzziness, a glitch can perhaps be best defined as an unexpected moment in the use of a piece of software, or possibly more generally in any kind of complex system; it involves a moment where the system ceases to function as designers intend or users expect, and this normal functioning becomes disrupted. In games this might take many forms, such as an avatar passing through a wall, an inventory item disappearing, a character saying the wrong...

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