Saturday, April 2, 2011

Avatars and Virtual Reality

John Marine | 4/02/2011 03:43:00 AM | | | | | | | |
Games and services with 2D and 3D avatars allow us to express ourselves fashionably with clothing options offered from that service. An avatar is a certain image or representation that represents you online. They help represent us in cyberspace and are a reflection of our own personalities and tastes. How you dress up and utilize your avatar is up to you. You may choose to dress up as a virtual double of yourself, or you may dress up your avatar based on whatever fantasy-type stuff you like, including a much more fashionable version of yourself.

This blog post concerns avatars. Basically, this involves human-like avatars, not just posting a certain image on a message board to represent yourself. The blog post mostly concerns 3D avatars. And later in this blog post, I will try to tie in some real-life issues with avatars vs. real life as well as living in a virtual world compared to the real world.

PERSONAL NOTE: This was a blog post I had planned to be released in 2010, but never finished or completely had a grasp on making it until recently.

--- Avatars in General ---
Do you have an avatar, or some other representation of yourself? Many different virtual representations are offered for various services and games that allow them.

Avatar Expression.

One thing about avatars is that we are sometimes better able to express or exhibit ourselves in ways we normally would not (or could not) in real life. Using our imagination plays a huge role in expressing ourselves in ways we normally wouldn't. Playing lots of games in my time, I have taken the role of many different characters, positions, roles, and things like that. But if I were to really express myself with an avatar, it is something along the lines of who I am as a person while also expressing a little style. I am a person who mostly wears T-shirts and jeans. However, since I consider myself classy, I usually like dressing classy for an avatar (unless I feel completely casual). Such an avatar also applies to body type. I'm 6'0" and wear X-Large clothes, but I consider myself more an average build. So I like to show myself as classy while also just being myself.

Many other people, though, are more expressive. Maybe in some environments, people would rather be animals, monsters, robots, androids, or whatever. Imagine a guy whose avatar is a big dog who rides a cruiser motorcycle wearing sunglasses. Imagine a lady who loves being oh-so-girly by wearing beautiful princess gowns and has butterfly wings on her back. Think of the boy who represents himself as one cool cat. Picture one young lady who has a boyish-looking, tomboy girl. For many people, there are many avatars. How you choose to exhibit yourself in a controlled or predefined space is up to you.

Avatar Representation.

Avatars allow us to represent ourselves in many different ways. They can also, however, allow us to look in ways we normally wouldn't. A few fashion bloggers that specialize with virtual fashions are able to wear certain clothes that most of us can only dream of wearing (let alone buy/own). Such controlled spaces allow us to do such things and have certain liberties of wearing such clothes. For all the girls I know and all the fashion blogs I follow, I know there are a vast many who would love having a dream closet full of clothes they absolutely enjoy. That's even if they are more suited for the runway rather than for the ready-to-wear set.

Avatar Expression and Representation Among the LGBT Audience.

Without trying to offend any of my LGBT readers with this paragraph, there are even males who have female avatars and females who have male avatars. Some of these avatars allow for the transgendered set to even have their own virtual representations in virtual reality. Why not? They are people, too. Going through a virtual space as your opposite gender opens itself to seeing the world in a different way and doing things different from what you're used to. Androgynous and gay males can express their androgynous beauty as well as wear certain clothes to express their style. Varying transgendered types (transgender, transvestite, transsexual, crossdresser, etc.) feel a bit more free and are better able to express themselves and their style in a virtual realm as opposed to in reality.

Feminine males are best expressed through Second Life. Even the Second Life Marketplace offers items meant to compliment androgynous and effeminate males. There are some Second Life users who make androgynous avatars and models as well as offer items to help those into effeminate males fully enjoy their experience on Second Life.

Avatars mean lots of things to lots of people. The expression really sets the tone for what is possible with avatars in avatar-driven environments.

--- Avatar Games and Services ---
A number of different games and services allow you to use your avatar and customize your avatar. Some of them will be featured in this section (mainly services). Each service is indicated with a heading. To access the official website of each service featured, click on the heading.

Second Life.

Perhaps the most popular of avatar-driven services is Second Life. Second Life (or SL for short) can be thought of as the largest virtual world in the world. Millions of people use Second Life for a variety of reasons. Because of what Second Life has to offer for reasons more than communicating with others, Second Life offers the ability to do much more with such a virtual world. It is a teaching tool as well as various other things. In other words, it is a world away from the world we live in. You can even spend your own money on things to express yourself all the further.

Some fashion bloggers, such as MichaMi Style Blog, even use Second Life to showcase their fashion savvy using their avatar. This basically allows for us to showcase our style and our fashion worth more than we could probably ever be in real life. It seems like you can do almost anything within the realm of Second Life.


The popular avatar-driven instant messaging known as IMVU offers up the opportunity to chat with others and communicate with others. For those skilled in designing clothing and models for IMVU, you can make clothing and models for IMVU. You can also create various environs for your characters to go around in.


You might have seen some of the various characters I've created using Meez in some of my blog posts. Meez allows you to create your own avatars complete with animations, loads of clothing and body options, various backgrounds, and more. You can save your creations in an animated GIF file to share with friends and family.

Now, let's discuss games and game services that use avatars.

PlayStation Home (US Link).

For those with a PlayStation 3, the virtual world for which you enjoy communicating with others and getting all kinds of objects to dress up you and your space. Various options are available to you. It is essentially your home pad for all kinds of functions you can take part in. You can even communicate with other Home avatars and other people around the world. Collectibles you get in the game can be brought over to your Home so you can further customize you and your home.

Mii (links to Nintendo Mii Channel).

Nintendo Wii owners can proudly make and show off their Mii to the world. Some Wii games even allow you to use your Mii in a variety of games. Examples include the Wii Sports games, Mario Kart Wii (once you unlock the two outfits), and more.

XBOX 360 Avatars.

Those endowed with an XBOX 360 and on XBOX Live are able to create their own digital representations with XBOX 360 Avatars. Games for the XBOX 360 will allow you to put your avatar in action while also being able to dress it up to your heart's content.


The Sims was created back around 2000. Since then, it has been one of the most wildly-selling, wildly-customizable game series in history. Countless commercially-available add-ons have been created for The Sims, and millions of people have created their own material showcasing their Sims in action.

--- Avatars in Action ---
So what CAN you do with avatars? Well, that's why I've prepared this section. This is a look at avatars in action. Because of the sex-crazed Internet, I will avoid posting anything even sexually suggestive in these videos. Get a life, porn addicts. ;)

This is a general look at avatars using Second Life:

You can shop in Second Life and let your style shine:

Here are some Sims socializing:

Games and game systems allow you to use your avatar or get items for your avatar. Here is an in-game example using "Mario Kart Wii," whereas the player uses his/her own Mii in a race. You have to unlock the Mii character outfits to use your Mii in this game, by the way:

IN CASE YOU'RE INTERESTED: I reviewed "Mario Kart Wii" in my blog. Check out my review of Mario Kart Wii to check out my review of this game.

These are among many different things to use avatars for.

--- Making 3D Avatars ---
The most popular and most-respected creator of 3D graphics is one 3D Studio Max. If you don't have 3DS, there are other programs you can use, such as the vastly popular Blender program. Designing such models takes a lot of work and time, especially trying to create the best-possible 3D avatars. Some games simply allow you to create your own characters within the game. Whatever the case, designing avatars can be very enjoyable for any such application.

Some services allow for the creation of user-created items that can be purchased using credits or actual money. Services like Meez and IMVU allow for this. Making items for avatars requires about the same level of dedication as making the avatars themselves.

--- Avatars and Virtual Reality ---
Avatars alone mean nothing; they need some sort of medium for which to live and thrive. Enter the realm of virtual reality. These are controlled spaces that allow for avatars and other such characters and objects to thrive.

Whatever one is able to make through the means of virtual reality depends on the imagination of those who help create the virtual realm. Any good piece of entertainment allows for someone to be immersed into a certain space. A game engages you to live in a virtual realm with other people. A good book allows you to live in a world as pages and words transform themselves into life within the certain book. When it comes to making characters and having them live in a certain space, you create a sort of virtual reality that engages people to be engaged into a certain world. More immersive realities allow for the deepest possible experiences. To the creator(s) of a virtual reality or an alternate universe, he/she/they want you to become involved and engaged in a reality that either most people dream of or want you to take part in. Reasons can range from just-for-fun to empowering you to think.

Virtual Reality: Realistic.

Second Life is by far the most popular virtual reality platform as Second Life is used for a multitude of purposes. You can socialize, do shopping, take part in school assignments, and much more. While it is a different sort of reality, it is not the same as living in real life. You are just taking part in a universe different from ours. Does it make Second Life better than reality?

Virtual Reality: Fantasy.

Think of games where you create your own characters and live in your own universe. Either that, or you control one character that you can customize to an extent. Grand Theft Auto games come to mind for me in this respect. However, many more will tell you that game series like the World of Warcraft series is better in talking about living in a different sort of reality. Imagine being in a realm where you are around monsters and have incredible magic ability. Or in science fiction cultures, imagine being part of a futuristic society where humankind and robots live and function as one. As much as technology can be helpful, there is always that possibility that robots can be re-programmed to attack and threaten humankind.

How many humans know magic? Are there any monsters out there that dare threaten humanity? Are there any robots that could threaten and attack humans? These virtual realities provide a "what if?" aspect that challenges us to think a bit. Not all are in the philosophical sense, though.

Virtual Reality: Fun and Socialization.

For some games, you are able to participate in a number of different games that allow you to build and manage your own space. These are online games such as FarmVille, YoVille, Sorority Life, Retail Therapy from PopSugar, Mafia Wars, and stuff like that. A number of different deals are set up for you to customize to your heart's content.

Services even have their own sort of virtual reality. Services like IMVU come to mind for me. Socializing in ways we normally wouldn't in real life is a big aspect of life in some of these different services.

A saucy side to certain socialization avatar services and games is the ability to have realistic relationships with others. This even includes (but is obviously not limited to) heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual relationships. The Sims makes it possible to have loving relationships between a male and a female. However, the possibility also exists of having loving relationships between two males or between two females. A surreal way of looking at the socialization aspect of avatars and virtual reality is that you could possibly enjoy a relationship where you test the waters of a same-sex relationship. What if you were bi-curious and wanted to mate with a same-sex partner? You could accomplish this in real life with a certain partner, or you can take your chances in an avatar-based society. You're not meeting a real person, so it's completely safe (unless the certain person in charge of a mating avatar disapproves of any same-sex deal). No physical contact or anything with any real person. Because of this, though, some people have questioned having same-sex relationships in games like The Sims games. What do I think about this? Love is love. If you prefer a same-sex partner even in a virtual space, why should you be restricted? Life is unrestrained, and so is virtual reality. Not every loving bond in life is male-female. If one prefers a same-sex relationship even in a virtual realm, what good are you doing by not allowing same-sex types to enjoy virtual same-sex love? The idea is more about liberty and sexual preference rather than limiting loving bonds to just a male-female bond. It's about sharing your interests and tastes digitally to me.

Virtual Reality: Deities.

The topic is about virtual reality, and one of the most in-depth forms of virtual reality is in being a deity. Imagine creating a universe, creating heavens, giving life to organisms, and more. Spore is perhaps the best example of what I am trying to come up with for this point. No one human has the power to be such a deity and a creator of things ranging from planets to organisms. In virtual reality, however, this opportunity is granted.

So these virtual realities are as much to help avatars and ourselves to live in ways we normally wouldn't, and they also allow us powers mere mortals could never have and utilize.

--- Avatars vs. Real Life ---
The whole appeal of avatars is fun, but how does it compare to real life? Remember that any virtual medium is just that- a virtual medium. It is a controlled space created by developers to create a world away from our world. These are environs where fantasies can be lived out with the only limitation being our respective imaginations.

From a philosophical standpoint, what makes these environments fun is that avatars and avatar-driven environments allow us to express ourselves and live in ways we can only imagine living in reality. Think of the guy or the girl who enjoys the Goth lifestyle and lives in ways different from most average people. Think of the girl who envisions herself as a princess or even having pretty butterfly wings to flutter around in while looking chic and stylish. The best video games and computer games allow us to immerse ourselves into environments we can only imagine being in.

Does it mean that avatar-driven environments are better than the life we live in? Well, these are ARTIFICIAL environments. Most artificial environments are only there as a sweet distraction outside of real life. It doesn't mean that real life is boring. It just means that these are environments that we only dream of, and these avatar environments help create a reality. Some realms are too superficial and superior to some to where we only wish life were like some of the best games and alternate universes.

Virtual Reality vs. Reality.

In a happier realm... I'd be a happily married father, I'd be handsomely paid for my blogging and YouTube work, my life and status would be in a much better place than where I am now, and so many other things would help me to enjoy life much more than I do now. I don't rely on any alternate universe to get me to experience the kind of life that can actually be achieved.

Many of us realize how superficial these environments and realities are, but we buy into them because it is fun living in realms much different from ones we are all used to. We can accomplish and become certain things we would probably not be able to become, or take part in things we normally do not have the power or capability of taking on in real life. Gran Turismo is a great example for me. The ONLY racing I've ever done was at go-kart tracks at family fun centers (including one proper indoor go-kart track called Davy Jones Kartzone. This place is no longer with us). I don't have the physical endurance or the skill to be any kind of real racer, so I stick to virtual racing.

Virtual reality can be fun. However, we must remember that when we turn off the system or log off of a certain service, it's back to life as usual. REAL life. It takes the flip of a switch or something to simply enter a realm different from ours.

What do you make of avatars and virtual reality? Feel free to post your comments to this blog post! Below are some resources for you based on your reading of this blog post. In case you didn't visit any of these sites previously, you may visit them here in this section to enhance your experience of reading this blog post:

* Second Life, Second Life Marketplace
* Meez
* PlayStation Home (US PlayStation Link)
* Mii (links to Nintendo Mii Channel)
* XBOX 360 Avatars
* Sims

* 3D Studio Max
* Blender

* World of Warcraft
* FarmVille
* YoVille
* Sorority Life
* Retail Therapy from PopSugar
* Mafia Wars

* Playdom (makers of various social Flash games, including the previously-mentioned Sorority Life)

If you love Second Life and want to get some literature to help you with Second Life, here are some books on Amazon to help you to get the most out of Second Life:

Are you a fan of The Sims? Here is some stuff for The Sims (this widget features only content for computer versions of The Sims), in case you're interested:

Again, I would appreciate your business if you do find/buy something that interests you in any of my blog posts.

More links/resources could be added in future edits.

Thank you for reading!

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