Enter the Avatar: The Phenomenology of Prosthetic Telepresence in Computer Games
In this paper I will give a phenomenological account of embodied presence through computer game avatars, based on Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of bodily intentionality, bodily space and bodily extensions (2002 ). The core idea is that when we play, directly controllable avatars like Mario or Lara Croft, as well as racing cars or other kinds of controllable vehicles, function as prosthetic extensions of our own body, which extend into screen space the dual nature of the body as both subject and object. Because they act as proxies or stand-ins for our own body within the gameworld, prosthetic avatars are crucially different from more familiar kinds of bodily extensions, like tools or musical instruments.
In navigable 3D environments, the main “body” of the avatar, in the phenomenological sense, is not the controllable marionette itself (for example Mario or Lara), but the navigable virtual camera, which becomes an extension of the player’s locomotive vision during play. In this way, the navigable camera, extending from the player’s eyes and fingers, re-locates the player’s bodily self-awareness – the immediate sense of “here” as opposed to “there” – into screen space. This displacement of our visual perceptual apparatus through prosthetic avatars creates a distinctive kind of prosthetic telepresence, a phenomenon that nineteenth-century philosophy could not imagine or foresee. Prosthetic telepresence operates at the ground level of the phenomenology of the body, and does not rely on imagination or fictionality. Prosthetic telepresence offers – and indeed demands – full perceptual immersion, yet is not dependent on technologies of audiovisual immersion.
KeywordsComputer Game External Object Dual Nature Bodily Extension Virtual Camera
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