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Aren’t you a doll! Toying with avatars in digital playgrounds

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As recognized play theorist Brian Sutton-Smith points out, we have entered a ‘ludic age’ in which a playful attitude is embraced at all ages and play has increasingly come to mean play with toys. Documentations of the material, creative and social dimensions of toy play are increasingly seen in the playgrounds of digital media such as the photo management application Flickr. Dolls are considered as one of the earliest playthings, and in contemporary dolls, fantasy and reality blend into each other as their materialness and the design-storytelling are challenged by adult players/prosumers. A doll may play a part in self-expression and style; owners may customize, photograph and display the toy or share the visual documentations of their play sessions in various digital spaces. In some cases a doll might even become an avatar for the player himself or herself. This article examines how adults use doll characters as avatars by exploring visual narratives in social media environments. This is done through a visual analysis of doll images shared on the Internet-based Flickr and by analysing player created content on websites dedicated to the popular doll Blythe. Through examining the ways of toying with contemporary dolls in the playgrounds of social media, the aim is to build a new understanding of adult creation of second lives online.
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Keywords: avatar; doll; identity; play; social media; toys

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Aalto University School of Arts

Publication date: 2012-09-14

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  • The Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds focuses on theoretical and applied, empirical, critical, rhetorical, creative, economic and professional approaches to the study of electronic games across platforms and genres as well as ludic and serious online environments.
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