[Ads-l] Antedating of "Avatar" (Computing Sense) in OED and Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction

Shapiro, Fred fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Mon Mar 8 11:41:43 UTC 2021

avatar (computing sense) (OED 1986, Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction 1986)

Wikipedia, which sometimes has very good information about word-coinages, says the following:

"The earliest use of the word avatar in a computer game<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_game> was the 1979 PLATO<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PLATO_(computer_system)> role-playing game<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Role-playing_video_game> Avatar<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar_(1979_video_game)>.

The use of the term avatar for the on-screen representation of the user was coined in 1985 by Richard Garriott for the computer game Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultima_IV:_Quest_of_the_Avatar>. In this game, Garriott desired the player's character to be his earth self manifested into the virtual world. Garriott did this because he wanted the real player to be responsible for the character's in game actions due to the ethical parables he designed into the story. Only if you were playing "yourself" Garriott felt, could you be judged based on your character's actions. Because of its ethically-nuanced, story-driven approach, he took the Hindu word associated with a deity's manifestation on earth in physical form, and applied it to a player manifesting in the game world."

Fred Shapiro

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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