Lack of Avatar Racial Diversity in an MMO Makes Black Users More Likely to Create White Avatars & Hide Their Real Race, Academic Study Suggests

Erika Therian Second Life avatar

According to a study by Jong-Eun Roselyn Lee at Ohio State University, Discovery Magazine reports, a lack of avatar racial diversity in an MMO impels black users to create white avatars. Lee's study was conducted in Second Life, but seems generally applicable to MMOs in general where it's possible for usres to designate their race:

Lee gathered 56 study participants — half identifying as white and half identifying as black. She then had them read a fabricated magazine story titled “Meet the Coolest ‘Second Life’ Residents.” The eight “Second Life” avatars profiled in the story were either all white, in the low-diversity scenario, or an equal mix of white, black, Hispanic and Asian, in the high-diversity scenario. She then had them perform two tasks: Create and customize their own virtual avatars, and rate their willingness to reveal their real racial identity through the appearance of their virtual avatar. She found that black participants reported less willingness in the low-diversity scenario, and that they also created whiter avatars, as judged by objective raters. By comparison, white study participants were largely unaffected by either the high-diversity or low-diversity scenarios. [Emph. mine]

In other words, when the "cool avatars" are presented to be all white, black users tend to choose white avatars for themselves, while keeping quiet about their real race. This academic study matches the anecdotal reports we've been writing about on this blog, beginning in 2006 with "The Skin You're In", in which a white user experienced prejudice after she started using a black avatar. (An experiment another white user tried last year.) African-American users like Eboni Khan have told me about this phenomenon from their own perspective too:

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Draxtor Despres' Mixed Reality Documentary Series Returns With the Man Behind Some of SL's Best Designed Spaces

Drax Files Editorial Clarity
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

There's a new episode of Draxtor Despres' mixed reality machinima documentary series The Drax Files: World Makers (which is now sponsored by Linden Lab,) and it's packed with absolutely breathtaking virtual spaces. That's because episode 21 focuses on Editorial Clarity, the aptly named avatar behind SL interior design blog Love to Decorate and its complimentary magazine. As always the opportunity to learn what's inspired, motivated, and changed some of Second Life's most talented and interesting individuals is invaluable.

Clean lines, cracked plaster, and a wealth of inspiration await. Watch the full episode for yourself after the cut:

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When You Realize You're Related to Another SL User

AM Radio SL artist

AM Radio just sent me this interesting coda to my profile of him in Polygon: SL fashionista Gabriella Karillion was checking her real life Facebook wall, noticed people sharing the article in which AM Radio's RL name is publicly revealed for the first time, and like they say in Facebook clickbait posts, you won't believe what she discovered next:

I realized a connection that I never knew existed. Little did I know that possibly the most well known artist in SL is related to me in RL.

Just imagine, Gabriella Karillion and AM Radio at the same family reunions and backyard barbecues, not knowing about each other's SL identity. I also like her own explanation for why she keeps her SL activity secret:

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The 5 Most Hated Virtual Fashion Faux Pas in Second Life

Marcia London's Average Avi
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Last week I asked you about your most hated virtual fashion faux pas and you weren't terribly shy about your answers. Some offered complaints best illustrated in the satirical picture above by Marcia London, which there were a few other suggestions that came out of left field.

So what are the most reviled fashion missteps in Second Life? Let's start with...

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Male MMO Players Choose a Female Avatar for the Booty -- But Then Start Expressing Themselves "Like Women" Too

World of Warcraft Female avatars

MMO expert Nick Yee highlights a new study on male World of Warcraft players who play with a female avatar -- and matches that with his own research:

The researchers found that the men were more than three times as likely as the women to gender-switch (23 percent vs. 7 percent). When selecting female avatars, these men strongly preferred attractive avatars with traditional hairstyles—long, flowing locks as opposed to a pink mohawk. And their chat patterns shifted partway toward how the real women spoke: These men used more emotional phrases and more exclamation points than the men who did not gender-switch. In other words, these men created female avatars that were stereotypically beautiful and emotional.

Curiously, Yee goes on, the men in the study all chose female avatars not to gender bend per se, but for heterosexual reasons. Despite this, they unconsiously start gender-bending anyway:

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Linden Lab Unveils New Avatar Fitting Classifications for Second Life -- But Will They Work?

True

Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Linden Lab has unveiled a new way for shoppers and designers to identify what will and what won't fit a Second Life avatar. Rooted in this Knowledge Base entry, designers can now find badges like the one above meant to identify products intended for normal and mesh-augmented avatars respectively, as well as detailed instructions for how to access new categorization options on the SL Marketplace that will allow designers to list products that require certain base components (for example SLink mesh feet, hands, or heads) to work properly. 

So will it get the job done? Here are my thoughts:

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Korean MMO Black Desert Might Just Have the Best Character Customization Ever

Black Desert CBT2 Customization
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

The team behind upcoming Korean MMO Black Desert have already offered a lot of material for fans and followers to drool over, but their latest tidbit will be like catnip for anyone with an eye on avatar customization.

Up until now, Black Desert's main selling point has undoubtedly been its graphics. Both the characters and the world look so polished and realistic that its screenshots could easily be mistaken for renders from 3D software like DAZ or Poser (seriously). But yesterday, in advance of their second closed beta test phase, the developers of Black Desert released a new video to flaunt the game's unique character customization system. Unlike preset or slider-based customization techniques that currently dominate modern MMOs, Black Desert divides the face and body up onto very precise elements that can be adjusted directly and intuitively. Click here to see it in action.

If you're as intrigued as I am, you'll probably have to wait a while before you can play for yourself. Black Desert's second closed beta period starts on April 22nd but will only be available to players in Korea. The game is expected to be localized for North America after its Korean release, but that often takes a year or more to come together. Until then, you can learn more about Black Desert here.

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Virtual Reality Will Likely Have a Real Effect On Virtual Fashion - Here's Why

Clueless Closet
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

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:

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Iris Wants to Know: What's Your Avatar Style?

Loony Columbia Sora
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

How would you describe your avatar: Sexy, cute, beautiful, or interesting? Maybe all of the above, or maybe none?

This may seem like a borderline hypocritical follow up to my post yesterday about Second Life's advertising strategy, but it's actually something that's been on my mind since I wrote about the new mesh heads from SLink. Neither Becky nor Emma, the two faces currently available from the fledgling Visage line, really "hooked" me. While I can appreciate how well made they both are, I can't see my avatar wearing either, and I wanted to pin down why that is. 

The way I see it, there are 4 kinds of avatars: Sexy, cute, handsome/beautiful, and interesting (which I'll admit is a bit of a catch-all). My own Second Life avatar (and my intentions for her) experienced a pretty dramatic change when I first came across Loony Columbia's Flickr gallery. As in the pic above, she shows avatars that are cute in a way I hadn't really considered possible in SL, even though it was a style I admired a lot in RL. Thanks to Loony, I ditched my pursuit of fashion mag glamor and swerved down the path of colorful cuteness instead.

These four categories are rather oversimplified, but they certainly aren't distinct, and they don't apply to human avatars alone. They can overlap in any number of ways to create what I think is a pretty solid spectrum of the avatars I've used and seen in Second Life and beyond. I'd pin Emma and Becky in the "beautiful" category, while Loony Columbia's pictures generally fall squarely between "cute" and "sexy". At the same time, I have a couple dragon avatars I'd call both "beautiful" and "interesting". I'd even say an avatar could meet all four categories at once. 

So here's what I want to know: What category would you place your own avatar(s) in... Or what category would you add to the list to include your preferred style? As always, leave your responses in the comments below!

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Iris Rants: Animal Crossing: New Leaf Is Not a Poster Child for Diversity in Gaming

Animal Crossing New Leaf Dr Shrunk
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

One of the showstopping talks at GDC yesterday came from two of the developers behind Animal Crossing: New Leaf. At their panel "How to Turn a New Leaf at the Animal Crossing," project leader Aya Kyogoku and producer Katsuya Eguchi spoke at length about how they tried to make their game as appealing as possible to its audience. Both agreed that a key part of New Leaf's success was diversity. Diversity of gender and life experiences of the developers played a key role, they said, because the Animal Crossing series' audience is itself very diverse.

There were a lot of particularly positive and encouraging statements made about the importance of including female developers in this, which helped make the panel a darling on Twitter and across various gaming news sites. There's just one problem: New Leaf is not a very diverse game.

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