Lauren Bans’ “Same Shit, Different World,” touched upon the idea of a ‘utopian’ society through online virtual characters and gaming. It makes one wonder, are our societal views being reflected through these digital worlds? My answer, absolutely. The article mentions a lack of diversity that takes place in Second Life; meaning, most of the characters are virtually white. “Even if you do choose an unrealistic-looking dark skin for your avatar, you’re still stuck with conventionally ‘white’ features” (Bans, 60) Still to this day, racism is still an on going factor in our society; therefore, our online world and characters are a reflection of societies standards and viewpoints. In the media, white is usually considered more conventionally beautiful and people seem to consider ‘white,’ ‘better.’ The lack of diversity is not the only problem with this new ‘utopian’ society in the digital world. Virtual women are supposed to be skinny, beautiful, and sexual beings. This doesn’t sound any different from how the media portrays women in conventional society. Sex sells, it’s simple. So even in an online world, it is apparent from Bans’ article that “buying skins” and digital prostitution are becoming growing sources of income for Second Life (60-61). Gamers are using these virtual characters in explicit ways. They are creating overly sexualized characters to personify themselves in an ‘unrealistic’ and ‘unattainable’ way.
This is my first time playing a “Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game” and just from looking through the avatars, the options for a standard woman avatar is limited. Each of the women avatars are hypersexualized, skinny, and practically perfect. It doesn’t reflect real women in this day and age. Though I could change the features and how my avatar dresses, am I just falling into the trap of creating a ‘better version’ or more so, an unrealistic version of myself.
From reading this article, it was not surprising how many “gamers” created a ‘better’ version of themselves. Ban’s mentions, “… members mold their virtual characters into flawless versions of themselves” (57). The digital world creates a place where people can be whoever they want to be, and are not necessarily judged for their actions. Women can become men, men can become women. It makes one question whether people are living out their deepest desires through online gaming, without societies social strictness and consequences. The idea that children are being overly sexualized in the gaming world is a prime example of this. In Second Life, you can create make a child avatar and do the same things with it as you would an adult avatar. Society frowns upon the idea of sexualizing children, so is this considered a version of child pornography? As Bans’ mentions, “that kind of ageplay is basically a normalized kink in the dominant pornographic standard (62). Therefore, ‘ageplay’ is being shielded from societies judgement because it is happening online; as we move forward with technology, the line between what is considered ‘real world’ and the digital world is blurred. This means that your actions online are affecting your offline self. Though a highly debatable subject, I think that one is not separate or more authentic from the other, but they instead influence one another.