This article explores the cultural appropriation of the term avatar by Western tech culture and what this implies for scholarship of digital games, virtual worlds, social media, and digital cultures. The term has roots in the religious tradition of the Indian subcontinent and was subsequently imported into video game terminology during a period of widespread appropriation of Eastern culture by Californian tech industries. We argue that the use of the term was not a case of happenstance but a signaling of the potential for computing to offer a mystical or enchanted perspective within an otherwise secular world. This suggests that the concept is useful in game cultures precisely because it plays with the “otherness” of the term's original meaning. We argue that this indicates a fundamental hybridity to gaming cultures that highlight the need to add postcolonial perspectives to how issues of diversity and power in gaming cultures are understood.
- cultural appropriation
- game culture