Friday, May 30, 2008

Second Life, Part I

NOTE: For one of the classes I'm taking this semester, we've become heavily involved in Second Life. The next few posts will be part of my introduction to that world, and contain some of the assignments from the class. Today, avatar customization. Tomorrow and into the future, a Second Life travelogue.

Meet Jacob Rabinowicz (aka Brian Davidson) -- Happily sporting a Linux penguin shirt and some pretty hefty sideburns. And this is the boy next door? Well, considering I grew up in Mormon Idaho, I guess ol’ Jacob here isn’t all that bad. But not necessarily me. So we start with the customization. Here's what I look like to start with:

Easiest thing to do: Complexion. I’m not a white as this guy. Oh, I’m white as they come, but given that I’m half Dutch, I’ve got a bit more ruddiness in my complexion than this guy. And I’m stockier. Fatter. My ears and nose are much bigger. So I play around with the facial and skin modifications, and get this:

Whoah! Mister Clean, lookin’ good, my man. Nose is great. I’m known far and wide for my sizeable honker. And that chin. Those wide lips. The slight smirk. Looking more like me the whole time. But no glasses in Second Life, at least none for free. I’ll just tell everyone I had Lasik. The ears, however, are too tiny. Gotta fix those. But gotta do something about the hair first.

I had a lot of trouble with the hair. And I mean a LOT of trouble. First to go, of course, were the sideburns. I just don’t sideburn. In fact, if I had the ability, I’d travel in time and take a razor to good ol’ Admiral Burnside and that would be the end of it. Well, probably not; they’d just have a different name.

The hair tools in Second Life are not at all intuitive. I didn’t want the big bangs Jacob came with. But when I tried to reduce their size, I ended up with a rather embarrassing bald spot on top, what Scott Adams calls the Pink Yarmulke look. Not good at all. So, I thought, I’ll drop all the hair sliders to zero (hence the Mr. Clean look captured here) and start from scratch. No good. No good at all. I managed to get rid of the sideburns, but kept on making myself look like a radiation victim or Ed Grimley. After a half hour of trying, I thought I had a pretty good hair style. But when I spun the camera around to look at myself, I realized I didn’ t have a hairstyle -- I had a hairdo. A serious do. A serious, bouffant, wife of an Apollo 13 astronaut hairdo. I looked like a chubby Doris Day in a penguin shirt. It was so repugnant and disturbing, I didn’t even take a picture. I couldn’t wander Second Life looking like an idiot. So I hit that trusty ol’ revert key and got back Jacob’s original hair, which I tinted to look a bit more like mine.

This is what I ended up with:

Not startlingly different from the original Jacob -- but this avatar looks more like me, though my pecs aren’t this magnificent, nor my shirts this tight. After an hour of experimenting with clothing, I can tell it’s not something you can pick up in just an hour of experimentation. I did ditch the shirt, though, for another freebie in my inventory. And, befitting my new, more medieval look, I opted to visit the castellated Administration Building at the University of Idaho, my alma mater. I think I look rather dashing, like one of those idiot young knights in those movies, the one who is too damn spunky for his own good, gets knocked off his horse a lot and gets a nickname along the lines of Wormy, but then, at the end, proves that his skills are at least as good as the schmoes who have been farting around in Knightland for twenty years or so. I did toy with the idea of a beard (I don‘t have one in real life, don‘t really like to wear them because they‘re too itchy. But the iterations I tried made me look too much like a blond Hitler or an undernourished Hulk Hogan. But here I sit:

Oh, I have ideas for more customized looks -- including a t-shirt I may try to build when I get a little more time. (I’m out of town this weekend, so that’s why the assignments are coming in a bit earlier this week.) I’d also like to create a Peter Lorre avatar, with the buggy eyes, the greasy slicked-back hair, but, again, that’ll have to wait until I’ve got more time on my hands.

Overall, I think the hour I invested in avatar customization was time well spent. I don’t look startlingly different than I did on the outset, but you can look at me and know now that my avatar isn’t just one of those off-the-shelf models. I feel better about that.

Does my avatar appear technical? No. I’m not sure that, in real life, I appear especially technical myself. I would have added glasses to my avatar had glasses been immediately available, and that in of itself might have added to an aura of technicalness -- but only in a stereotypical way, discounting the fact that many who require glasses get Lasik surgery and thus remove the necessity -- and stereo typicality -- of glasses. Leaving the Linux penguin shirt on might have added to a technical aura, but the shirt also adds to the aura of a newbie, as it’s a standard-issue article of clothing. I opted for the chain mail shirt (also a standard-issue bit of clothing -- because it appeared to fit the ruddy appearance of my avatar better than the pale penguin shirt. So to say my avatar is technical would be a lie.

I think, however, that my avatar appears much more approachable -- the primary reason being it does not appear to be a standard-issue avatar. The proof will be in the pudding, however. Given the variety of avatars wandering Second Life, approachability is in the eye of the beholder.

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