Virtual Dolls: Avatars and Character Creation at Cluster and Clash

Cross-posted from: Cluster and Clash: Gaming, Tehnology, Urban Culture, Imaginary Worlds…
Originally published: 26.03.15

Apple-Diversifying Emoji

I read with interest the recent coverage of Apple’s latest updates, which will include a range of new multicultural emoji. At last, users will be able to change the skin tone of the human icons, within limits. (still no ginger haired icon though, boo hoo).

The concept of creating avatars, particularly those which look like ourselves, (or at least versions of ourselves), is one that has always interested me. In RPGs, particularly those from Bethesda, the capacity to create a character that looks like the player is almost limitless. It is now standard practice to spend the first section of a game customising an avatar so that it looks exactly as you would like, to the point that you are required to pick aspects of a human/oid face which you would never usually think about (‘brow height’/ ‘eye width’).


Of course, there are games where giving the power of image creation to the player have gone wrong: such as the famous case of Mass Effect. While it was good to be able to play as a male or female Shepherd, Bioware chose not to do any reanimation of the female avatar, so her movements matched those of her male equivalent. To a point this was no problem, until a slightly awkward scene where female Shepherd is required to wear a little black dress:


I’d have no problem with a butch female Shepherd whatsoever (the more diversity the better, always), but this appeared less of a character statement on Bioware’s part, and more gender laziness.

Despite this, I still believe gaming has the potential to be one of the most diverse genres in popular culture. Sadly, it is also an industry run by highly conservative companies, but we may not need to wait for this to change. Online games made up entirely of user-created avatars such as Second Life may hold the key to representing true diversity. (which importantly also goes beyond gender too, theoretically, as any form is possible).

Unfortunately, there are endless tutorials online about how to create ‘sexier’ female avatars and how to import body meshes to create ‘hotter’ female avatar shapes. All trends which reflect wider social issues of course about women and their bodies. In practice, people may well always end up choosing to represent certain groups/body types over others, but at least the game player is given choice, and it is not in the hands of a corporation, dictating the ways in which we must represent ourselves digitally as we go about saving the world.


Cluster and ClashAction Historian; trapeze apprentice, hair of a laudanum addict. I have a PhD in Cultural History and started a blog so I can write about my interests outside of the academic bubble. I write about urban culture, digital technology (including lots on gaming) all from a feminist/womanist perspective.