In game studies research on avatars has generally focused either upon identity or theories of multiple selves. Identification theories tend to focus on whether human players relate their offline selves to the image of their online character. A two dimensional relationship between avatar and player. In contrast, the latter expresses that the self is often fragmented by the affordances of the environment, and manageable depending on the medium of communication. However, little focus has been given to the way in which the player, the avatar , and the game environment all contribute to the experience of gameplay. Following a logic that considers what technologies contribute to a relational play experience, I propose a need to consider theories that are able to account for the involvement of non-human actors in formulating gameworlds. McArthur argues that “[a]vatars are the result of an interplay — a series of actions and interactions within a complex network of actors” (McArthur 2018). Following this, avatar bodies should not refer just to the human bodies they represent, but to a multiple and diverse series of connections which assemble as a particular spatial and temporal moment (Deleuze & Guattari 1987; Coleman 2008). With this, we can understand bodies not as a bounded subject that is separate from images and the game, but rather as the connections between players, images, and games constituting an avatar body.
Under this framework, we gain a new object of study. Not the player, the game, the avatar affordances, or the aesthetics of the avatar body, but simultaneously all — it considers these components as equal parts in contributing to the outcomes of their relations. To explore this reframing, I look to Actor-Network Theory (Latour 2005), Radical Relationalism (Powell 2013), and Microethnography (Giddings 2009). Each of these frameworks includes non-humans in the study of social phenomena, considers the ways in which both humans and non-humans form a heterogeneous network of relations, as well as centers relations as the only object of study. This is important because such an approach allows to account not only for the agency of the human player, but the activity expressed by non-human participants (Giddings 2009). In treating relations as our object of study, we can better elucidate how the effects of the relation between these human and non-human actors create processes that allow offline exclusionary practices to be practiced in-game (McArthur 2015; McArthur 2018; Brett 2018; Brett 2019).
Published July 07, 2022 by
Noel Brett. 2022. Relational Avatar Bodies. Presented at the The State of the Avatar: A DIGRA 2022 Workshop. July 2022. Held in conjunction with the Digital Games Research Association Conference: Bringing Worlds Together (DiGRA'22), July 7–11, 2022, Kraków, Poland.