Guerra's essay examines the overlapping discourses of avatar found in Milton Bradley's The Checkered Game of Life and Walt Whitman's “Song of Myself.” Because an avatar is defined by action, the essay begins by tracing the operational dynamics of the figure in Bradley's game, contrasting it with the other board games of the period as a way of understanding the competing perspectives on selfhood that existed in this moment. Using Bradley's innovations in Life to codify these differences, Guerra then explores Whitman's use of the figure in “Song of Myself.” Whereas Bradley's game foregrounds the mechanics of avatar agency, Whitman's lyric imagines what such an agency would entail given something approaching the full range of nineteenth-century American experience. By tracking the emergence and use of these ludic avatars, Guerra sheds light on the affordances, both liberating and limited, of a figure that continues to have special resonance in the digital age.
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Douglas Guerra; Forcibly Impressed: Reform Games and the Avatar Figure in Milton Bradley and Walt Whitman. American Literature 1 March 2011; 83 (1): 1–27. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2010-061
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