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Friday, July 28, 2006

Exposing yourself...

Don't judge a book by its cover.”


Of course we all know that we shouldn't judge a book by it's cover - a person by their appearance, race or colour – because they couldn't choose or change that, right?

Well, ahoy Second Life!

How can racism, chromatic prejudice or appearance-based bigotry survive in a world where we may all change our face and form and colour at will. From human to robot to animal to ball-of-light to...whatever we please.

What you see is what you get.”


To whatever we please is the key notion here. The shape you choose says something about you (as does your Second Life last name). The choice is not unlimited, and neither are our selection criteria, which further limits the options.

You won't see Tateru as a dancing pile of poop – because I wouldn't choose an appearance like that. Even if you change avatars and appearances at will, on a whim without care for the content, you're exposing yourself. Because you're the kind of person who would do that. The act shows your personality – perhaps more clearly than settling on a single avatar and sticking with it.

The green, red-headed, hairy, overweight misshapen dwarf in lingerie who appeared about two thirds of the way through my class... Is he going to disrupt it?

Answers on a postcard.

In RL we power-dress, and accessorise We select clothing, hairstyles, make-up that projects an image, and makes us feel more confident, in-control, relaxed, whatever. The psychological feedback effects on us are clear, well-documented and very powerful.

In Second Life, we do that with our whole bodies. We not only clothe our avatars, but make them short, tall, old, young, male, female, black, white, blue, green...whatever.

When we present ourselves in the outside world, we select our clothing based on our personality and on the image we want to project. We flip through magazines, watch films and television, and oftentimes select an outfit based on a celebrity or fictional character whose image we want to project. It colours our thinking and allows us to more readily assume the qualities and traits that we want people to see in us – whether we think those traits are there or not. Sexier, cooler, more confident, jaded...

In Second Life, we can turn the volume up.

Are you ready to rock and roll?”

-Star Child

But appearance isn't the only factor here. Just as telling is the dichotomy, when the words and actions of the person don't match the avatar you see. Again, you've exposed a bit more of yourself than you realise.

On the internet, everyone knows you're a dog.”

-Modern Proverb

Second Life last names fall into a similar category. Given the list, many of us chose a specific name for a specific reason. And many of those reasons are the same – though there are always some exceptions. Look at the Overlords, many of whom turned out to be troublesome and/or underage. Or the Alphabetas whose name was first on the list – many of them chose the name because it was first, and they had no special preference. Random choice, of name or appearance still says something about you. Everyone knows you're a dog.

The more we try to hide ourselves, the more obvious our inner selves become to everyone else.

It's funny how heterosexuals have lives and the rest of us have 'lifestyles.'”

-Sonia Johnson

And that brings us full circle. Residents aren't, of course, prejudiced about colour, appearance or race. They're prejudiced about the personalities, priorities, creeds, and conscious or unconscious motivations that that cause us to select those colours, appearances or races.

Oftentimes it happens out of ignorance – but more often from a bipolar certainty about the world. If you're right, then I'm wrong. Certainty allows for no half-measures, or shades of grey, or complex multi-dimensional decision surfaces. If you're not right, you must be wrong – and that would be intolerable.

That's the sort of thing that breeds crusades, jihads, oppression based on gender or sexual orientation, Christmas guilt syndrome, or widespread griefing of furry sims. Just plain, pig-headed certainty that your choices and your views are the right ones, coupled with an unwillingness to question and re-evaluate your position, and a touch of insecurity about your fundamental self-worth.

But don't take my word for it. Use your brain. Look around you. Think. Question yourself and your actions, and look at things from someone else's point of view whenever you can.

"With all things and in all things, we are relatives."

-Sioux saying


  1. What can I say... you're my twin soul, I totally agree with all of the above! I still find it strange that people discriminate against furries; I've heard that after being 6 months in-world or so, and it shocked me utterly. Since a furry today can be a robot tomorrow, or a handsome prince the next day... even if you're not "into the lifestyle" or not "into roleplaying".

    Some things are somehow "wired in" some of us (hopefully not all, and not even *most* of us!) and it's hard to fight the prejudice that we've living with — so often without noticing it!

  2. Chance Takashi6:32 PM

    It's interesting. I was talking about this exact topic not once, but twice yesterday.

    I'm one of those who change avatar to suit my mood, and I've never had any discrimination based on my avatar. Well, mostly none. Well, none by anyone who matters. :-)

  3. Tateru, you have spoken my shameless mind. Prejudice just rankles, whether in RL or SL... and strangely enough, it's only in SL that I ever experience prejudice.

    If I'm not being called a Furry (a group with which I don't really identify), then I'm always asked "Why are you a wolf?" And think how telling that question is! Not "Why do you LOOK like a wolf", or "Why do you PLAY as a wolf", but "Why ARE you a wolf?" At some level, the querent realizes that it's not just a facade; that the wolf is a true identity.

    I'm with chance: I wear different avatars depending on my mood. I go between three -- the werewolf for general hilarity; the Tiny arctic fox for feeling cute and innocent; and the quadruped wolf for when I want to express my basic, plain-speaking nature.

    And then there are the Furries who discriminate against me because I'm fuzzy, but not Furry. I don't 'yiff'. I don't speak in the third person and narrate my actions as I do them. I don't just talk about Furry issues.

    My SL experience has been overwhelmingly positive, and I do think there are opportunities for people to re-examine their prejudices regarding their beliefs. Having said that, I quickly learned to look beyond the appearance of the avatar, and more to what they say and do.

  4. Hey, some of the best people I know are furries, part-time furries, or people that don't call themselves "furries" but have animal avatars anyway. Heck, I even have a very impressive-looking, if infrequently-used, lion avatar (that Danielle thinks of as "Simba" and I think of as "Aslan")...

    I alluded to the whole issue of identity in my very first ever "real" blog post, including the selection of names and the choice of my appearance. (Some people in-world have told me I look like Conan O'Brien...but I've also been told that at least once in RL, so I assume I did a good job translating my RL appearance into SL...)

  5. "If you're right, then I'm wrong. Certainty allows for no half-measures, or shades of grey, or complex multi-dimensional decision surfaces. If you're not right, you must be wrong – and that would be intolerable."

    When I read this, I instantly thought of our conversation last Sunday about people feeling that they are doing the right thing by degrading another person.

    However, in relation to the article, I agree with Akela and find that just because a person has shown themself in a particular way doesn't change who they are. Early on in my SL life, I found my self thinking, "Who would want to be represented like that?" But then I realized, "Who am I to judge a person's creativity or their form of self-expression?" Just because I choose to be represented by an avatar that is a humanoid (who happens to be 6'10") doesn't make me qualified to judge a person who wants to be represented by giant Mr. Hankey.

    The appearance of a person should make no difference, RL or SL, on a person's view of them. The only thing that should is a fair judgement of that person's actions and behavior.


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