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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-Six: Mobility & Context: Of Being and Being There (Edward Downs)


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Mobility & Context

Of Being and Being There


There is a long-standing debate in philosophical circles as to whether humans are products of their environments. While it is beyond the scope of this chapter to answer this question with certainty, it’s safe to say, in brief, that the answer is likely both yes and no. On one hand, a quote from author C. J. Heck famously illustrates the “yes” position, stating: “We are all products of our environment; every person we meet, every new experience or adventure, every book we read, touches and changes us, making us the unique being we are.” On the other hand, anthropologist Margaret Mead advocates for the “no” position, stating: “The notion that we are products of our environment is a sin; we are products of our choices.” Both have a point. If a person is born into an English-speaking family and learns to speak in English, it is reasonable to say the person is a product of the environment. Point for Heck. However, if they decide to study Farsi, Japanese, or Papiamentu, then their choice has dictated how they will engage the world through these languages. Point for Mead.

This may seem like a strange way to begin a chapter on avatars, but the tension between fate and free will—that is to say, emerging from environment or choice—is as real in the digital...

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