Friday, August 03, 2007

Avatar Sociology 101

NPR has discovered online avatars: Alter Egos in a Virtual World
The story is a little cursory, but it has its moments.

Like the bit about the woman who made her City of Heroes avatar "the biggest, blackest guy I could find" and found out that her fellow players gave her a lot more respect and less lip than when she played with a female avatar. I'm fascinated because it's like a controlled experiment on how people automatically discount what women say just because of how they look.

It makes me wonder about men who use female avatars. Do they think that people discount what they say and do, or are they just too busy staring at their character's boobies to notice? Or do they get caught up in "acting like a girl" and think that's part of the fun? Apparently it's hard for people with privilege to see discrimination even when it's directed at them.

There's also a picture in the story of significantly disabled man with Duchenne muscular dystrophy who plays Star Wars Galaxies as a mysterious, armored (possibly robotic?) fighter. His online avatar is ironically like his real body, except that it's hard metal that hides the avatar to its eyes instead of twisted, immobile flesh encased in medical equipment. Online gaming is a unique social interaction for him, the player says, because he gets treated like an average person online.

This wasn't a new concept for me, but I still feel I should apologize for my somewhat uncharitable reaction: "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog."

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