Abstract - The Information Society 15(3)

Representing Bodies in Virtual Space: The Rhetoric of Avatar Design

Beth E. Kolko

This article discusses the rhetorical aspects of avatars, or virtual selves, within multi-user graphical virtual realities [GVRs]. In both text-based and graphical virtual worlds users are represented in the world by discursive or visual avatars. Because the manner in which users in a synchronous shared environment are represented affects how they are able to communicate, the design of an avatar affects the communicative possibilities within a virtual world. This essay examines the development of GVRs in order to question how representations of selves in these newer versions of cyberspace relate to online communication. The focus here is particularly on how bodies in GVRs are gendered, and how differing modes of gender-inscription might affect online interaction. Ultimately, GVRs raise the issue of how the visual affects the verbal when both are mediated by technology.

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