Avatar Skin Research Has A Bit More Depth Than Initial Reports Suggested

When I first blogged about reports of the research informing us that female avatars display a lot more skin than male avatars, I did so with a bit of surprise that such a survey had been conducted because the results were so obvious. One was left wondering whether the researchers would also conduct research into the religion of The Pope and what bears do in the woods. However I did comment in that blog post that the reports I had read lacked depth:

Maybe if I could find the full report I’d get more context on exactly what the point of this study was, until then I only have the tongue in cheek reports that include such gems as thanking Laval University for reminding them that Second Life is still around”

Now, thanks to a forum post from Perrie Juran, I can read the full report and get more context, so too can you as the report is here: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0051921

The report goes a bit further than merely stating the obvious but pretty much concludes that they haven’t yet found out why female avatars show more skin.

One thing the researchers do seem to have discovered, is that the preference of female avatars to show more skin is not neccessarily related to sexualisation of female avatars. They discovered that female avatars were more likely than males to reveal more skin regardless of the shape of the female avatar. The suggestion there being that if the primary motive for female avatars to expose more skin was sexualisation, then female avatars with more attractive shapes would reveal the most skin, whereas female avatars with less attractive shapes would reveal less skin. However no such link was found, indeed it was the same with male avatars too, body shapes do not seem to influence the amount of skin revealed in Second Life.

Now where the researchers are coming from with some of this is that Second Life is a largely, user generated content world, therefore why are female avatars showing so much more skin than male avatars? Whereas MMO’s that are not reliant on user generated content have been accused in the past of depicting female characters in a overly sexual manner, the same rules don’t apply to Second Life as there’s a choice on the content created and purchased, therefore there are less restrictions on how female avatars appear in Second Life, as opposed to say, World Of Warcraft.

Another area the researchers looked at was Star Wars Roleplay. In this area they discovered that male avatars roleplaying Star Wars in Second Life were roughly revealing the same amount of skin as their counterparts in the movies, the same didn’t apply to female avatars in Second Life. Female avatars roleplaying Star Wars in Second Life reveal a lot more skin than their counterparts in the movies.

I actually quite enjoyed reading the survey, it’s a bit long but not overly so and it is rather interesting, there’s a lot more to it than initially seemed to be the case, but the question as to why virtual female avatars reveal so much more skin than not just males, but also characters from film that they roleplay, remains unanswered.

Does anyone have any ideas? I do think that some of this is to do with available merchandise, female clothing that shows more skin is more prevalent, the question there is whether this is due to demand or due to supply?

6 Replies to “Avatar Skin Research Has A Bit More Depth Than Initial Reports Suggested”

  1. I would hazard to guess that it goes back to the basic methods of attraction between the two genders. It’s well known that males tend to identify an “attractive” mate by their appearance, whereas females generally find imagination and good natured personalities as attractive. Thus female avatars will dress in a manner that appeals to the visual sense more readily than male avatars. (After all, imaginative and amicable apparel doesn’t need to be showy.) But of course that’s just my personal opinion, based on the basic premise that one of the most active imperatives in any interactive online environment is the attraction of a mate .. or at least someone willing to roleplay a mate.

    1. Someone in the forum highlighted a good part of the research that leaves a hole in virtual environment, apparently females touch more than males in social interactions, of course this isn’t possible in a virtual environment so maybe, as you point out, they are using clothing to make up for the lack of touching …… yeah it’s a stretch but there might be something in it.

      I agree that it’s quite probably to do with natural rules of attraction in some form.

  2. There’s also a factor around what clothing is available. I’ve often noticed that female versions of perfectly reasonable male costumes and armour are far less practical and more revealing. Yet a female avatar can’t simply choose to wear the male set in most cases because the prim parts simply won’t fit.

    1. The avatar meshes are different for males and females and there has always been the issue that the shirt layer doesn’t come all the way down to the bum, you need to use a jacket layer for that, so in terms of system clothing it was easier to make shorter tops for females.

      Prim clothing evolved from this so maybe they went with shorter tops and clothing as they were popular.

  3. Why is there a difference in dress between RL and SL? Unlike real life, it doesn’t get cold in SL.

    Also, unlike RL it is impossible to seriously assault an avatar. An avatar is just a click away from a teleport out of harms way. Something that cannot be accomplished in RL.

    So, safety and comfort are very likely reasons for the difference. Did they explore those possibilities?

    1. They mention that at the start, pointing out that Second Life is unhindered by climatic, environment and physical constraints that appear in RL.

      I think one of the points missed and a point I failed to mention, is that these guys have been studying avatar interactions in MMO’s and virtual worlds in the past. They refer to past studies in the full report.

      The part that seemed to surprise them was that female avatars reveal more skin regardless of shape or size, I think they expected avatars that oozed sex appeal to be flashing the most skin, but that doesn’t seem to have played out.

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