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?