The SLENZ Update – No 43, January 31, 2009

2.Would you believe Kermit?

pasteure2

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 johnniefbLife 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.

pasteureYour 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

6 Responses

  1. If the medium is the message, what am I supposed to read into your inability to spell my name correctly on most instances, and also to not spell it consistently? Patronising? Provocative? Ignorant? Lazy?

    The fact my camera is focussed on the slides for a “chalk and talk” type presentation doesn’t necessarily mean that the presenter is essentially reading their slide – an interesting assumption on your part and perhaps indicative not of my lack of need to be in Second Life, but of the standard of teaching/presenting where this is the chosen method? I can, of course, see the slides and read the chat so there is absolutely no need for them to be reading the slides for me to get both elements of the message.

    Whilst you might listen with derision and disgust to a gorean into rape play (goreans tend to dislike furries strongly, so a gorean minotaur is an interesting but very unlikely combination), I would be far more inclined to listen and consider the point of view in circumstances where it is a presentation/debate/class. It seems unlikely I’d agree with it, but that wouldn’t and doesn’t stop me reading it and considering it. If the “debate” was one sided as this hypothetical male tried to virtually rape then the situation would be rather different and met with an AR and a teleport home mind you, but that’s a function of his actions not his appearance. I would enjoy, and in fact have enjoyed, listening to the scantily-clad kajira about her views about equality for women, but then I know a number of ardent feminists who are sexually submissive and/or have rape fantasies: the two are far from mutually exclusive.

    I wonder, does choosing an appearance that reinforces stereotypes of white patriarchy actually serve the students or society in the long term?

  2. Johnnie, I’m not sure if you are familiar with that story in The Little Prince about the Indian Astrophysicist who presents his findings in his native dress and is utterly dismissed out-of-hand, then makes the same presentation some time later dressed in a short leash & tight coller (suit and tie)? The second time his findings are hailed as ground-breaking and he is accepted as a genius. Perhaps your post can serve as a wake-up call for you to grow beyond your comfort zone and allow yourself to expand your own horizons a bit, rather than impose your world view upon those around you.

  3. Eloise,
    I must apologise for the lapse in spelling but does it really matter in an anything goes world as long as you understand that I’m speaking to you – afterall, your appearance and your name could be anything at all and fluctuate at whim – mine or your’s depending on our choices.
    *Smiles* I think, however, it is pedantic, nit-picking.
    CJ: Yes I am familiar with the allusion and I think it supports my point rather than yours.

  4. Yes, it does matter. To quote your description of yourself, it may make me a fuddy-duddy, but I would regard it as a matter of courtesy to get names correct, address people with the correct gender of personal pronoun for their appearance and the like.

    In Second Life people are free to choose names, appearances and the like, and they should be, and should remain so. Respecting their choices – spelling their name correctly, calling an avatar him when you know the human behind the avatar is female (or vice versa), asking and remember that when in robot form the correct pronoun is “It” for some, “he” for others and “she” for still more, (and possibly some others too) and the like celebrates that choice.

    Failure to do so… which do you prefer to appear from the list I already gave? Or perhaps deliberately insulting? Trolling?

    I’m willing to bet that both you and I correct the spelling of students on a regular basis. The defence of “but it got the message across” is not sustainable. We may have different reasons for this, but if you contend that the medium is the message, then making the message clear, precise and comprehensible (which includes well-spelt and grammatical across those features), is surely important to you? I contend that the message should be judged on its internal merits without reference to the appearance of the speaker, and a message that fails to spell the name of the person to whom it is addressed fails to impress just as much as one riven with logical flaws, poorly thought through arguments and the like.

  5. Hello John,

    Just wanted to let you know your blog has been chosen as a nominee for ISTE Island’s “Blog-o-the-Month” at the Blogger’s Hut. See the website I note with this comment for more information and a SLurl, which I refrain from posting here. However, if you wish to use the link or anything else to encourage folks to get their avatars on into SL to vote for your excellent work, please don’t hesitate to do so! Cheers!

  6. Yes *smiles* you get my point exactly. And yes I also believe Second Life people are free to choose names, appearances and the like – and they are also free to never have to identify the real life personna behind their avatar. In fact, SL Terms of Service, endeavour to prevent that happening.
    Unfortunately, the real life personna of an educator-avatar operating as a lecturer-tutor in a class in SL is readily identifiable by his/her students, faculty and all and sundry.
    By the way I have been fascinated by the feedback on SLED on this issue – I believe it important. Thank you for participating with well-reasoned, intelligent arguments.

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