No Commoners Allowed in Second Life's Virtual Versailles?

So close but so distant...

There's an incredibly detailed virtual recreation of Versailles in Second Life (as I blogged last week), and someone who read about it visited the palace and was met with a vexing response by the French royalty roleplayers already ensconced there:

"I was really excited to learn about this place and couldn't wait to visit on Saturday for there grand opening," writes Bellahyae Enchanted. "It ended up falling on a special day in my family, so I asked my sister to go instead of me and we would enjoy seeing her character at the special occasion they were having. She wore a lovely stripped Baroque gown."

That's when the trouble started:

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Men Who Create Avatars Modeled on Their Real Life Wives/Girlfriends -- Vice's Fascinating, Disturbing Story

Vice avatar women avatars male users

"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:

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Artist Cosplay: Frida Kahlo as SL Avatar & Fashion Model

Frida Kahlo SL avatar fashion

Pretty impressive avatar cosplay of the iconic artist by French SL blogger Eve Kazan -- with all Frida's fashion items listed. Not sure where Eve got Frida's iconic unibrow, though.

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Vice Reporter Wants to Interview People Who Play Avatars Who Look Like Their Real Life Lovers


Cecilia D'Anastasio is a reporter with Vice Motherboard who's written some excellent posts on avatar identity, such as this one on a Second Life user named Veronica Sidwell, and she wants to interview some folks for a future piece with an intriguing hook: "I'm writing a piece on people who design and play avatars that resemble their exes and significant others," she tells me. If that sounds like you, e-mail her at cecianasta at gmail dot com, connect with her on Twitter (below), or IM her SL avatar, Cecianasta.

"Having spent a great deal of time playing avatars and interviewing people about their relationships to their avatars, I've become fascinated by what we put into and take out of time spent in digital bodies," Cecilia tells me.

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"VR is for Radical Exploration of the Unknown, Not a Continuation of the Familiar" (Reader Comment of the Day)

Second Life Gorean Night

Interesting response to the study I cited that people who use SL derive more happiness in Second Life than from real life, from regular reader JohnC:

I HAVE received, now and again, at least as much pleasure in SL as I have in "real" life. NOW AND AGAIN. And if there are people out there who have not, then the problem, IMHO, is more to do with their ability to let go of their beliefs in what constitutes a true feeling experience, as opposed to worrying that this "letting go" and experiencing of the unfamiliar, might constitute a betrayal of their real life.

What SL and VR has offered me is an opportunity to mentally/ emotionally explore subjects and situations that in real life would be far too life changing, and possibly dangerous, to be explored in reality. Far to many people are stuck to their RL personas and when they enter a virtual world, they take these personae with them, so they experience nothing of note and leave. In virtual reality, you reap what you sow. Take for instance one of SL's biggest and longest running communities and money spinners, The Gorean. (Although LL have always been in a kind of silent denial of its existence).

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Ten Years Ago Today, Hamlet Au Was Born to Leave Hamlet Linden Behind

Hamlet Au Second Life VR

I was wandering around in virtual Casablanca late last night, when someone named "CuriousAboutSL" (yes) reminded me of an important milestone: My Hamlet Au avatar is exactly 10 years old today. (See screencap above.) Guess I forgot because I actually started using Second Life as a Linden Lab contractor in 2003. But the 10 year milestone seems more meaningful now, because 2006 is when the last hype wave of virtual worlds and virtual reality started, ebbed 2-3 years later, and started building back up again in 2013.

Anyway, transferring everything important (and/or transferable) from my old "Hamlet Linden" to my new account was kind of cool:

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Watch The Next Generation of SL Avatars Come Alive

Do you want an avatar with Uncanny Valley-crossing levels of realism and expression? Of course you do, of course you do. Let SL avatar master Strawberry Singh show you how it's done through the latest user-made avatar enhancements. In fact, you can even watch her doing so in this video above.

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Want to Make Human in an Open Source Avatar Creator?

Make Human Open Source avatar

Make Human is an open source avatar creator which longtime avatar expert Connie Arida just pointed me to via Comments. Noodling around on the site for the first time, the platform's skeleton and musculature system seems pretty impressive (as above, from the gallery), but falls short when it comes time to create vividly human avatar faces. (Hello Ms. Uncanny Valley.) But maybe that just means they need some help from folks in the SL avatar community, who are working a pretty high level now. Speaking of which:

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MMO Racism: Slurs Usable as Search Terms in Both Second Life's Marketplace & In-World

Linden Lab racist terms Second Life

Second Life blogger Aemeth Lysette, who has African-American heritage in real life, recently noticed something fairly disturbing in Second Life's web-based Marketplace and in its in-world search engine: Racial slurs usable as search terms, and fairly commonly so. (See screengrab, which I'm leaving blurry for obvious reasons.)

This is also surprising, because hateful speech is explicitly banned by Linden Lab's own Community Standards:

Intolerance Combating intolerance is a cornerstone of Second Life's Community Standards. Actions that marginalize, belittle, or defame individuals or groups inhibit the satisfying exchange of ideas and diminish the Second Life community as a whole. The use of derogatory or demeaning language or images in reference to another Resident's race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation is never allowed in Second Life.

... and only last year, the company had a similar controversy when users discovered the racist Confederate Flag being openly sold in SL -- after which, apparently removed these items without discussing it publicly. I just double-checked you can use slurs in the Marketplace, and sad to say, I can confirm you can. 

The solution, as Aemeth writes, is pretty obvious:

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SL Avatar Photography Veteran Plays With Black Desert

Playing Around

After posting about Black Desert's free character creator, longtime avatar photographer Connie Arida whipped this above pic up in about 30 minutes. Pretty impressive in such short a time, though IMO Black Desert's hair modeling is not ideal. And while I like the emotional expressiveness here, the smile seems a bit off -- not engaging all the facial muscles we'd associate with a genuine smile. Connie created another version that works a bit better in my view:

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