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TYBI: Your Brain on Avatar

While the Avatar feature may not inspire deep conversation, between the scenes of gratuitous CG carnage, the film touches on issues the class had raised throughout the semester, issues such as: a collective conscious, the concept of the avatar, and immersive technologies; the movie provides a platform for viewers to consider the topics both in the context of the film, as well as more generally. The class had discussed the collective conscious in relation to massive online gaming collaborations, and the ‘hive-mind mentality’, in other words a manufactured effort. For the film’s fictional indigenous people, the Na’vi, the collective conscious is and integral part of both their biological and social natures, and the capability is “hard-wired” into their neural networks (via a braid-like tendril directly connected to the brain). In fact, the moon of Pandora was itself connected by means resembling human neuronal networks, and Na’vi were able to link with the satellite in order to access the ‘store’ of information. This presents an interesting take on the collective conscious, especially so in showing that collaboration does not lead to ‘groupthink’ or a loss of self. I would compare the Pandoran “Worldmind” less to task-based collaboration, and more to a collaborative knowledge-base such as Wikipedia (except far more subjective, as the Worldmind is more an amalgamation of experiences). As for the latter two mentioned at the start – the titular avatar and immersive technologies, – the two go hand-in-hand in this film. With the goal of infiltrating the Na’vi settlements, the humans created human-Na’vi hybrid ‘avatars’ using genetic material from both; these hybrids served as receptacles for the consciousnesses of the pilots, and the avatar functioned while the original body ‘slept’ (i.e. was inactive), facilitating a complete immersion of self outside one’s original body and within that of another species. Most of our experiences with the avatar concept relate to gaming (such as WoW, Second Life, etc.), and nothing comes close to the immersive nature presented in the film. However it is interesting to draw parallels as well as discuss the contrasts regarding the effect the avatar exerts over the ‘player’, in that the avatar in both film and reality enables the player to perform actions otherwise beyond their capabilities (e.g.: allows avatar Jake to walk in the film, while WoW avatars allow players to assume mythical roles such as elves and dwarves); in contrast, while the avatars of Avatar fully immerse the individual’s self within another body, gaming avatars often create a duality between organic player and in-game character, with the avatar exhibiting traits the player desires (but is unable to achieve) within him- or herself – thus in a way becoming a separate – arguably better – self. All-in-all, while the film does not answer any burning questions regarding technology, or lead the way into its future development, it presents a platform for discussion of our use of technology at present.

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