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?

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