[ISEA2020] Paper: Serena Desaulniers — Cyborg Encounters: The Abilizing Capabilities of Embodying Disabling Avatars


Keywords: Critical disability studies, videogames, haptics, low theory, interactivity

In her text, “The Virtual Body in Cyberspace,” media arts scholar, Anna Balsamo, coins the term “cultural autism” to refer to the new intersubjective experiences which arise from inhabiting the information environments of VR. Balsamo uses this term to characterize the virtual body as being a “disabled foil to the presumed able-bodied ‘real’ communicator”[1]. In recognizing that this term is drawn from a reductive understanding that people with autism are removed from “authentic” bodily experiences, “Cyborg Encounters” draws from Art Historian, Anne Pasek’s text, “Errant Bodies: Relational Aesthetics, Digital Communications, and the Autistic Analogy,” by considering how the term cultural autism can be used to positively reflect alternate lived experiences through digital media. Combining Pasek’s notion with Judith Halberstam’s low theory and haptics, this paper explores the opportunities granted through limited game mechanics as well as different gaming communities in order to investigate how players corporeal act of embodying an avatar creates a celebratory experience for differently abled bodies.

  • Serena Desaulniers an MA student studying Art History at Concordia University, Montreal, CA. While her research delves into sensorial and material interactions within craft and digital media, her work frequently touches on themes of cultural production as well as critical disability studies. These notions are evident within her two curatorial projects, one for Concordia’s Centre for Arts in Human Development, in which she co-curated a digital exhibit that showcased the collaboration between adults with developmental disabilities and undergraduate design students as a means of addressing the stigma found surrounding the possibilities of people with disabilities. Her other curatorial project, Interface, was produced for Art Matters’ 2019 Festival, consisting of an interactive exhibition that explored the haptic interactions connecting textile production and intermedia.