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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-Three: Pixels & Polygons: The Stuff of Light-Beings (Roger Altizer, Jr.)


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Pixels & Polygons

The Stuff of Light-Beings


Graphics pioneer Jim Blinn once began one of his classes on computer graphics by forcefully tapping a piece of chalk against a blackboard, pointing at the newly made dot and declaring it to be a pixel, stating that a pixel was just a dot (Blinn, 2005). He went on to draw on an Indian folk tale, arguing that just as a number of blind people might touch an elephant (not being told it is an elephant) and each describe it differently—as a tree (having touched the leg), a wall (the side), a rope (the tail), a snake (the trunk), or a spear (the tusk)—a pixel can be many things, described many ways. For instance, to those interested in an avatar’s display quality, pixel density contributes to a display’s resolution; to those interested in how pixels contribute to perceptually real avatar bodies, a pixel might convey a color sample, or one best-fit combination of cyan/magenta/yellow/black as sampling of a theoretically perfect image; to those interested in using avatars as tools to engage a game’s challenges, pixels might be the effectively transparent “DNA” of how that system is displayed. But just as an elephant is not actually a tree, wall, rope, snake, or spear, a pixel—and its three-dimensional (3D) counterpart, the polygon—is not a collection of abstractions. A pixel’s meaning depends on how...

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