What does your avatar look like?

If you want to have a ‘second life’, how are you going to create your avatar? Do you want your avatar looking like your real self or an ideal form of yourself? Do you want your avatar looking provocative or conservative?

Some predicted that people in virtual worlds are likely to be freer and more flexible, and therefore are likely to be more exploratory and creative in designing their avatars. They are also likely to be more playful with avatars’ characters due to the high level of anonymity. However, my observations on small-group teaching, learning and collaboration activities in Second Life (SL) hinted that this perhaps was not the case.

Few people have been brave and exploratory enough. Instead, most created avatars quite conservatively. One typical reason is, ‘well, I’m a teacher, so I deliberately choose something plain’ or ‘we know we’re coming for study and research, I don’t want to look too weird’. In other words they adapted their look and behaviours in the virtual world exactly the same way as they do in real life. ‘This is for teaching and learning, therefore I look and behave like a student or teacher’. So will these people be freer or more creatively with their avatars when they engage with activities other than teaching and learning in SL? Will these people have a separate avatar when they do different things in SL? I haven’t stalked them. But some argued strongly that in virtual worlds, such as SL, people have to take advantage of anonymity, and try doing things differently, otherwise, what’s the point?

Another typical reason is, ‘ok, we know each other, I don’t want to look geeky, I don’t want to be judged by peers’. Do you have this concern? I certainly do. When I created my avatar the very first time, I was being brave and made an animal looking avatar. But from time to time, I kept asking myself, ‘come on, you’re going to a teaching session, are you really sure this is a good idea? Are you brave enough to experience people talking about your avatar for 10 minutes every time? Do you really feel comfortable sitting around with a group of human avatars?’ Eventually, I gave up. I decided to ‘edit’ my animal looking avatar to human looking. However, at that time, I wasn’t quite sure how to do it. I selected ‘detach all’, and suddenly saw my avatar becoming naked! I was so embarrassed. I had to escape from SL, so I quickly log out, and completely discarded my naked avatar. After that, I created a new one, human looking, conservative, conventional, and with no hidden surprises. Still, if you happen to come across a naked avatar somewhere in SL, you know who she was.

Ming 12 March 2009

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