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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-Five: Perspective & Physics: Frames for Play (Ryan Bown / Gabe Olson)


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Perspective & Physics

Frames for Play


The birth of modern videogames, and the physics that drive them, is due largely to researchers in academia striving to find a way to showcase computing power through entertainment. The first videogame, Tennis for Two, was created in 1958 by developer William Higinbotham after learning that the Donner Model 30 analog computer could simulate trajectories with wind resistance. By employing physics of the physical world—the nature and properties of matter and energy including mechanics, heat, light and other radiation, sound, electricity, magnetism, and the structure of atoms—Tennis for Two, though rudimentary by today’s standards, emulated physical processes. The game became popular during the Brookhaven National Laboratory annual public exhibition, so much so that they continued to build upon the model year to year. The next year they added to the simulation by including different gravity levels. They discovered the processor computing power could calculate ballistic missile trajectories and wind resistance. This created the foundation for what we play today. “[Higinbotham] later recalled his intentions were that ‘it might liven up the place to have a game that people could play, and which could convey the message that our scientific endeavors have relevance for society’” (Bruce, 2008).

Not too far away, Steve Russell at MIT, was working on a similar project and in 1962 developed Spacewar! This game pitted two players...

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