The Ultima Online Avatar (as a cultural object)

One of the less brain-melting moments of my experience pretending I was going to write a doctoral thesis at UNSW was a unit of ‘cultural studies’. On the one hand, the mixed candidature of the course meant it was pretty entry level, on the other hand my background meant I had never had that introduction to the field. The text we used was Paul Du Gay’s ‘Doing Cultural Studies: The Story of the Sony Walkman‘ which provided a very accessible approach to looking at cultural objects through various lenses to build up an understanding of these objects.

Unsurprisingly, our major assignment was to choose an object and follow this methodology to document it – examining how it was produced and consumed, what codification and commercialisation it underwent, and that kind of thing. Not having a burning passion to dive into cultural archaeology of the humble thong or Hills hoist, I elected to write about ‘The Ultima Online Avatar‘.

The most interesting aspects of the avatar were its nature as a service rather than a product per se, the way it was continually becoming, and the complex engagement it has with the identity of the consumer. Looking at the avatar through a commercial lens was interesting, and naturally I also took the opportunity to recast the whole discussion within Deleuzian language to explore issues of manufacturing hyperreality and becoming-cyborg.

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