"Men Are Working Out Their Issues By Playing As Their Lovers and Exes in RPGs" by Cecilia D'Anastasio depicts a fascinating if often sexist and disturbing form of avatar-based roleplay: Creating an avatar which resembles the user's real life wife or girlfriend, then literally controlling her in the virtual world. I talked with Cecilia when she was researching this story a few weeks ago, and now that it's published, I asked her what surprised her most about writing it.
"It was interesting to hear how protective these men were of their lovers' characters," she tells me. "To me, that indicates either a fetishization of the knight-in-shining-armor approach to dating women or... just that people get very, very attached to their subjective depictions of women they've been intimate with."
For instance, she writes about the guy who created a Skyrim character mod based on his girlfriend (above), uploaded with the utterly charming file name, “Enjoy My Girlfriend.” Or even worse, the anonymous female Second Life user who suffered a similar fate:
One female Second Life resident, let’s call her “Avi,” suffered the side-effects of Lara Croft syndrome when her ex, a popular content-creator in Second Life, modeled an avatar body closely off hers.
“It was my shape he used for the base shape for the stuff he made,” Avi told me. When she dumped him, Avi said he used her shape on in-world posters advertising her digital avatar body, which was for sale to other Second Life residents, without her permission. Worse, she added, over the course of a few months her ex began to alter her shape—inflating her ass, shrinking her waist, stretching her legs.
“He was full of rage that I was done with him,” Avi told me. “He took me and then ‘idealized’ me in his own image. Creepy.”
Wonder who the creepy content creator in question is. However, it's not all negative, not at all -- in fact, I just pointed out to Cecilia that most of SL users she profiled roleplayed as their significant others for positive reasons and with their SO's permission or approval. Like this one, which is actually oddly romantic:
In addition to taking his wife’s avatar out on the town, Kramer plays dress-up with her Second Life incarnation, often logging in as her and taking her body shopping around Second Life’s many boutiques. He’s bought her flowy dresses, leopard print, Lovecraftian 1920s couture—threads she wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing wear day-to-day, but would want to, he said.
“When she does log in, I like her to be surprised and pleased at her own appearance,” Kramer explained. “In real life, I’d love to be able to go into a nice store and shop for clothes for her, surprise her with something she’d find flattering. That wouldn’t work in practicality. I can pull it off in Second Life.”
I suggested to Cecilia that this might be because Second Life users tend to be much older than traditional roleplay gamers (more in their 30s and 40s, than teens and 20s), making it more likely that players are in stable, longterm relationships. Anyway, much more here.
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