The Avatar’s Avatar

Here is the abstract I just submitted for the Mimesis Now conference at the University of Rochester this spring. Hope I get in!

The Avatar’s Avatar: Rethinking Realism in .hack//Infection

In Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture (2006), Alexander Galloway argues that a theory of realism in videogames cannot take the form of a representational model. An image-referent structure works fine when addressing photography or film; however videogames are a an action-based medium. As Galloway puts it, gaming “is not a stand-in for activity. It is activity” (104). The enactment that constitutes the game, in other words, is itself a significant event, as real as what it depicts. How, then, do we conceive of a realism that is not structured in a representational binary and does not distinguish image and referent? What would it mean to call a videogame realistic? How might we understand the mimetic function of media from the perspective of a flat ontology?

My presentation attempts to answer these questions through a reading of CyberConnect’s .hack//Infection (2002). Players of Infection take the role of an anonymous videogamer as he attempts to discover how a virus spreading in the popular massively-multiplayer online game The World sends users into a coma. Positioning players before a simulated desktop operating system and offering no external visualization of the playable character beside his in-World avatar, Kite, Infection collapses representation into enactment. Rather than reflect some “real” state of affairs, its narrative world of ubiquitous digital media reveals circuits of interaction one plugs into simply by picking up a controller. This self-referentiality, I will argue, demonstrates a model for theory of mimesis suited to address the action-based medium of videogames and virtual realities broadly-conceived.