Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Realistic vs. idealized avatars

Majic and Majic
Majic as Human. Majic as Bot.

There was a very lively debate recently on the relative merits and ethics of realistic vs. idealized avatars. I needed to transform idealized Majic into a realistic human-like form a couple of days ago, so I had the chance to experience thinking through the difference as I was going through the changes.

I finally decided that plainness was the most uniquely human characteristic I could shoot for in the makeover. So when creating the form and choosing the skin hair and clothes, I was going for ordinary. Not too beautiful. Not too flashy. Not even too heavy or emaciated. Not too anything.

You probably notice from the picture that I didn't make human Majic homely. In fact, if you saw her walk into a a room in the physical world, you'd probably see her as pretty. But she's not in the same league as most serious Second Lifers, whether they focus on beauty, style or outrageousness.

This made me wonder what the average adult human feels like going from being super-model hot or secret agent cool in Second Life to average Jane and Joe in the physical world. I guess it varies quite a bit. Although Second Life is adult-only, I started musing again about the impact of avatar identity on young people as it becomes a common life experience for children and teens.

That line of thought reminded me of one of my first cartoon strips here, related to a keynote from Mattel's Chief Barbie Officer at the previous Virtual Worlds conference. I'm reposting it for those who weren't following the blog back then. (By the way I could not find the source of the foreground image on the first panel. If you stumble upon it let me know so I can credit the right person.)


Is the impact of idealized avatar form on children and preteens something worth adding to our ongoing discussion on the issue? Anyone want to weigh in?


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A beautiful thought experiment personified through the imagined perspective of a self-aware avatar. My creator's site can is at