Un-idealistic avatars considered “griefing”?

Avatars exercising in a workout room in Second Life

Avatars exercising in a workout room in Second Life

Second Life allows you to create an avatar that looks however you want it to.  For those who aren’t familiar with it, take a typical video game avatar customization and multiply it by a million.  Imagine if World of Warcraft players could create custom skins, shapes, faces, clothing, etc. for avatars and share them with each other.  That’s how Second Life avatars work.

Some people choose to make avatars that resemble themselves as closely as possible.  Other people make avatars that look the way they have always wanted to in real life.  Some people choose to roleplay and pick avatars that depict the type of character they want to portray.  When showing Second Life to a coworker who was unfamiliar with virtual worlds, he took a whole new approach.

Second Life has sliders that let you control literally every part of your body.  There is really no limit to how you can make yourself appear, you can even give yourself body parts that couldn’t possibly exist at such proportions in real life.  My coworker turned up the weight slider by accident, and actually decided he didn’t want to be a skinny guy.  He wanted to be an ‘overweight’ character and see what Second Life was like from that particular viewpoint.  The results were pretty staggering to me.

He was completely shunned for being an un-idealistic representation of a human being.  He was accused of “griefing” because he showed up to a dance club in newbie clothing and was called all sorts of terrible names.  He was called ugly and grotesque, and was told to get  away.  Because most people pick skinny, attractive people with nice hair and nice clothes – he was marginalized.  Even in Second Life there is discrimination that mirrors the world.  In a place where you can be as unique and realistic as you’d like, people generally pick idealistic versions of human beings.  I’ve wrote before about the real world physical pressures in Second Life.

I wonder if the concept of adipositivity and fat acceptance have translated over to Second Life at all?  Do any of our readers have avatars that are closer to real life depictions of the variety in body shape?  I’d love to see some screenshots and hear some personal stories, if so.

A larger Second Life avatar wearing a goth see through shirt.

A larger Second Life avatar wearing a goth see through shirt.

29 thoughts on “Un-idealistic avatars considered “griefing”?”

  1. My SL avatar was created to look a lot like me but slightly thinner. Even still, I’ve been called fat by other avatars.

    The female norm seems to trend towards avatars that look like tall, skinny Russian models. But I’m seeing more users pick smaller more average shapes. So I think its changing.

    What disturbs me in SL and also in other games, is that the default avatar is caucasian.

    1. Actually, I like to change up my avatars all the time when I get a chance. My default character that I associate with is a white female with red hair and teal eyes (not exactly how I look tho, I have brown/red hair and blue eyes), but I also like playing as male/female African American avatars as well to switch things up and it’s fun. I even played as a chinese and hispanic woman in Fallout 3.

  2. Part of the problem with evaluating the situation is that ANY n00b-looking avatar that shows up at an event in Second Life is going to be greeted with some degree of suspicion. This is because of “rinse and repeat” griefers.

    Standard operating procedure for the R&R griefer is to create a character, go to an event, disrupt the event, move on to the next event, and continue the path of chaos until finally banned… at which point they create a new avatar and resume where they left off.

    While R&R griefers don’t usually bother with niceties with sliders, they will sometimes try to make their characters as bizarre as possible, perhaps to maximize their disruptiveness, perhaps to rationalize that their banning is because they are ‘different’ rather than because they’re jerks.

    If a newbie proves over time not to be a jerk, they’re usually accepted, and often showered with helpful gifts and tips. Of course, it depends on where they debut. Some clubs are pretty much actively hostile to EVERYBODY who isn’t a regular, regardless of what you look like.

    I’m not saying discrimination against plus-size avatars doesn’t exist… just that there are other dynamics at play.

    1. Very good point Arcadia. What I forgot to mention here, is that even after he got more involved in Second Life and figured out how to obtain new clothing – he was still treated poorly because of the way he looks. =(

    2. The dynamics of appearance are rather unusual in SL. I did (and wrote up) how being in a wheelchair got a bigger reaction than extreme (or noob) avatar appearances. ( It’s the article “Ignoring the Chair on pg 16 here http://bit.ly/124BWB .)

      My default av looks a lot like me – somewhat pudgy – and also tends to be ignored. My bear av (as in anthro) tends to be accepted more than my overweight human av – totally opposite to my anticipation before being inworld.

    1. For some reason, female is just the default when it comes to Second Life avatars. If you create a new shape from scratch, it starts off female too. I think even the internal representation does this – male/female is represented internally as another slider, with 0 (the default) being female, and the highest value being male.

      1. You could also get metaphorical and state that all life begins as female and then becomes the male. This might be a case of art imitating life.

  3. There’s been a lot of blog writing about the issues of weight and height in sl, particularly with women. There are pockets of realism on both fronts in sl, but still a lot of social harassment and discrimination. It takes courage to be fat or short in sl, but then again, in my experience it takes courage to be fat in rl (real life) too.

    One factor, amongst so so many, I think at work is that through activism we have increased the likelihood of social consequences for open abhorrent behaviour targetting visually distinct minorites in rl, but sl’s anonymity and constant flux give a lot of license to unfiltered hateful behaviour.

    And as in rl I have found that in a few instances having one person just seriously identify and challenge the abuse of a person for how they appear as being rude, sexist, racist, etc creates social shock, silence for a moment, and then awareness. Pixel step by pixel step.

    Another factor at play with height issues has apparently been the treatment of shorter avatars as if they are engaged in ageplay, even if they are not attempting to appear as teens or children, and the hysteria around ageplay in sl, founded in the accusations that it could be fertile ground for the sexual exploitation of children.

  4. There is absolutely fat acceptance in SL — it depends on the community you run with. In the Starlust sims, for example, there are high profile “SLebrity” avatars who are far from stick thin. Some of them are quite plush, fat, chubby, whatever and absolutely unapologetic about it, as they should be. One store even goes so far as to rename their fatpacks of clothing “pleasantly plump” packs. These are hip, creative avatars, not noobish slider disasters, and they are fully accepted members and leaders within a very diverse community. Recently, a blogger from this community ran a challenge: “We all see some ppl trying to do it and most fail, not all, but most. I challenge you to find or make a big girl/big guy shape (and I’m not talking chunky..I mean big) and style it so its super cute!” The results of that challenge are here, complete with great photos and 67 comments from readers who got involved: http://hybridansar.blogspot.com/2009/09/blogger-challenge.html

    I think Arcadia’s comment about noob-looking avatars is especially important here. It is rare to see an attractive larger av that is new — you have to experiment with the mold first in order to break it, if that makes sense. The sliders only get you so far. You need a great skin that flatters a larger shape and must also choose clothing with care, since the avatar mesh can really work against non-Barbie shapes. An informed awareness of what’s out there in the marketplace only comes with experience. Also, aesthetics (usually) develop as you spend more time in-world — what looks good to most noobs is simply unacceptable to the majority of seasoned players.

    At any rate, there are several people who blog about being larger avatars in SL. Rosie Barthelmess http://skatoolaki.com/rosie/ and Khitten Kurka http://khitten.wordpress.com/ immediately spring to mind. There is a Flickr group celebrating big women http://www.flickr.com/groups/1182001@N24/ and, as I’m looking at it, the most recent photo is from a well-known plus size avatar named Jubilant Quackenbush. Jubi, who happens to be transgendered, says in her Flickr profile that “oddly enough, I’ve found that choosing to be plush (chubby) in SL has turned out to be more radical than beings Trans.” Her Flickr stream is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/26416882@N04/

    Sorry for the long comment — just trying to point out how much is out there. Thanks!

  5. This reminds me of a Playstation Home bug which allowed players to change their avatars in mid-animation. Imagine a hot female avatar dancing provocatively, gathering a crowd.. and then turning into a fat male doing the same dance moves.

  6. But what we really have here is a clash between freedom of speech and other forms of expression and the freedom of association. You’re free to express yourself with any kind of avatar you like.. but others also have the right to associate with anyone they like, and that also implies the right to not include people they don’t like. However, the right to discriminate should only exist on private property. Public areas should be free to all. Unfortunately, many locations are somewhere in between these two extremes, and that makes judgement calls a whole lot harder. Especially when one social group frequents a specific location and starts to consider it theirs.

    1. Hey Hirvox.

      Buzz. Freedom of Association doesn’t mean you have to spew hateful language at the person you don’t want to hang around with. As I noticed in the article:

      He was accused of “griefing” because he showed up to a dance club in newbie clothing and was called all sorts of terrible names. He was called ugly and grotesque, and was told to get away.

      If you don’t want to be in a space with someone you can take them aside politely and ask them to leave, especially if it’s your space. However, if that reason is because you’re hating on them because they decided to not have the “super sexay” avatar then that crap shouldn’t be called out.

      1. koipond :
        Freedom of Association doesn’t mean you have to spew hateful language at the person you don’t want to hang around with.

        You don’t have to, but you can. Freedom of speech goes both ways, unless there is a “right to not be offended” I was unaware of.

        By the way, did the owner of the dance club in question take sides in this dispute? Or was I correct in assuming that the detractors usurped his authority?

        Also, could someone delete the malformed double post at the bottom?

        1. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

          Hirvox :

          Brinstar :
          Like all other private spaces, Freedom of Speech doesn’t apply within virtual worlds. At all.

          And therein lies the problem, like I hinted at the end of my second comment. Second Life is technically private, but Linden Labs does little to regulate it, implicitly condoning both “unorthodox” avatars and people who denounce those. And in the absence of rules and enforcement, mob rule reigns. The majority will shout down the minority, making the merits of each argument irrelevant.

          Again, this doesn’t mean pointing it out isn’t something that should be done.

    2. but others also have the right to associate with anyone they like, and that also implies the right to not include people they don’t like.

      Well sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not discriminatory. The Boy Scouts of the USA have the legal right to kick out/disallow atheists and queers, but that doesn’t mean their exclusionary practices aren’t bigoted. The OP also never argued that the SL players didn’t have the “right” to shun her friend, she just critiqued their decision to do so. Freedom of speech/association (which in this case seemed to translate to “freedom to be sizeist”) doesn’t mean freedom from criticism.

  7. While many people see fat acceptance, in RL I see a lot of intolerance. I could list pages and pages of ways we are told not to be fat. Employers and insurance companies can charge you more for being overweight, being unhealthy is listed separately so it’s not about health. The emphasis isn’t on healthy diet, it’s on “getting skinny” diet. Be thin, no matter how. I’m hardly surprised with being constantly bombarded with “facts” about how awful it is for a person to be fat that these same kinds of prejudices are in SL.

  8. Brinstar :
    Like all other private spaces, Freedom of Speech doesn’t apply within virtual worlds. At all.

    And therein lies the problem, like I hinted at the end of my second comment. Second Life is technically private, but Linden Labs does little to regulate it, implicitly condoning both “unorthodox” avatars and people who denounce those. And in the absence of rules and enforcement, mob rule reigns. The majority will shout down the minority, making the merits of each argument irrelevant.

  9. oliemoon :
    Well sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not discriminatory.

    I don’t think that has even been in dispute. I think we can agree to call a spade a spade.

    oliemoon :
    The Boy Scouts of the USA have the legal right to kick out/disallow atheists and queers, but that doesn’t mean their exclusionary practices aren’t bigoted.

    Indeed, which is why a major part of that particular controversy was the support they get from state and federal governments. That support in general is in the form of practically free use of certain buildings and campgrounds as well as joint events with the military. If an organization integrates itself into the government, it should be subject to the same rules that the government is (or at least should be).

    oliemoon :
    The OP also never argued that the SL players didn’t have the “right” to shun her friend, she just critiqued their decision to do so. Freedom of speech/association (which in this case seemed to translate to “freedom to be sizeist”) doesn’t mean freedom from criticism.

    Nor did I imply that OP did argue that, or criticize the OP for commenting on it. It was my own personal observation of the nature of the conflict.

  10. my computer isn’t good enough to run second life, but in tekken 6 the character bob is a large fat man who is one of the most popular characters in the game

    1. Heh heh. When I saw the last pic I thought that’s who the character was a rendition of. Though I’m not sure I would consider him popular considering he and Rufus (Street Fighter 4) seem to get a lot of disrespect because of their size. Along with other plus size characters.

      Ani8

  11. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to be rude, bigoted and ignorant. It also includes the freedom to come down on people who are rude, bigoted and ignorant like a ton of bricks, and using social pressure as a heavy blunt instrument doesn’t abridge any rights. Speech has responsibilities and consequences. Yay freedom.

  12. I have to take issue with the first sentence on the article. It’s impossible in Second Life’s engine to create a male avatar with shoulders less than 2 feet across. Chiseled jaws are likewise enforced on the male avatars, lest clipping and other visual errors start cropping up.

    The shapes also trend (and default, as evidenced by the freebies you get when you start) towards tallness WELL outside the bell curve. At just under 5 feet, my avatar spends nearly all her time staring other AVs in the chest or stomach.

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