February 6, 2020

The State of the Avatar DiGRA 2020 workshop

  • Tagged:
  • Event
  • Staff Work

As part of the DiGRA 2020 Conference, being held at Tampere University, Finland, 2-6 June 2020, a workshop is being organized on the current state of avatar research. The workshop is being organized and chaired by Ea Christina Willumsen (University of Bergen) and Daniel Vella (University of Malta). DiGRA is the premiere international association for academics and professionals who research digital games and associated phenomena. It encourages high-quality research on games, and promotes collaboration and dissemination of work by its members. This is one of two workshops the Institute of Digital Games is involved in organising at Digra 2020, as the IDG is also involved in organising another Digra workshop on game citations.

The State of the Avatar: A DiGRA 2020 Workshop

“Avatar theory,” or the study of avatars and related phenomena (player figures, playable characters, player-controlled components, etc.) is continuously expanded as scholars dive deeper into the configurations of interaction with and within digital games and the worlds they project. The topic has been approached from a variety of perspectives, ranging from theoretical investigations rooted in phenomenology (Klevjer, 2007; Vella, 2015; Kania, 2017) and game design (Jørgensen, 2013; Willumsen, 2018) to theatre and puppetry (Blanchet, 2008; Westecott, 2009; Georges, 2012) and player engagement (Linderoth, 2005; Bayliss, 2007; Lankoski, 2011), to name a few. Research from psychological and social-scientific angles (Waggoner 2009; Ducheneaut et al 2009; Yee 2014) has also considered the significance of avatarial engagement on personal and social identities. At the same time, the term has been criticized for being a cultural appropriation of a Hindu object of worship (de Wilt et al., 2019), and the expansive nature of the avatar, as indicated by the great diversity in theories, suggest that it might be time to organize existing theories to be able to compare and discuss whether and how the term can be productively used in future studies of digital games.

Game Studies Research into the Avatar and Related Concepts

Thus, the workshop will bring together different researchers interested in exploring the avatar and related concepts, to examine, compare, and debate the uses and applications of the different approaches and how the community of scholars studying games may best handle the present challenges to avatar theory.

The aim of the workshop is to represent the diverse array of approaches to studying and theorizing avatars. The themes explored in the workshop could include, but are not limited to:

- Historical overview of the “avatar” term and concept

- Player discourses on avatars

- Avatars in game design

- Embodiment, presence, and telepresence

- Representation and diversity of avatars

- Avatars and diversity, e.g. gender, and sexuality, ethnicity, ableism

- Avatars and personal and social identity

- Avatars beyond games

- Formal analysis of avatars

- Avatars and characters

- Empathic and emotional engagement with avatars

- Movement and navigation in digital games

- Research methods and challenges in studying avatars

The workshop will run from 09.30 to 17.30 on June 2, 2020 (the day before the main DiGRA conference programme), including non-catered lunch and coffee breaks. Speakers will be asked to prepare 15-minute presentations. These presentations will be grouped into thematic panels, each of which will be followed by a short discussion involving the panelists and the audience. After the panels, one hour will be dedicated to a moderated final discussion and Q&A session involving all speakers and the audience.

Attention Game Researchers: Call for Submissions

Please submit an abstract of up to 400 words (plus bibliography) to (daniel.m.vella@um.edu.mt AND ea.willumsen@uib.no) by February 14th, 2020. Selections will be made by the organizers.

Given the exploratory nature of this workshop, work-in-progress submissions are welcome.

All workshop presenters have to be registered for the main DiGRA 2020 conference. However, it is not necessary for workshop presenters to have papers accepted in the main conference programme. The workshop sessions are open to all DiGRA 2020 participants (non-presenters included).

BEFORE YOU SUBMIT: If you are not familiar with DiGRA, please check the website for conference fees, location, etc. ahead of submitting an abstract: http://www.digra2020.org/

Important dates

Submission deadline: February 14th, 2020, 12.00 (GMT)
Notifications: February 18th, 2020 (at the latest)
Workshop: June 2nd, 2020, 09.30 - 17.30, Tampere, Finland.


Ea Christina Willumsen (University of Bergen)
Daniel Vella (University of Malta)