Within the last year, mesh avatars have made a big impact on the visual appearance of Second Life (SL). While the female avatars were first equipped with mesh avatar shapes, mesh male avatars have also become available. Retrofitting one’s avatar with mesh is a major undertaking and causes much consternation among the males in SL. I met with a makeover prospect, “Mr. Jay”, and went out to explore what difficulties males can be faced with when fitting a mesh avatar.
“I started getting these hints that I should improve my avatar,” Mr. Jay told me. “Especially females with mesh avatar shapes seemed to feel out of place if I went somewhere with them in my conventional shape. So I sought for a solution.” Mr. Jay’s girlfriend prospect directed him to “The Shops!”, a shopping experience for “The Mesh Project”. The Shops! is a one-stop-store to mesh up one’s avatar, with full departments for either gender.
Mr. Jay explained his shopping experience: “Obviously I wanted to get quickly up to speed with the mesh shape but the whole process took me about a week to complete.” He said that he had wanted to go the extra mile to get all features, so he got himself “the deluxe” level body and head. The body has 36 skin tone options, but as Mr. Jay fitted on the head, it appeared all white. “I hadn’t known I need to buy a skin for the head as well!” Having bought the skin caused further frustration, as he had chosen the “01” skin which is all white – so his problem seemed to have no solution. While he engaged the customer assistance to replace the “01” skin with a more conventional skin tone, he brooded over the sensibility of the whole endeavor. “I had spent in excess of 10 000 L for the makeover already, so I just had to forge ahead,” he lamented. He ended up buying a “15” skin tone skin for the head, and later, he received the “16” tone skin from The Shops! customer service to replace the “01” skin.
The last parts of the process involved applying a “retrofit fader” tattoo layer to the line separating the body from the neck. “Then it was up to finding the rest of the body parts to go with the mesh body,” Mr. Jay says and smirks. He ended up with a conventional hair from Dura Dura. “The hair base for the hair, again, is a tattoo layer that is not compatible with the face skin tattoo… so I needed to puff up the hair with the re-sizer and move it slightly upward to hide the piebald appearance that is a result of having no visible hair base.”
I returned to The Shops! with Mr. Jay to see what could be done about the process. The panels on the walls of The shops! describe a simplistic 1-2-3 process, but as was obvious with Mr. Jay, the whole ordeal of fitting a mesh avatar is not quite as straightforward. The shopping experience is conducted by use of a heads-up display (HUD) that takes care of your cash balance deducting the purchases until you need to top up the balance. The information that is necessary for purchases is on the panels and on the HUD, but it is not obvious for instance that you need to pay 1000 L for each skin tone option for the skin, when the deluxe body already has 36 skin tones built in. To complete your appearance, you need a set of eyebrows and a hair base as well, each at L 250.
I interviewed Ms. Diorprincess, a live helper / personal shopper at The Shops! on her perception of the mesh avatar market. She has soon worked a year at The Shops! and is well versed on the subject of male mesh avatars.
SLE: Female mesh avatars have been out there a long time already but it has come to my attention that the interest in male mesh avatars has risen in the last few months. Am I correct?
Diorprincess: Well, yes, because the Male avatar is available just 6 months now, and we provide the only one that looks normal I guess.
SLE: As a personal shopper / helper, you must get a lot of questions from male shoppers. Can you relate to me what concerns the male shoppers have overall? What are the most glaring problems they run to adapting to the mesh avatar?
Diorprincess: The alpha HUD is giving problems at the moment. But they are working on an update. At start males are a bit disoriented, but I noticed the men are very clever.
SLE: When I talked with “Mr. Jay” he said he had a lot of problems with the "1-2-3" concept and didn't realize he had to buy a specific skin, etc. Are these typical problems men run into?
Diorprincess: Well some men don’t understand the concept at all, don't even look, just do and then don't understand what they are doing after all! The “1, 2, 3” concept is easy: 1. Get a body; 2: Get the head; 3: Get the clothes or style up. But most people don't even read [the instructions on the panels].
SLE: How do you see the mesh avatar market, and especially the ratio of female vs. male mesh avatar sales?
Diorprincess: Females spend much much more, also because we need more, like make up and clothes. Men are easy: most wear the same clothes every day. Females are looking good and expect her man to look good also. And the males want mesh too. Mesh is the future!
The final step was to put some weight on the avatar. The Shops! Beta avatars are fitted mesh, meaning they fit on the conventional avatar shapes. Therefore, sliders in the avatar appearance body editing menu can be used to change the shape. Jay fleshed out nicely with some body fat and widening the torso. The Shops! sell also shape styler packages, but these are optional if one knows how to use the sliders in the body edit menu. The head doesn’t seem to change with the edit sliders, though, so one is stuck with the Mesh Project supermodel head shape. As already has been quite prominently evident with how female mesh avatars carry themselves, the fitted mesh is compatible with “physics” of the avatar. With proper discretion, the use of physics on a fitted mesh body can make the avatar movement more fluid and realistic.
Fitting clothes on the mesh avatar is a whole other exercise. Mr. Jay was able to put on a mesh tuxedo by judicious selection of the alpha layers in the alpha editor HUD. “This could really become a problem down the line. Now I have no semi-formal or casual options!” Mr. Jay wailed, before he got the hang of the alpha HUD.
The whole concept of mesh avatars seems to extend the Second Life experience toward the Kurzweilian view of “The Singularity” where the real and the virtual mix effortlessly. The avatar styles may not yet be “real” or “realistic”, as the male shapes seem to be more idealistic Adonis-inspired demigods. The same of course may be said about the female shapes that obviously tend to accentuate the beauty ideals of the fashion and adult entertainment industries. Fully self-editable mesh avatars seem still to be a dream concept, perhaps reserved in the near future for premium purchase for designers. In any case, from Mr. Jay’s experience, it is advisable for any male avatar wishing to go full mesh, to explore the process using the “free” options available at The Shops! first. The decision to shell out over 10 000 L is not to be taken lightly, as it may be that with the resulting wardrobe makeover, the aggregated cost can go over anyone’s budget as the mesh requirement escalates. A further encumbrance may be the load on the computer and the network that mesh seems to demand from the hardware. When you get on the grid, it takes time for your avatar to rez properly, and some parts of it may render before your clothing. The shy guy should be aware of these sometimes embarrassing effects!
Ray Kurzweil on virtual worlds (1:00:50 to 1:01:25):
Trailer for “The Singularity is Near” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XWXJDgbeP0