Battered avatars – feminist statement or misogynist pandering?

Paul Raven @ 26-11-2009

"Battle Royale" Second Life avatar skinWith its ability to allow us to take on new forms, appearances and identities, the metaverse is opening up as a whole new arena for discussions about cultural perceptions. Here’s a fresh example: a Second Life avatar skin designer released a collection of skins named “Battle Royale” on to the market, which would make the female avatar wearing them look like they’d been in a pretty serious brawl – black eyes, bruises and grazes, that sort of thing. Cue angry protest from commentators decrying the skins as a potential glorification of domestic violence. [image borrowed from JuicyBomb]

As the designer made plain, there was no such intent – but offence is in the eye of the beholder in such incidents, and domestic abuse is a deservedly sensitive topic. SL fashionista Iris Ophelia makes the point that hardly anyone would consider making a fuss about the already numerous male avatar skins that portray a similarly battered appearance, despite the largely unreported incidences of male-victim domestic violence, and hypothesises that the incident actually underlines a less-observed double standard in our attitudes to abuse. She also sees battered avatars as a potentially feminist statement, a subversion of the perfect and unruffled female characters from combat-based computer games, for example.

Whichever side of that debate you favour, it’s interesting to consider the potential of the metaverse as a place where this sort if discussion can be had slightly more safely and comfortably than in “reality”; given the theoretical anonymity of each avatar, it may be easier to speak out as a victim of real-world abuse while spending time in a virtual space. But of course, anonymity works both ways[nsfw], as anyone who’s spent more than five minutes on the web already knows…