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With or as avatars? The semiosis of avatars in actor-networks of human and non-human actors

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This research sets out to examine the ways in which actors relate to choices regarding the design of avatars. The empirical data of the analysis is found in three case studies: one case from EverQuest®, the guild leader Sia with her shaman avatar Gelinu, and two cases from Second Life®, the businessman Thomas with his avatar DC Aspen and the businesswoman Helle with her avatar Helle. Virtual ethnography and iterative video interviews with actors were conducted while they acted with their avatars during 2006–2010. Findings from the video interviews of the case studies suggest that we extend the representational and psychological analysis to explicate the multiple, fluid and emergent relationships between human actors and non-human avatars. Semiotics and actor-network theory are some of the theoretical references contained within the analyses of the three cases mentioned. The article concludes that the relationships of actors with their avatars can be seen as instances of semiosis, i.e., triadic … -relations that mutually and continuously translate the actor-networks of actors and their avatars. It is suggested that this understanding of avatars as interpretants and mediators in ‘companionate’ relationships, characterized by acting ‘with’ rather than ‘as’ the avatars, will help us interpret and understand avatars as transformative phenomena in flux with blurred boundaries and not only as bounded representations of actors in relation to projection, identification, self-construal and identity-making.
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Keywords: actor-network theory; avatar; companion; mediator; semiotic theory; video interview

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Roskilde University

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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