May 16, 2014

Second Life New Mesh Avatars: the good, the bad and the ugly

The fact that new users can now have free mesh avatars when they join Second Life™ is actually a very good thing.

Also, those who already use Second Life can find these new mesh avatars on their Inventory, under “Library/Clothing/Initial Outfits”. That is actually great.

However, although these new mesh 'human' avatars are fairly well designed, will they help users (especially students) feel less like ‘cartoon characters’ when they enter SL for the first time?

Because the bad thing about these new mesh avatars is that they allow almost no customization. The avatars themselves cannot be changed, and the mesh clothes that come with each avatar are not ‘fitted mesh’, making it basically impossible for any users to create a different, customized look for themselves.

Notice what happened when I tried to wear the avatar Sarah with Zoe’s suit… The result was quite bad.

The problem with this lack of customization – which by the way is not a problem with the ‘classic’, prim-based, old avatars – is that we (i.e. people interested in the use of virtual worlds for education and training) know that avatar customization can play an important role in the way students engage with learning activities.

As Lee and Hoadley stated in their paper Leveraging Identity to Make Learning Fun:Possible Selves and Experiential Learning in Massively Multiplayer Online Games(MMOGs): “allowing players to construct identity is an important way to keep activities engaging and, if we believe Nasir and other researchers, good for learning as well.“

And the ugly? For me, stereotyping is always ugly. Unfortunately, I see a bit of stereotyping in the design of these new mesh avatars, especially when it comes to the way non-Caucasian males, and females (regardless of their ethnicity) are portrayed.

I’m quite aware that there can only be a few free mesh avatars for new users to choose from when they join SL, so some degree of stereotyping was probably unavoidable when designers created these avatars. Previously, with the ‘classic’, prim-based avatars that problem could be solved by the users themselves, through customization of their avatars, and the ‘mix and match’ of clothes. Regrettably, the fact that these new mesh avatars are not customizable turns their stereotyped look into a more complicated issue to deal with – particularly in a learning context.
Hopefully, Linden Lab’s new CEO Ebbe Altberg will understand this and a greater level of customization will be added to these new mesh avatars.

About the author: C. M. Elias (Camie Rembrandt in SL) is a professional trainer, and has a Post Graduate Diploma in Education (E-learning Pedagogy) from Aberta University, Lisbon (Portugal, EU).
For more on the subject of Second Life and Other Virtual Worlds, please visit:

P.S. – This article’s title is an obvious homage to “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo), a 1966 Italian Spaghetti Western film directed by Sergio Leone, starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach in the title roles respectively (quoted from Wikipedia), and to its amazing main theme, composed by the talented Ennio Morricone.

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