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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-Four: Embellishment & Effects: Seduction by Style (Dominic Kao / D. Fox Harrell)


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Embellishment & Effects

Seduction by Style


For nearly 40 years, researchers have sought to understand how graphics in videogames and computer games impact users—ranging from whether some types of visual images displayed on a screen help to make educational games more fun to how different types of avatar graphics impact players (with Malone [1980] as one of the earliest attempts). A key concept in such work is that of embellishment. Consider the game Limbo (2010), in which environments are rendered in minimalistic black and white graphics resembling shadowy silhouettes. Such graphics feature minimal embellishment. In contrast, other systems might feature much more detailed, full-color, more painterly or photorealistic images—hence more embellishment. Figure 24.1 depicts this contrast using the example of the player character in Limbo contrasted with the painterly player character in Braid (2008). As such, while it refers to levels of detail, embellishment is no mere matter of extraneous graphical details. Rather, as it is used here the term “embellishment” is inextricably linked with notions of visual style in a more holistic sense.

A second important aspect of graphics in videogames and computer games are their “effects,”—or changes to the game’s graphics over time (e.g., animations). For instance, consider Mortal Kombat’s (2002) character Sub-Zero who can freeze to ice and shatter a defeated opponent, a series of multiple sequential effects. On the other...

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