Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The fashionista - A Second Life Role-Play Archetype (RGP in SL part IV)

This article is the fourth part of a blog post series on role-playing in Second Life.

The Barbie doll has been an important icon of the toy market for fifty years and with one billion copies she is probably the most sold toy ever. I believe that her success is based upon her function as a object of fashion projection. Although Barbie was initially sold to adults, it became popular with children who enjoyed dressing her up in outfits that were sold separately. Barbie products include numerous clothes and accessories. 

In Second Life a lot of players - including me - enjoy styling their avatars in the same way that we have dressed our Barbies when we were young: we bought all kind of costumes, outfits and roles. It's funny that Mattel released a Teen Talk Barbie, which spoke - among a number of other phrases - "Will we ever have enough clothes?". Every fashion addict in Second Life won't hesitate to cry out: "Of course not - Never!"

Draxtor Despres presents in his series "World Makers" the work of SL fashion designer Eshi Otawara

The major success ingredient of the Second Life economy is based on the outfit sales for our avatars. I think Wagner Au presented a really great idea on his blog that LL should develop a fashion-oriented social game using SL assets for mobile platforms. LL has wasted its efforts to develop all kind of "creative spaces" games that are not related to the SL platform (Creatorverse, Patterns, Dio). And it might have been so easy to score a home run instead: by taking a key success factor of SL - the hole avatar dressing market - and extending this game principle to mobile platforms. Wagner Au writes:
Avatar fashion remains one of Second Life's best and most attractive assets. Unfortunately, these assets are obscured behind a large, cumbersome 3D client. Meanwhile, games like It Girl on Facebook have proven there's a huge market for light roleplaying games with fashion as a mechanic. At the same time, these games are stymied by the cost involved in creating new fashion assets -- something SL has in abundance.
Most SL players are putting great emphasis on the looks of their avatars, but some take this game to another level: they see an affordable playground to express their love for fashion. These SL residents will play photographers or models (or both) and call themselves "Fashionista".  If you want to join this community of role-players, you should feel a strong sense of mission showing other SL residents what is the flavor of the Month. It's not only about you dressing your avatar doll, it's about you showing your outfit to the world.

The has published a great squib on Fashionista game achievements

That's why every Fashionista should have her/his own medium to speak to other Second Life residents - very often this medium is a blog. And most blogs about Second Life are blogs discussing Second Life fashion. There are currently more than 2000 SL blogs listed in a quite comprehensive list and I would guess that 95% of them are about fashion in one way or another. 

In my introduction to RPGs in Second Life i stated that our avatars can visually embody our role-play identity. And that most people don't realize that by creating, developing and refining their avatar - their alter ego within Second Life - they are effectively role-playing. You can meet a lot of people in Second Life who think that their virtual identity as Second Life Fashionista is a very serious business. This might be true for the brands selling virtual clothing and the top bloggers. But the rest of the crowd is in it for the roleplay - if they are aware of it or not. 

Iris Ophelia - like Eshi Otawara of Draxtor Despres' latest "World Makers" episode - one of the few steakholders that I would count to the "serious business" side of the SL fashion has written an amuzing article how some Fashionistas tend to get lost between real world assumptions and their role-play.
Some people want to come in Second Life to act like Victorian gentlemen or vampires, while others want to be supermodels or couture designers. People want to play at being Audrey Hepburn or Kate Moss or Anna Wintour or Karl Lagerfeld, and there's nothing wrong with that as long as you acknowledge it for what it is: roleplay. And you're playing a role in a small and insular community; what is fame really worth in that setting? Can you name the most prominent members of the Gorean community? Can you name a single winner of the annual Miss Virtual World model pageant? Does it even matter? There is no one SLer that every other SLer knows no matter who they are or what they do, so why even get preoccupied with it?
So how do you start playing a Fashionista? It is not possible to point you to a specific location or sim. Start reading Fashionista blogs and go to the events that are featured there. Get to know the people and speak with them about the outfits. Get your own blog and present the outfits that you are wearing. And don't listen to Ophelia's advice. Take everything you do absolutely seriously. The Fashionista community is very serious business and only the top talents will make it. And isn't competition at the heart of most games?


  1. I think you have some really keen insight. I am very intrigued. But, as long as you label those into the SL fashion world as all role-players in a game, it marginalizes many of us. I think there's more to it. I think many people view their avatars as extensions of themselves, doing things that are not possible, for at least in the moment, in their real lives. They view it as a creative outlet, a way to create one's world. There's much research on how one identifies with one's avatar, and how it has deep meaning for one's RL self. It has changed how I dress in RL. For example, I live in Florida, and never made boots a part of my wardrobe, until SL. There are many days in the winter we can wear them! This experience with one's avatar can even reap benefits that enhance real life.

    Here's a post from NWN, one of the latest to report this phenomenon:

    I also see style innovations and creativity as what is really "new" about SL, and amazed how the community is growing.

    I blog, but more than clothes, it's a way for me to keep a weblog of the things I like in SL, and I don't care if others read me or not. I was very influenced by early writers about SL, and Angela Thomas' work comes to mind.

    If one views our SL avatars, and how we present them "inworld", as literacy, then it is important we pay attention to "fashion" and filter out the pure commercialism, or "fascism". This is why I dislike things like mesh heads, it takes away from individuality. In RL, I use this comparison; fashion=fascism, I don't want to be dictated what I should wear by the huge corporations that make or sell clothes.

    So, I propose a new term... I am, as many others, a "styleista".

    I am very interested in seeing more on this discussion. You have given us much to contemplate, and I thank you.

  2. Hi Leondra, thanks a lot for your comments. Of course a blog post can only discuss some aspects of a wider picture and as I said in my post, I would not call everyone a fashionista roleplayer, just because they write blog posts about fashion in Second Life.

    What I would like to underline as an answer to your post is that roleplay is not necessarily a game. A very interesting form of roleplay is called psychodrama: An action method, often used as a psychotherapy, in which clients use spontaneous dramatization, role playing and dramatic self-presentation to investigate and gain insight into their lives.

    What you describe and what is reported in the NWN blog post that you mention are forms of representation of psychodrama (at least that's the way I see it).

    Role-playing is something very fascinating for many people because the lines between "gaming", "experiencing" and a real impact to your personality are thin. By the way, I assume that this is the reason why so many people have huge problems to play Second Life responsibly (thus not putting it before their RL).

    Addiction symptoms when playing SL is another topic on my "I would like to write about it" list...