Yesterday, Hamlet asked me if I thought that the proliferation of VR tech like the Oculus Rift could eventually alter how we dress our avatars. I sort of scoffed at the question; I didn't see why or how it could. The avatars we choose for ourselves express what we want them to express one way or another, so why would that change based solely on our physical (or digital) perspective?
And then I thought about it a little more.
The more I think about it, the more I suspect that there could definitely be a change. However, any potential change will depend a lot on how we'll see ourselves. Literally. Here's what I mean:
Let's start at the beginning. There's a big difference between what you choose as a postage stamp-sized forum avatar and what you see in the mirror, and for most of us virtual world avatars probably fall somewhere in the middle. An avatar is meant to "represent" you, and a Second Life avatar is equally an image that you enjoy seeing and a reflection of yourself in the virtual space. But we're rarely ever inside of our avatar. We're most often floating several feet behind them, slightly higher, looking over them as though they're a hand puppet interacting with the world in a slightly more direct way than that postage stamp avatar on a forum does.
But for something like the Oculus Rift, a 3rd person perspective in SL or any virtual space defeats the purpose. It's first-person or bust, and that would remove nearly all of the divide -- all of that distance --between me and my avatar representation of myself. What impact would that have?
That alone? Probably not much. Mouselook isn't too far from how first-person perspective usually works in gaming. For largely technical reasons you're little more than a point-of-view cone suspended in space. If anything you're even more removed from your avatar than before, because it's no longer even visible to you.
But what if you looked down and, instead of seeing nothing but the ground below, you saw a body. You saw "your" torso, "your" legs, "your" arms, "your" outfit, "your skin". What if you looked in a virtual mirror and saw "your" face reflected back?
Seeing all of these things on "you", not even Cher-Horowitz's-closet-style but really, truly, on your body... I doubt the virtual fashion market itself would changevery much, but I absolutely believe there would be a lot of changes on an individual level. The ideal avatar would be one that you're comfortable being, not just an appealing and relatively representational image on the screen. At the same time I don't think this means that people would naturally make avatars that look more like themselves, or that look generally more mundane. Feeling comfortable in your virtual skin would mean many different things to many different people.
Even so, if I was standing in my avatar's shoes, I probably wouldn't wander around the virtual world barefoot and half dressed as much as I do now.
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