There is a german saying, that you can't escape your skin (direct translation from "nicht aus seiner Haut können"). It says about what "A leopard can't change his spots" means. Good news is, as an avatar in Second Life you can...whenever you want. But is this really good news and how to deal with this freedom which is unique to avatars?
You can be pretty much what- or whoever you wanna be in Second Life. Ever tried life as a cat or other tiny avatar? Wanted to get back to Teenage Life? Or explore how acting as the other gender would be?
Once, when my clicker experienced another mulituser roleplay game, she tried to be a male character. Taking a male perspective should be a way to understand male acting better. And guess what, people thought that made up character was gay. Reflecting on this and asking friends, why those think so, they said, the character simply acts to nice. So being male always implies being a cool, unempathic jerk? Must be a real burden to all men!? My clicker made a second try on a male char then. Now behaving more grumpy, more rough, choosing a more stereotype male look, the new char even managed to get into a relationship with a female character. Well his girlfriend was a bit dominant on him and now guess again....she had a male clicker. Even if this relationship was more a fun play and the exaggeration was maxed out, it gave a slight direction, of how reality can work. Playing with roles is important. Not only to find the real self, but as well to understand different characters better. And where else than in Second Life it's more easy to step into someone elses shoes and take their perspective. Experiencing is always more effective than listening to stories from other lifes and only few people are able to be empathic enough to fully grab the meaning of different life models.
In Second Life my clicker never tried to gender switch again. She thought its simply too realistic to do that in here....the graphics developed a lot further and people seem to take in world stuff more serious than in a game which is labeled roleyplay from the beginning. People may even get pissed, finding out you gender switched or feel fooled. It's often easy to identify real life men in female skins and shapes though. Watch out for big boobs, short and slutty dresses, long hair and you are pretty safe already. I feel sorry for "real" women dressing up always like this. It provokes to be reduced to sexual key stimulus. A few month ago a female friend of mine confessed she's a he in real life and was really afraid I am totally pissed about that. Only thing I could do was simply laughing my ass off. The story behind it was more sad. This one felt restrained by his female partner in real life. Possibly taking female identity and acting as a lesbian in world, better described the relationship he wishes to have in rel life. Acting on the same level, not dominating each other. Won't say here that all gay relationships are this way (imagine the huge BDSM gay scene on Zindra), but maybe it was kinda his imagination. The last time I saw him, he switched to a male avatar telling, his female partner would prefer that. Maybe that's a good thing as well, that one liked kinda understanding and empathic men and he found out that way, that its not about gender, but about persons...
Since about 3 years I stayed the same in Second Life. I was simply Nadja Revnik, didn't change my skin or my shape a lot after my clicker set my avatar up. But lately she sent me to a skin fair and inspired by that and the development of technics (graphics), she must have thought that a make over after 3 years won't hurt. Let's have a look at before and after, as we know it from all the fancy women's magazine.
Well, it's easy to guess what's before and what's after related to the skin quality. The old one is more flat, more graphic and not as three-dimensional as the new one. My clicker actually liked that, because she always tries to escape the hardcore "Barbie-Look". As well she never gets skins without some eye wrinkles and at least some dark circels around the eyes. My shape didn't change so much...just a few corrections mostly in the face, as my clicker thought the small nose does not work with the new skin and the skin needs to be defined more. And well, people change - some from time to time - as well I guess she did over the last three years, so its nice to have this visualized on me as her avatar. I felt weird at the beginning with my new looks, when I am able to feel as an avatar. But I adjusted fast and feel comfy in my new skin.
Even if our clickers are not able to change their skins themselves, there are studies, which prove that different avatar looks are connected to real life behavior. More beautiful avatars give you more selfestime in the real world and influence you choosing more attractive partners there, is one result for example. Nick Yee from the real world did his dissertation about: "The Proteus Effect: Behavioral Modification via Transformations of Digital Self-Representation" did release some great papers about this topic, which you can download here. Still there is the Virtual Human Interaction Lab of Stanford University well known for their studies about immersive virtual reality simulations. And a new topic related book is just published and well reviewed: Infinite Reality by Blascovich & Bailenson.
My clicker did change my skin recently, so what's up next in both lifes? ;-)