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Apr 08, 2005


So if the bodies of everyday people are now becoming avatars through expert-driven reality TV, can this really be attributed to the influence of virtual worlds, or all of this part of a greater paradigm shift in which our realities can (must?) now be constantly made over,

Forcing change on our environment has been a hallmark of humanity for ages. I'd say we've just extended the concept of environment to include our bodies, and possible our thoughts.. Its tragic that anyone would allow a "panel of experts" to dictate how we should look, think, or feel.

Those experts are the same group of people who will call you "gimped" in game if you don't strictly follow the "best" character build. Or fail to maintain the equipment/fashion standard.

I don't consider the visual aspects to be related primarily because amount of player expression in the model selection is very minimal. Player selection in abilities/equipment seems like a more direct parallel to me.


The car is an avatar in the virtual world of the road network. It's been designed and marketed as such for decades. Getting the same car red costs more than blue; a factoid that, as a mere economist, I could not figure out for years. "why would people pay more for a red car?" = "why would people pay more for a glowing sword?" now i understand...


wb BB

I think that there is common cause. On of the current rhetorics in UK politics at the moment is ‘choice’. It is assumed by the political classes that (a) we all want choice, (b) it is self evidently good. What’s more service, even those from the state, are becoming every more configurable – personalised as it were. Thus I think that the idea of empowerment of the individual is current notion, and it seems the one of the logical outcomes of this thought process is that not only can one change oneself both physically and psychologically, but probably that one should i.e. if choice is self evidently good then exercising it hence not choosing is bad.

I guess what is also important is what we used to call the HyperReal. That is the norms that we are given are increasingly synthetic e.g. the degree of photoshopping that occurs for magazine covers.

The SF conclusion of this is that we will eventually only really be happy in virtual worlds as the physical world is too limited for the expectations that are increasing thrust upon us from the virtual. Then again, you go into Second Life and its all the same hierarchies and norms just played out in subtly different ways.


i.e. if choice is self evidently good then exercising it hence not choosing is bad.

Good point Ren. I believe that choice is self evidently good. I just also happen to agree with the old Rush song that says "If we choose not to decide we still have made a choice". Its all too common for people presented with two choices framed by someone else to accept that those are the only options.

IE: Are you a conservative or a liberal? Do you want your nose bigger or smaller?


It's a technology-led paradigm shift.

Similar to how advanced transport capabilities help us to redefine travel distances, we now have the ability to "upgrade" or "level-up" our personal life.

Reality TV only accelerates what has been developing over the years. Online gaming culture also accelerates the acceptance and adoption of "avatar transformation".

Where average employment period per job went from lifetime down to about 2 per job, I could see the average number of life transformation going from an average of 1 per lifetime to once every 5 years.



I've also been wondering about how "The Swan" and all these makeover shows seem to echo what's happening with avatars and virtual spaces. While I think it is worth pointing out that this kind of thing has old, old roots (think back to Ovid or ritual masks), I think both virtual worlds and the makeover shows make us pause because they force us to confront the fluidity of certain things we think are integral to personal identity. I don't know that it raises any novel questions at the level of theory, but it is interesting to see how these shows and VWs go about untangling things.

Related -- I was listening to Terry Gross interview Frank Conroy on Fresh Air last night, stream available here:
In passing, Conroy opined that artists usually treat their bodies like old suitcases -- things that they have to lug around, but that are an inconvenience more than anything. And I thought, how does that relate to "The Swan"? Obviously, if Conroy is right, these people aren't artists--they're objects of art.


In keeping with Greg's point: there's always the example of Orlan, the performance artist who continually re-imagines her face and body through plastic surgery:



Thabor > Good point Ren. I believe that choice is self evidently good. I just also happen to agree with the old Rush song that says "If we choose not to decide we still have made a choice".

Well, I’m not sure I can argue with anyone that quotes Rush. But seriously I was taking the action of ‘choice’ to mean an actual change from ones current state i.e. choice implies change; though in the wider context indeed choosing to stay the same is probably the hardest option of all: in this context a valid choice seems only to be a change towards the perceived norm. Though there is the wider issue with choice that too much of it is a bad thing if only coz one might not have reasonable time to process the data an make a 'valid' one.


"While reality TV is going to ever more extreme lengths to make idealized virtual existences a reality for ordinary, everyday people, it unfortunately has not incorporated the idea of individual agency that exists in virtual worlds. The subjects of reality TV extreme makeovers are rarely given any opportunity to make decisions about the details of the transformation. In fact, a successful transformation can only occur with the helpful intervention of purported experts..."

The need for homogeneity of variances and their validation by social elders supersedes the nice-and-fluffy idea of individual agency.

Note that in most popular subscription games, there are limited static choices for avatar features. Games with sliders for height, noses, boobs, etc. -- games with more user customization -- are played less.

Despite Occidental undercurrents of individuality, in the end, we like to belong to physiological groups, replete with societal implications. People don't want to look unique. They want to look like Brad Pitt, or Wolverine, or Legolas. Cultural icons, replete with meaning. Claws and sideburns and *snick* have been laid down by cultural geek elders. This is the way of the cool-loner-mutant-modified-by-aliens world, they say.

Picture a chesty blonde with a pony tail in chain mail. Picture the same girl, same face, with black hair, up in a bun, in a robe. The feeling, the message, is very different. Now, what is the message if the same girl is wearing a strawberry soda colored A-line, in a light blue tank top, with brown corduroys? Or, teal colored hair in Princess Leia locks, wearing a form-fitting navy blue neoprene jumpsuit? Very unique, but very unclear.

At the cosmetic surgeon's office, they ask you, "What kind of nose do you want?" And then they show the types of noses you can select. The most fashionable clothes and accessories necessarily come in standardized sizes and styles. There would be no meaning without repetition. The language of the human image comes with a very clear vocabulary. Sliders garble the words.


You may be interested to know that we are currently working on a reality Tv show that merges reality television and video games (we call it 'virtual reality telelvision').

It is still too soon to uncover details, but you can get a sense of what's about to happen from our latest press release at http://www.teract.com/news_03222005.php

See you IN the movies!


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