Identifying with an avatar : a multidisciplinary perspective
Hamilton, Jillian G. (2009) Identifying with an avatar : a multidisciplinary perspective. In Fennessy, Liam, Kerr, Russell, Melles, Gavin, Thong, Christine, & Wright, Emily (Eds.) Proceedings of the Cumulus Conference: 38º South: Hemispheric Shifts Across Learning, Teaching and Research, Swinburne University of Technology and and RMIT University, Swinburne University of Technology and and RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.
Avatars perform a complex range of inter-related functions. They not only allow us to express a digital
identity, they facilitate the expression of physical motility and, through non-verbal expression, help to mediate
social interaction in networked environments. When well designed, they can contribute to a sense of “presence” (a
sense of being there) and a sense of “co-presence” (a sense of being there with others) in digital space.
Because of this complexity, the study of avatars can be enriched by theoretical insights from a range of
disciplines. This paper considers avatars from the perspectives of critical theory, visual communication, and art theory (on portraiture) to help elucidate the role of avatars as an expression of identity. It goes on to argue that identification with an avatar is also produced through their expression of motility and discusses the benefits of film theory for explaining this process. Conceding the limits of this approach, the paper draws on philosophies of body image, Human Computer Interaction (HCI) theory on embodied interaction, and fields as diverse as dance to
explain the sense of identification, immersion, presence and co-presence that avatars can produce.
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