The Great Avatar Debate

There are certain topics that will aways draw a response from SL aficionados. Even as a newbie I have realized that. Several posts ago I mentioned the conversation on money and economics in SL. Apparently avatar appearance is even more controversial. There seem to be two camps – the people who want avatars to be as reallife-like as possible versus the people who think avatars should be as fantastical as possible.

Digression: I really hesitate to say that there are only 2 camps. I googled the question “Are bananas berries or fruit” the other night. That seemed simple enough to me – berry or fruit. 2 camps. Well. How wrong can a person be?
Berry and fruit are basically interchangeable terms.
Bananas grow as giant herbs
a banana is an herb, aka a spice
“Spices” and “herbs” are culinary divisions
Not a simple question….The tree is an herb.
Get the picture?

Anyway, back on topic…. For me it kicked off on Sophtopia with a rallying cry of No Realistic Avatars. This generated and is still generating (as I write) comments. Those against the realistic shapes were many with reasons ranging from “you should be using SL’s tools to create an avatar that’s better, Create your digital selves as your ideal, whatever form that might take” to “it’s a LABORATORY and we should be experimenting as widely and as vigorously as possible” to “The thing that worries me is that people may be taking forms that are unthinkingly modeled after ideal FL forms” to “Can I have both, please? “. The opposing view (which isn’t so much of an opposite view but more of an angled view) ranges from “Let’s face it: [greek mythical gods, movie stars] are the stuff of myth, a lot more so than, say, a giant pink-striped eggplant with six wheels and tentacles” to “They might be trying to tell us that they are quite at ease with their atom selves” to “they might be using SL as a meeting place rather than an area for self expression”. There were many more, this is a mere sampling.

I commented that I thought that a lot of the posters had lost sight of what it is like to be new in a virtual world. Not all of us jump in and immediately drop all our FL habits and harness. It so happened that I was hanging out with a friend over the weekend. She showed me her kitsune ears and tail. I LOVE that look. I want to do that too! But when she took me to the store and I saw all the detailed shapes available – some of them creeped me out totally. And I’d really have to be in the right frame of mind to wear fox ears and a tail. It seemed like a fantastic idea then. As I sit here typing this, the whole concept of having fox ears seems less appealing. Wings, on the other hand…..

As is often the case for me, I found that Botgirl Questi’s comment really summed up the issue for me: I think people (human and virtual) can take almost identical actions for very different reasons. So from where I sit, I can’t really see anything inherently positive or negative in any particular choice of form just on its own merits.

And yet – I find that despite agreeing with Botgirl and with Chestnut I do have a certain bias against certain shapes and forms. Dale had that comment on Chestnut’s blog: On the other hand I think a (what?) milder form of judging is entirely valid; if someone looks a certain way, it’s reasonable to conclude (to judge?) that they’re someone who wants to look that way (since they have so many other choices).

I’ll accept that we can conclude they want to look that way. But where I think I miss the mark is when I judge them on the appearance. I need to remember Botgirl’s point that people can take identical actions for very different reasons. So just because I know why I would have chosen that shape and I regard that choice negatively, that does NOT mean that the person chose that avatar for the same reason I would have. If SL really is a laboratory and it really is a chance to do better than in FL, then I need to do better mentally, not just physically. If your avatar is less fantastical than I might prefer, it does not mean that you are lacking in creativity. If your avatar has physical attributes that carry certain connotations for me, it does not necessarily follow that those attributes denote who you are.

So my promise to myself is that I intend to do better with my avatar by being less judgmental, more open. And maybe next time you see me I’ll have a tail! 🙂

Post Script added the next morning:
So much for my resolutions. I was hanging out on my favorite boardwalk bench with friends. A new person joined us. I looked at him and JUDGED. Sigh. It’s true, I did. I IM’d one of my friends and asked WHY would ANYONE pick THAT name and wear THOSE clothes?????? My friend replied that maybe this was someone’s alt, maybe they were trying out a new concept. I was ashamed because of course that could be the case. Even more to the point – that scenario is “acceptable” to me. But maybe that person chose that name and appearance for whatever reason worked for them. And maybe they were sitting there looking at me thinking “Good grief, why would anyone want that name and those clothes?”.

So I’m going to have to try harder. Maybe I’ll set myself a goal. If I can go a week and not judge other, I can earn my ears and tail. 🙂

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1 Response to “The Great Avatar Debate”


  1. 1 Krissy August 13, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    I’ve been in Sl for 1.5 years, and I tend to see a non-human avatar, and think “they have no interest in me because I’m not like them”, as if they would judge me! In truth, it’s me who is judging, unfortunately. Looking like anything other than human isn’t inherently “me”. I would feel like I’m in costume. I think regardless of how we shape our avatars, we do it because we are comfortable in our own avatar skin. The furries don’t feel like they are in costume. I *love* this diversity that SL allows us.


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