In a virtual world, where everything is created by users, appearances are important. This is a space where the identities of users are unknown and are only revealed through built relationships within the world and even then some people choose to never reveal who they really are. Because of this people base their virtual lives around how they appear to others in those critical, initial interactions. The ways in which one is viewed by others in a virtual world says a lot about what type of person they are in that setting. This can range from being approachable, creative, depressed, and even sexual. Since being yourself is not necessary in these worlds people are able to choose identities that they want others to see. They can choose all the details that go into their avatar so that they can give off the best impression of themselves.
This idea is discussed in Yee and Bailenson reading where it is stated that “in online environments, the avatar is not simply a uniform that is worn, the avatar is our entire self representation.” The people who are involved in these online worlds have no prior knowledge as to who the other individuals are. These avatars are created in a way that can tell a whole person’s story in a single glimpse of an avatar. At first creators of the avatars are trying to portray a certain image through their character. This could be displaying who they are in real life, like a business man or student, or it could be creating a completely different identity than who they really are. A teacher can become an Indian belly dancer and by choosing this sort of character to be viewed as she is saying something to the virtual community. By displaying an avatar in this way the creator is expecting to be received in a certain way but there is no way to tell for sure how others will react. It’s all about how one displays themselves physically as well as how they speak so that the right cues are being given off.
In an article by Jennifer Ouellette, she discusses how “We bond more strongly with avatars that resemble us, and the more we bond with our avatars.” This isn’t to say that people have a more enjoyable experience when their avatars look like their real human selves, though many users tend to take that route. This just means that people have to be able to look at their avatar and say “This is me.” Whatever that may mean to you.
Since first impressions in virtual worlds like Second Life are important, here are some interesting facts about how avatars are viewed:
*Avatars with larger pupils are judged to be more attractive, happier, good humored and sympathetic, even though we are not consciously aware of that trait.
* Frequent eye blinking (60 blinks per minute) is associated with dishonesty, fearfulness, shyness, and anxiety. Reduce the blink rate to 24 blinks per minute, and your avatar will appear to be more sociable and attractive.
* Avatars viewed from below are deemed more sociable, self-confident and attractive, compared to those viewed from above, who are deemed weaker and in need of protection. A full frontal view means that avatar will likely be deemed more trustworthy, open and sympathetic.
These sort of attributes were not ones that I was thinking about when I was creating my avatar. For me I was honestly just trying to find an outfit that I thought spoke a little bit of who I am. I wasn’t thinking about the shape of my eyes or how much I was blinking. I had no idea that you could change those aspects of an avatar. But now knowing that those are options that people can choose from, makes me more understanding of just how personal avatars can be.