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Friday, August 08, 2008


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Princess Ivory

We've started quite a conversation over on Sophrosyne Stenvaag's blog - come check it out and see what you have to say!

Princess Ivory

Sophrosyne Stenvaag

I'm honored by the shout-out, Hamlet - but you could've waited till my skirt rezzed to take that photo! :D

We *are* having a terrific discussion over in the comments to my blog - much more insightful people than me have weighed in, and developed some very interesting sides to the issue.

Come on over!


everyone in second life is born with a beautiful avatar. indeed, second life is full of impossibly beautiful people. it's an idealized version of whom we are. nobody walks with a limp. nobody has a boil on their face.
so if one makes a "normal" body, one stands out like a freak in second life. that's a sad commentary about our learned perceptions of beauty.
society teaches us to open books by the beauty of the cover.

Jayden Emmons

I agree that the two approaches aren't incompatible.

It's about designing what you would like to see and experience in your virtual world.

If you want to have a shape that's more like your RL shape, why not? (My avatar's current shape is definitely shorter and chubbier and somewhat curvier than average, but I don't see this so much as being about my own personal imperfections -- although I'm sure there are many other people who would see it that way -- as I see it as being about celebrating aspects of my RL image that I think are pretty, even if they are not part of the mainstream ideal.) Having an avatar that looks more like me has helped me connect a little more to my avatar (especially in the beginning) and to be more comfortable with the fact that I *do* like my shape (and I do, although I sometimes feel that I'm being told that I shouldn't).

However, no one should feel limited to their RL shape at all. Just as no one should feel limited to any of the other shapes that they typically see in SL, or in ads, or in magazines. But an important part of that is taking time to imagine what you would like your avatar to look like and what suits you and your Second Life.

(All of that said, it takes a lot of time and effort and talent to create an avatar that doesn't fit the in-world norm -- as other people have noted, even once you create your non-standard shape, there are all sorts of issues with hair, clothing, attachments, animations, etc. to consider. I think that part of the reason we see so many of the same kinds of shapes in Second Life is because that's what people typically design for -- and vice-versa. So having greater avatar diversity ultimately can only help with that.)

Truthseeker Young

Once again, it's all the Linden's fault, I tell ya! LOL

OK hear me out:

I think tat the chicken-or-egg loop--designer offering skinny-clothes because that's what the customers are wearing, and customers choosing skinny avs because that's what designers make their clothes for--comes about in large part because of the extremely narrow range of choices on offer to the brand-new user.

When you first start out, you don't know enough yet to really go messing around with all those shape-sliders, and you likely don't have any $L yet to go buy a shape from someone, so you go with what you've got: the default set of avatars (and their shapes) that come in your inventory when you download the client.

Something it'd be great to see is a much wider range of shapes & sizes in that collection of noob avs.

Broaden that default 'standard' out a bit (literally and figuratively lol), and I think you'd see a lot more people choosing non-barbie doll shapes right out of the box, resulting in a significantly-sized (geez, I'm full of unintentional puns, today) market, that I'm sure designers would be all-too happy to cater to...

Kedawen Darrow

To me its about creating your own balance. I like my new shape, and it makes me happy to see it (maybe that's a bit weird... hehe). Then I throw on some fox ears and a tail, or maybe some wings and a faerie skin... There are infinite ways to be realistic yet not at the same time! That's why I love SL so much. No rules!

Pavig Lok

Realism doesn't always mean producing a simulacrum of the real - it may mean borrowing qualities of the real to produce something different. My own avatar for example has a white skin drawn with pencil and glowing blue torus hair... that is in no way incompatible with "realistic" elements I built in such as slight facial asymetry, slight skin blemishes or a bit of frumpiness.

A poor facimilie of a real person may seem less real than a refined creation with the depth and solidity of design only care and skill - or in the case of unskilled designers, choice and refinement over time. As we see in SL old-timers, they have become comfortable in their skin and found a presentation of themselves which is recognizably "them".

We become real through the choices we make - and as individuals we become real not by all tending towards the same ideal form, but by embracing the quirks which make us who we are. Residents of sl tend towards looking more real over time when they cease to embrace the cliches of beauty which are the bubblegum of newbie shopping sprees. They don't need to try and look human or "real" to become more realistic.

Martien Pontecorvo

I tend to use a modified "male sexy" shape myself, which I have adjusted to be somewhat heavier and jowlier than most of the beanpoles out there, for two reasons: I'm a bit on the weighty side myself, and because it makes the dear boy look more real, oddly enough, and less likely to blow away in a stiff breeze.

This also raises an interesting question: when does one's avatar, or primary avatar, become "finished" bar the obligatory costume changes -- when does one finally feel that no more customisation is required?

(Sheesh! I'll be brooding over this all day now :)

Nightbird Glineux

I agree with Jayden, and resent the implication that one way or the other is the "right" way.

My answer to Martien's question is now that I have a group of friends in SL, such as Pavig, I want to be recognizable to them. That stops me from making major changes. I will still be refining my look, like having a nose job, or swapping my current Naela Carter skin with a similar set from Minnu Model, but I'd be very reluctant to make a major change like a different shape or a big change in skin tone.

My concerns however haven't stopped me from being seen in an avatar from Luskwood or Grendel's Children. :)

John Branch

One sees the two poles of this discussion--the real and the fantastic, or the tendency to documentation and the tendency to invention--played out in the history of movies, and both were present roughly from the beginning. The Lumière brothers began documenting real people doing real things in the 1890s; in 1902, Georges Méliès made what's often called the first science-fiction film. The two strands of the factual and the fabulous are woven through the history of literature as well. It's no surprise that there's a spectrum in the design of avatars for SL, not to mention elsewhere in SL. Incidentally, the compulsion to theorize about what one is doing, or what others are doing or should be doing, seems to be a feature of most forms of expression and representation (maybe I should say it's a feature of the mature or developed or sophisticated forms, although for all I know the prehistoric cave painters of Europe had their theories as well). The present discussion about avatars, which may seem to be the treatment of something new and different in the world, can also be taken as part of an old and familiar set of conversations.

I can say that for now my avatar vaguely resembles my physical, RL self and would resemble me more closely if I were any better at making the adjustments. But one of these days I'd like to commission an avatar design, because there's a particular work of sculpture I'd like to be able to present myself as, though perhaps not all the time. Possibly my comments above should've had more to do with fashion and with social norms, since one's avatar is as much a matter of fashion and social norms as it is a matter of artistic representation.

Melissa Yeuxdoux

Another advantage of idealized or "nonrealistic" avatars: they augment the effect of SL for overcoming shyness. SL is like VR Powdermilk Biscuits (for those not familiar with A Prairie Home Companion, "they give shy persons the strength to go out and do what needs to be done."). It's the good side of the Internet [expletive deleted] Theory.

("Made by Linden bachelor programmers, so you know they're reentrant... mostly." Sorry, that's really obscure. I'll stop now.)

Pandora Wrigglesworth

I think it's important to draw a distinction between "realistic" meaning "statistically probable" versus "realistic" meaning "physically possible".

A statistically improbably avatar may encourage unhealthy expectations of self-image but can also be considered excusable as a common form of escapist wish fulfillment.

A physically impossible avatar, however, works against wish fulfillment by continually reminding the viewer that what they are see is not and cannot be true, ensuring that they never forget that the fantasy they want to experience can never be achieved.

Therefore, when using a statistically improbable avatar as a form of wish fulfillment, it is important to restrict the avatar to attributes which are physically possible or at logically consistent so as not to spoil the integrity of the illusion.


I want to quote Kate Amdahl:

"Certainly the last thing Second Life needs is a Reality Gestapo!"

Unfortunately I feel that a Reality Gestapo is forming from among people with a very definite and very narrow view of SL is, and from there - what SL avatars should be.

This can be seen in comments all over the blogosphere like:

"considered excusable"

Well I don't want my SL to be a reflection of my FL because my FL is full, thank you very much - even with a very less than perfect, high mileage body. I want my SL to be something else, something more. Something "Not Possible in Real Life".

But to keep the Reality Gestapo happy - please tell me: What is a "realistic" shape for a blue faerie? Are green faeries anymore or less curvy than blue faeries? Goddess forbid that I'm not realistic enough to satisfy other people's ideas of what I should look like.

How about casting off your FL preconceptions and hang-ups and just letting everyone be whatever they want? Perfect, imperfect, possible or impossible.


What an interesting and insightful bunch of ideas. I ponder this issue now and then, particularly because I spend much of my time these days in my guy alt. I got bored in my primary. Primary only means, my oldest avi. I can see the relevance of all these points. But I'm also "figuring out" what SL's about in the bigger scheme of things. No easy answers.

Doreen Garrigus

This is exactly it. "Realism doesn't always mean producing a simulacrum of the real - it may mean borrowing qualities of the real to produce something different."

I am most attracted to avatars that look like _someone_, unique and individual, whether or not they look anything like the person with their fingers on the keyboard. I want to see attention to detail and an awareness of impression. When I zoom in on your face, I want to be looking at a person.

In the atomic world, we are born with that uniqueness. In Second Life, we have to create it, pixel by pixel. The problem with Barbie and Ken avatars is not their perfect beauty or their impossible bodies (although we do have to consider why we think impossible bodies are beautiful). The problem is that they are walking symbols, cookie-cutter abstractions without a shred of thought or effort put into their creation. They are not real or specific. They are not people.

That specificity that makes an avatar unique has nothing to do with how many lindens someone has to spend. I've seen expensively adorned avatars that had it, certainly, but I've also seen it on avatars in slider skins, wearing stuff they pulled out of a freebie box. It is about attention.

It is about the person with their fingers on the keyboard deciding that their avatar, that little piece of their psyche, has likes and dislikes, interests and quirks and faults, in full-on human (post-human?) complexity. It is about the person at the keyboard deciding that, in every sense that matters, the avatar is real.

Two Worlds

I guess the thing that just irks me is that EVERYONE chooses to look like the same beach blonde Abercrombie and F*tch model. Either that, or like an impossibly-proportioned Rob Liefield drawing come to life.

If we're gonna do the "ideal image" thing...I always wanted to be Daniel Craig...anyone have any Daniel Craig avatars? How about John Constantine? He's pretty cool.

The problem isn't really lack of realism so much as lack of originality, and creativity. For every 10 mind-blowingly innovative avatar designers (both humanoid and otherwise) there are 1000 "white noise" residents that immedietly snatch up the same old supermodel/catgirl/GRORIOUS NIPPON weeaboo mainstays. They're the same people who usually lose interest after a month or so.

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Wagner James Au
Wagner James "Hamlet" Au
Dutchie Evergreen Slideshow 29112021
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