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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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Introduction: (Dis)Assembling the Avatar (Jaime Banks)


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(Dis)Assembling the Avatar


Arms outstretched, legs prone, buck naked, and staring intensely, Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man sketch is the ink-and-paper manifestation of his philosophy that certain proportions and geometries are divine blueprints for the human body and for the universe more broadly (Lester, 2012). In the iconic image, the artist-scientist1 depicted ideal human proportions based on the principles of the architect Vitruvius (c. 1480/1914): a palm is four fingers, a foot is four palms, a cubit is six palms, four cubits make a pace, a man is 24 palms. The anatomical diagram is the combined output of his scientific readings, his own scientific observations and artistic interpretations, and the shared da Vincian-Vitruvian philosophy that divine geometries are the foundations of humanity, its creations, and the universe. “Man is the model of the world,” he noted—reflected in its corporeal microcosm are the mountains (in bones), the tides (in pulse), and the elements (in organs; Schneer, 1983). By some accounts, humans can’t help but look at the world through such androcentric metaphors and parallels—we only understand what it is to be human so we apply human frameworks to nonhuman things to understand our world and our place in it (Bogost, 2012).

In the case of videogames, digital worlds, and other interactive media, these frameworks are often applied to avatars: digital bodies that extend a user’s presence and agency into digital...

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