Image avatars : self-other encounters in a mediated world

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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. This thesis contains 3rd party copyright material. ----- This research project investigates the rapidly evolving contemporary phenomenon of the avatar, a virtual image-body that represents individuals in computer-generated terrains. In online chat spaces and websites as well as in computer games and virtual worlds, it has become increasingly common to interact with others through these visual identity stand-ins. Often in the form of cute, animated cartoon characters (both human and non-human) individuals choose how they want to represent themselves, frequently choosing visual identities that are very different from those of their offline selves. While the digital avatar represents some unique new opportunities for individuals to choose and control their prosthetic visual identities, this thesis demonstrates that the idea of the physical self being represented by a virtual image-body is not as new or as revolutionary as the hype surrounding avatars in digital environments might suggest. In fact, the idea of a virtual image-body has been around for a long time, manifested in the technological mediations or ‘body-images’ seen in mirrors, paintings, film and video. These mediated images of the self act as our proxies and stand-ins extending and reactivating the self in a variety of different environments and situations. With cumulative advances in imaging and media technologies, our mediated images have become increasingly malleable, responsive and interactive. More and more, as we interact with each other through images and screens, the mediated face-to-face encounter is coming to extend and augment—and even to replace —the physical face-to- face encounter. The aim of this thesis is to explore the unique affordances of the digital avatar as well as to situate it within a broader media ecology of earlier technologically mediated ‘image avatars’ of the self including mirror images, photographs, film and video. Through this investigation of our different image avatars, this thesis argues that the self is becoming a mixed and multiple reality, both physical and virtual. Through our image avatars, we experience ourselves as both self and other, physical and virtual, singular and multiple, dispersed through our various avatar identities as they migrate from the physical world to photographs, video, the internet, games consoles, personal computers and mobile phones.
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