Nick Yee and Jeremy Bailenson’s article on the Proteus Effect produced fascinating results, even given their limitations and small sample size. What strikes me as the most profound result was the discovery of the consequence of high self-representation and how it actually changes one’s behavior. I don’t want to cheapen this study by summarizing this as something that validates the power of positive thoughts. Since my first instinct was to think of its application beyond the guise of avatars, I began to wonder how employing this effect for people with low self-representation would work.
This train of thought led me to remember this poem called “Ugly Thoughts” by Roald Dahl:
Here, Dahl elaborates more on the understated value of inner beauty, which could be in itself a socially constructed defense mechanism to comfort the unattractive. Certainly, a wondrous and kind personality cannot make one become the charismatic leader of the room or cause acne to disappear. However, it’s almost a universal experience to encounter a glowing spirit that defies whatever expectation is radiated by a less-than-impressive face. What’s key to remember is that the Proteus Effect depends on the mindset of the individual, independent of what the perceiver sees. In the study, the perceivers saw average looking faces and people of the same height, but the individuals got to behave in a way as if they were Beyonce inside (yes, she can inhabit both the male and the female form).
And that confidence is lovely. That self-esteem is powerful. That high self-representation can give someone more relationships and meaning in life. Yet, there are so many individuals who struggle with low self-representation and their biggest obstacle is the reflection they loathe to find in their mirror. While I searched for the tag “ugly thoughts” on Tumblr, I came across an alarming amount of recent posts by users struggling with depression and are utterly convinced that they are too ugly to be loved or even treated with decency or respect.
Maybe that’s where the future of MMORPGs can help. In my previous post, I mentioned how I’d one day love to see a world that doesn’t stigmatize the collection of individuals who thrive on an online community. If creating a beautiful avatar enables relationships to be formed while fulfilling something like the hyperpersonalization effect, then by all means, let’s go for it! It should be stated that I can see at least one limitation of globally implementing a movement such as this, which is the conformity to the most popular trends and the abandonment of one’s individual tastes and preferences. Still, I believe one will come to embrace their beauty for its uniqueness and all its character flaws and positive points.
I’m actually very thankful to be reading about these articles in this class. Prior to this, I probably would have made some remarks about how there’s a socially constructed idea of beauty and attraction that the individual has no chance of standing up to. Now I have hope for everyone to find the ability to love themselves.