In “All the Slender Ladies: Body Diversity in Video Games,” Anita Sarkeesian critiques videogame designers for relying on the same body type for female characters, but I found Second Life to not be much different. Even when players are able to fully customize their characters, in my one hour of game play, I found only one female avatar that had body dimensions different than the norm.
No matter who is designing an avatar for a videogame, Sarkeesian’s argument fails to consider the magic circle that exists in videogames. People use the videogame environment to portray their “projective” identity. She considers this default, slender-shaped woman avatar a “limitation to creativity.” I think players in Second Life take advantage of the opportunity to be creative in this 3D environment to explore an identity that does not have to be one of their own.
The only time I felt like my personal freedom of identity was threatened was from chatting with a male character. He started to comment on my virtual appearance. At this point, I had not personalized my avatar at all. He said I would look better, with a different hairstyle and a smaller head. To my surprise, he sent me packages of fully customized women avatars. You can put these ‘outfits’ on, and your clothes, accessories, and even height will change. This relationship of exchanging and controlling my physical characteristics was a learning experience, but made me feel uncomfortable. The power dynamic was clear; he could customize me or any other character in whatever way he pleased. The appearance of my avatar became “playable,” and I myself became a sexualized trope in his gameplay. Videogames are spaces where agency can be isolated, shared, manipulated, or threatened.
Anita Sarkeesian, “All the Slender Women: Body Diversity in Video Games” (2016). See https://feministfrequency.com/video/all-the-slender-ladies-body-diversity-in-video-games/