Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The more things change...

So I've been over on the Linden flogs, watching a discussion escalate into a brawl.

The discussion is, of course, about what constitutes a child avatar. The battle lines appear to be drawn. A few human scale folks complain about having their evenings ruined by a height-based auto-ban and then someone pops up to say,

"You look like a child av to me. I must be one of those stupid tall landowners that can't tell the difference, but then again I am 5'11 in RL and I love being tall. I would definately ban/eject you on sight. The whole "bewbs" childlike misspelling makes me think you do roleplay being at least a teen just one more good reason to boot you. Sorry being honest. I own an adult store and I ban child avs and you don't have tits and your clothes make you look like a 10 year old and yep I would ban/eject you."

/me sighs.

I get so frustrated with the sound and fury. The average avatar in SL is tall--very, very tall, by human standards. Mostly, this is because they had no idea they were that tall when they first made their shapes. By the time they find out (usually when they switch to the Emerald Viewer), it is too much effort to change.

But now we have a height indicator in viewer 2.1, albeit a slightly inaccurate one. (Please vote for this jira: https://jira.secondlife.com/browse/VWR-19767) This means that people will have the ability to choose their avatar's height in a conscious way, right from the beginning.

Here's my question: Will it make a difference? Will having a height detector in the default viewer bring the height of the average avatar down into human range? Or is there too much inertia---too much stuff already built on Heroic scale?

Let me know.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hunts, Achievements, and Failure in Second Life

I was just over on New World Notes, reading Hamlet's post about implementing an achievement system in Second Life and all the comments that followed. It is really funny how negative some of the responses are, especially from people who are making money in Second Life. There seems to be an attitude among certain people that if you make money in Second Life, you are successful, and if you don't make money, you have failed. That is, I'm afraid, the system that is in place right now. It means that people get a lot of opportunities to fail in Second Life, and when they fail, they leave. It means that the ratio of sellers to buyers is very, very high. It means that the profit margin, even for successful merchants, is very low. It strikes me as a counter-productive attitude.

Nonetheless, people have their objections so, clearly, any achievement system in SL would have to be something you opted into, rather than something built into the architecture.

Charles2 McCaw made an extremely relevant point. He said:

"Hunts, in a way, are the next best thing to achievement systems in SL. It’s amazing to me how many people come to my shops looking for 'freebies' in these 'hunts.'

Personally, I never go on a hunt, but as a vendor I sign up for as many as I can, so that New York Couture is continuously in one sort of hunt or another.

This suggests that someone could organize an “achievement system” based on the hunt model. Like most other things it could be done entirely in world without Linden involvement. Somebody might even be able to figure out how to monetize this."

I think Charles2 is on to something with his hunt model---that's almost what I was thinking when I suggested scrapbook pages. It could be anything. Trading cards? Coins? Watermelons? It just needs to be collectible and require some effort to obtain.

I love hunts. Apparently other people love hunts, too. They are awfully, awfully popular, especially among new people who are trying to figure out what to do in world. It is a goal directed activity that does a couple of things really well: 1) It encourages people to see places they haven't seen before and 2) It puts people with a common goal into the same place at the same time, making them more likely to talk to and help each other.

Hunters are not in competition with one another. One person's success does not make it less likely that other people will succeed, and hunters who cooperate are more likely to be successful than hunters who go it alone.

It's not about bragging rights, either. It's about seeing all those hunt folders in your inventory, lined up in order, start to finish. It is satisfying, like a big to-do list with all the items checked off. That's my perspective, anyway, and I'm a Gen-X slacker, not an overscheduled, under-leisured, goal-directed Gen-Y, like my daughter. Hunts were the first thing she really _got_ in Second Life.

The only issue I have with hunts is all the freebies. That's counter-intuitive, I know, but if you complete a major grid-wide hunt, you have an inventory disaster on your hands. I have often wished that I could collect chits or coins to be turned in for a high-end prize of my choice at the end of the hunt, rather than having to slog through the hundreds of (mostly delete-able) freebies, landmarks, notecards, and ad textures. Please understand, I am not complaining about the quality of hunt prizes. Things that I would delete, other people would love. Things that I would love, other people would delete. It's about personality, not quality.

So here's how a hunt-model achievement system could work: A network of sim owners (rather than shop owners) set up a hunt, on a massive scale, bigger than anything we've seen so far, with thousands of participants. The objects are hidden well---at the end of a maze, at the end of a riddle game, after completing a class, at the bottom of the sea in a treasure chest---all in the sim's theme, all different from sim to sim. The idea is to require people to actually participate in the activity of the sim to get the object, and people should be prevented from picking up the same object more than once. This is not to say that someone couldn't get two objects from the same sim. Just that those would have to be different objects, requiring different activities. A sim owner could put up as many objects as he or should could come up with activities for.

Included with the object is a landmark to the next sim in the hunt. At the hunt headquarters, there should be a vendor that gives people a landmark to the start of the hunt. For fairness to the sim owners, THIS SHOULD BE A RANDOMIZED START LOCATION. Also at the headquarters should be a vendor that allows people to turn the (no copy/transfer) objects in for (no copy/transfer) prizes at various levels. For instance, if you have five objects to turn in, you can choose from a selection of prizes at the 5-object level. If you have three-hundred-fifty objects, you can choose from some much cooler prizes. If you accumulate seven 50-object prizes, you could trade them in for one very cool 350-object prize. The prizes should be things that cannot be bought anywhere else, unique and recognizable. The very highest level prizes should be rare and exquisite, capable of provoking lust even in seasoned avatars like myself. The hunt should be ongoing. The prizes and activities required should change.

There could even be different networks of sim owners. All the building and making sims could band together, all the gothy-dark sims, all the fantasy roleplaying sims, the entirety of Gor, so that the activities and prizes could vary with the texture of the sims involved, and people could get a real taste of the various communities in Second Life. Perhaps some of the user-created orientation sims could host headquarters vendors for their sim network. We could grab the newbies right away and get them moving around the grid, participating in events and activities, being exposed to the enormous variety of things to do and see in Second Life.

Maybe then they'll stay, and even the merchants would like that.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Forever and Ever....

It has been forever and ever since I have posted anything.  It was one of the many projects I'm involved in that got totally sideswiped by pressing events in real life.  But I would like to write this thing.  I think the topic merits discussion and attention.  Who, after all, are we?  Why do we choose to be what we are?  There is poetry in those decisions.  

In reading back over the comments left on those old posts, I am struck by those that say I'm trying to "make" avatars conform to a particular standard.  I am completely flabbergasted by that.  I don't see how that could be further from the truth.  I just want to know what motivates people, what influences their decisions.  What makes you who you are?  

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Beauty:  the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all  
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'

From John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn

“Life is so rich, if you can write down the real details of the way things were and are, you hardly need anything else...You don’t have to be rigid about original detail. The imagination is capable of detail transplants, but using the details you actually know and have seen will give your writing believability and truthfulness. It creates a good solid foundation from which you can build...Be awake to the details around you, but don’t be self-conscious. ‘Okay. I’m at a wedding. The bride has on blue. The groom is wearing a red carnation. They are serving chopped liver on doilies.’ Relax, enjoy the wedding, and be present with an open heart. You will naturally take in your environment, and later, sitting at your desk, you will be able to recall just how it was dancing with the bride’s redheaded mother, seeing the bit of red lipstick smeared on her front tooth when she smiled, and smelling her perfume mixed with perspiration.” 
From Natalie Goldberg, Writing down the Bones

In a thought-provoking response to one of my own posts, Burgundy Mirajkar pointed out that beauty is, by definition, difficult to attain, and that human traits are often highly prized for their rarity.  She closed with this statement:

"Perhaps what we'll begin to see is the development of technologically unattainable beauty standards in-world."

In Second Life, perfect human beauty is easy to attain---or to obtain.  For about the cost of a latte and a scone at Starbucks, you can buy shape, hair and skin to make your avatar a 'perfect ten' by human standards.  With a little persistence and a good eye, you can pick them up for free.  As a result, perfect tens are a dime a dozen.  They are as blandly pretty as Barbie dolls, with as little variation.  

The similarity, avatar to avatar, is so great that if I were to turn off the names hovering over other avatars' heads, I wouldn't be able to tell one from the other, friends from strangers.  What's truly eye-catching is a unique avatar---someone recognizable from across a crowded room, who stands out by virtue of the vivid, loving detail put into their creation.  Someone who is unlike anyone else.  

I have a few favorites.  Rosie Barthelmess is one.  Jopsy Pendragon, with his elf ears and his bare feet, is another one.  I had always thought of these avatars as interesting, rather than beautiful.  Digital representations of fascinating minds, rather than virtual flesh. I had pegged the Barbie avs as the beautiful people, but now I'm not so sure.  Now I wonder if the Barbies are just ordinary and the true beauties of the world are the iconic avatars, as distinct and recognizable as logos. 

Will we see the development of technologically unattainable beauty standards?  Maybe.  

As of right now, differences in technology do affect the way that avatars look, but only to the avatar with the technology.  A high-powered graphics card profoundly affects the way that you see the virtual world and the way that your avatar looks in it, but only for you.  Your appearance on someone else's screen is limited by their graphics processing, and there is nothing you can do to change that.  Perhaps in the future, we will have other ways to gain an appearance advantage technologically---real-time motion-capture animation overrides, anyone? 

Until then, it seems that the best way to stand out in the crowd is to stand out in the crowd.  Perhaps, in a world where you can easily have any feature you can imagine, beauty lies in the rarity of your choices. 

The most expensive and highly prized pieces of avatar customization in Second Life are rare---limited edition items, like the Anastasia suit, from the Zullay Designs Couture collection, shown above.  The craftsmanship on the outfit is exquisite, with beautiful prim and texture detailing, but it only rates the L$35,000 ($131.58 US) price tag because it is absolutely unique.  Only one will be sold. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Deviation from the Physical

What makes a beautiful body?  

Over and over again, in studies too numerous to quote (Google it, sometime), it has been shown that men prefer women with curves.  They like breasts and butts and waists that nip inward--all signs of optimum fertility.  Really, it's all about getting your genes to the next generation. 

Even in comic books, that last bastion of adolescent male fantasy, the women are not skinny.  Where men have the opportunity to create female bodies, unbounded by physical reality, they cluster them tightly in the low end of the 'normal' BMI range, right around the BMI of 19 that I mentioned in my last post.  (Citation!)

Women, contrary to all the research, think men prefer supermodel shaped bodies, flat-hipped and skinny.  These bodies are absolutely perfect for one thing:  displaying clothing.  A very thin,  straight body allows fabric to drape smoothly from the shoulders over the hips without any uneven terrain to irritate the designer and mess up the line.  

But it is the uneven terrain that makes a body beautiful when it isn't covered up at all, and the models in men's magazines have significantly higher BMIs than the models in women's magazines.  And I would guess that the difference has to do with what the models are wearing--or not wearing--in each variety of magazine.  

Our preferences seem to be circumstantial.  What is most attractive in one situation is unattractive in another.  Here in the real world, a seven foot tall woman with a BMI of fourteen would be freakishly skinny and unattractive.  She would almost certainly be infertile.  But as an avatar, she wouldn't stand out at all.  Since her height and BMI are about average, we must look at other features to determine whether she is attractive.  Our eye has been re-normed.    

Over on Dusan Writer's blog, there is an exploration of cutting-edge architecture in Second Life.  Dusan quotes Keystone Bouchard:  

“In an environment where avatars are free to create anything they can imagine, the vast majority of the architectural fabric created is still largely driven by very literal parallels to the physical world. This happens for good reason, as we have learned to visually organize the world around us, real or virtual, based on familiar cues and patterns. A roof may not need to protect us from the elements in virtual space, but it organizes a space. Even though you can fly, a ramp is still a strong wayfinding mechanism.”

Second Life houses very rarely have bathrooms and kitchens, and a disproportionate number of them have hot tubs.  Not very many of the beds are designed for sleeping, either.  Lots of businesses don't have roofs or doors, and ceilings are often ten meters high.  

All of this stuff makes sense in this particular virtual context, and none of it would work in the real world.  For virtual buildings, our eye has re-normed.  

So here's my question:  In a generation, when we begin to see in SL the children who started hanging out in Club Penguin when they were two, how will all of this change?  Will we have a generation of avatars who don't need the literal parallels to the physical world? Will we have, as it were, Virtual Natives?

And what will they look like?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Avatar Body Shape

Melissa Yeuxdoux responded to my Primitar post.  Because she brought up several points and used lovely, wonderful data, I'm going to respond directly.  

First of all, thanks for mentioning Marvel Comics, Melissa.  That primitar looks like he stepped straight out of the pages of a comic book, with all of the attendant distortion. Little head...check.  Long legs...check.  Massive, bulging chest and shoulder muscles...check.  He's kind of a cool dude, but his shape is just wrong.  It's too bad he turned out to be the template. 

Now Svetlana Pankratova is an interesting case.  She is 6'7", by the way, according to a video interview with her.  The popular media seems to have been shrinking her by increments (Is that reflective of our discomfort with really tall women? Is it an attempt to diminish her in some small way?).

Her legs are almost 4'4" long, but that is measured from the top of the hip bone, at about the level of the belly button, rather than from the crotch.  That measurement is almost 66% of her total height, while the average woman has a rough hipbone-to-floor proportion of 50% and mine is about 60% (37" from hipbone to floor, 62" tall). 

Incidentally, Svetlana's proportions are consistent with Marfan Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder which causes extreme height and very long legs.  Note Svetlana's long flat hips, narrow sloping shoulders, and extremely thin ankles.  Compare them with this photo of a mother and her two sons.  All three have Marfan Syndrome.  

Although the only numbers I found for Dji Dieng appear to come from a publicist, those numbers indicate that she has legs that are 4'1/2" long (same measurement, floor to top of hip bone) on a body that is about 5'11 1/2" tall.  She is 67.6% leg.  

Keep in mind that all of the live (not photoshoot photoshopped) pictures I have found of her show that she is around 8 heads tall, perhaps a little more.  With 48 1/2" for her legs and 8 1/2" for her head, that leaves 14 1/2" for the space from her chin to her hip bone. Let's just say that I am extremely skeptical of those measurements.

The library avatars average 63.7% of their height from the floor to the top of the hip bone (I have an Excel sheet if anybody really wants it...I love data). 

While there is an inverse correlation between leg length and heart disease and diabetes, we're looking at a difference from short to long legs of just a few inches. There is nothing to indicate that longer and longer legs confer greater and greater benefit.  In fact, Marfan Syndrome, which I mentioned above, is associated with high risk of heart problems--aortal tearing, for instance. 

My point is that avatars in Second Life are not shaped like idealized humans:  they are shaped like disordered humans, varying so much from the human template that it requires explanation. And real world aesthetics isn't it.  

A study done in the UK on women's body shape and optimal attractiveness showed that body mass index had the greatest correlation with perceived attractiveness.  Waist to hip ratio showed a very slight correlation.  No other factors, including the ratio of leg length to torso length, showed any correlation.   Study Excerpt

Indicentally, the magic numbers were a BMI of about 19 and a waist to hip ratio of .75 to 1. Numbers lower or higher than that were considered less attractive.  

Avatars tend to have apparent BMIs much lower than 19 and the women tend to have waist to hip ratios much more extreme than .75 to 1. A female avatar with the numbers for optimal human attractiveness will look plump and thick-waisted in comparison to those around her.  

What seems to me to have occurred is a kind of digital speciation.  A new set of aesthetic standards has been put in place for avatars, which diverges remarkably from human standards.  Although it is fascinating that this can occur, my concern is that, as the use of Second Life for business and education becomes more widespread, it will become yet another source of distorted body images that young women, in particular, will measure themselves against.  Thoughts?  

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


This is a little off my usual sort of thing, but I want to make sure you all know that ETD hair, which is all on sale until the day after Christmas for a miniscule thirty L$, has modify permissions.  Most of it can be happily scaled down to a size much smaller than I need without editing individual prims. Thank you, Elika!