2.Would you believe Kermit?
Although I don’t agree with a lot of what she says I would recommend that you should read knowledgeable educationist/researcher Eloise Pasteur’s (pictured above and left below) reply to my blog (SLENZ Update No 42) on the necessity – or not – of providing oneself with a “credible” avatar when either doing ‘real’ business or endeavouring to provide a ‘real’ education in Second Life (http://eloisepasteur.net/blog/index.php?/archives/252-Wouldnt-you-believe-Kermit.html).
To me, using Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message”, the Second Life avatar – his, her, its credibility – and the avatar profile/groups/picks etc is part of that message, reinforcing or devaluing it. For those of us who might argue that education in Second Life is more powerful than either tele 0r video-conferencing for business or other forms of e-communication or e-learning because of “presence” it would seem obvious that the credibility of the avatar is all important, unless one is a “kidult” in the virtual world of such virtual world’s as Habbo Hotel or on the teen grid, and even there “presence” in a fantasy sense is important.
Even the creators of video games such as Grand Theft Auto know the value of “presence.”
It is well-known and possibly an unfortunate fact in the real world, outside VWs, that 80 percent of one’s initial perception (judgement) of another individual is based on appearance: That subconscious value judgment is made not only by white male chauvinists in the real world but also by the sweetest, most progressive, liberal humanitarians no matter how much they attempt to modify their behavior. To say this doesn’t happen in a virtual world, which is a microcosm of the real world with all its faults, is to wear blinkers. No matter whether it is right or wrong, a number of researchers have already established that those with “power” “acceptance” etc in Second Life are those with the best-looking or most cleverly-created avatars, even if fantasy figures which are in context. Researchers have also established, at this stage anyway, that avatars with black “skins” are not treated the same way by the denizens of Second Life, as those with lighter skins.
Yes, Eloise, Second Life is like Real Life (JW pictured RL, right), whether we like or not and whether or not we can change it. And yes Eloise the visual appearance of the presenter is important to me and other “ordinary people” – rather than academics – both in Real Life and MUVEs because that is where my/our initial value judgment comes from, no matter how much I wish it was otherwise. The importance of visual appearance to 99.9 percent of the denizens of Second Life and other similar Virtual Worlds – given the fact that obesity and age are ubiquitous in the Western World, from which most SL users are drawn – is demonstrated by the lack of fat, ugly, or aged, ugly avatars, either male or female, among users, with even a few days experience. The first thing the average user does is get rid of the “noob” skin and then tinker with their shape and height before picking up clothing.
Eloise, you might not focus on the presenter in Real Life, but I do, believing that academics who rely on, and repeat almost line for line, boring PPT presentations, don’t have anything new to impart and don’t know their material. A PPT presentation should be no more than an adjunct or an aid to a presentation: if that is all one relies on for learning/information one doesn’t need the “presence” of either the real person or an avatar, or even need to be in a virtual world for the learning/business process to take place. Virtual Worlds, for better or worse, are about people interacting with each other, rather than with the magic board or a slew of cryptic PPT slides.
In both worlds a credible presenter and his/her or message will hold one riveted. One doesn’t look at the clock or out the window. This will become more and more evident as voice takes over more and more within VWs.
Your willingness, Eloise, to completely “ignore the appearance of the avatar … because I just don’t look at them” at the presentations you attend would suggest to me that there is no necessity for you to be in a Virtual World attending those presentations – they could just as easily be done via email/text or other less bandwidth hungry forms of e-learning.
Having been in SL with a variety of avatars for some four years and other VWs/MMORPGs longer I have to agree with Eloise, however, “that avatar appearance is totally independent of the quality of their mind and the quality of what they have to say.”
That given, however, I am unlikely to listen to a heavy breathing, male, minotaur avatar, with membership of various BDSM, “rape” and Gorean groups in his profile and a large exposed genitalia, discussing equality for women with anything but a sense of derision if not disgust. But I too have learned things such as building/terraforming/scripting from fairies, elves, furries, butterflies, herms, males who are females and vice versa and even “beasts”, on occasion, but not in a “formal” education sense, and only after getting to know them.
Finally, Eloise, as you say, as educators, we have a multitude of roles, duties and responsibilities to our learners.
“One of those can be loosely summed up as ‘putting the learners at ease so they can learn,’ ‘ you say, and another “challenging inappropriate behaviour for example bullying, racism and sexism.”
Additionally I would add, no matter how old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy it may seem, as educator-avatars we must also think of our own appropriate behaviour/appearance/context etc if we are to be wholly effective both in Real Life and Second Life. Both are parts of the Real World. – Johnnie Wendt/John Waugh