Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why a tiny? (Part 1)

In addition to the human-looking majority of avatars in the online world called Second Life (SL), there is a tremendous variety of other sizes, shapes, and features that SL denizens can assume. One of these variations is the "tiny."

For the uninitiated, a tiny avatar most often takes the form of a stylized animal that walks on two legs. The term "tiny" derives from the fact that these avatars are typically about one-third the height of the average human avatar. Tinies tend to be mammals -- bunnies, cats, wolves, ferrets, hippos, elephants, tigers, teddy bears, etc. -- but they can also be dragons, birds, reptiles, robots, characters inspired by Japanese anime and manga art, and more.

(In SL, you will also encounter avatars that are small quadruped animals, insects, even objects such as books, but these are not, strictly speaking, "tinies.")

There are significant practical disadvantages to being a tiny, and I will discuss these in Part 2. For now, suffice it to say that tinies in SL are a user-side development that Linden Labs (LL) did not anticipate, and for which they have never made any accommodation in their design. For human avatars who have one or more tinies in their Inventory for occasional use, the hardships are likewise an occasional annoyance. But given those hardships, why do some -- myself included -- choose to be tinies virtually fulltime, with other kinds of avatars in our Inventories for occasional use?

First, let me explain why I chose to be a tiny, and why I have been happy with that choice for well over two years now. (For those of you who have already heard me tell this story, I apologize for the repetition.)

When I arrived in SL, after learning the rudiments of modifying my appearance, I attempted to fashion an avatar that looked as much as possible like the real life (RL) me: an Orthodox Jew of the Hassidic type in his mid-fifties, with a black hat, a black coat, and more grey than brown in my untrimmed beard. I quickly found that others made a number of inaccurate assumptions about me, based solely on my appearance. They tended to assume that I am largely unfamiliar with secular literature, film, music, and art, politically conservative, judgmental, homophobic, feel entitled to more respect than I deserve, and generally not a whole lot of fun to be around.

But I wasn't always Orthodox and Hassidic. For several years, beginning after I graduated from high school, I wasn't religiously observant at all. I grew my hair long, smoked pot and used other drugs, was active in the anti-war movement, went to rock concerts, and leaned toward socialism. Although I long ago cut my hair and abandoned the use of drugs, my political and social ideals today are virtually the same as they were then. Alongside my religious practices and theological studies, I still read a great deal of secular fiction and non-fiction, watch movies, and enjoy a broad range of music.

So I developed a second avatar that looked very much like I did when I was in college: long hair, jeans, tie-dye T-shirts, peace symbols, and a much shorter beard. I would use one or the other of these avatars, depending on where I was and what I was doing. I found that people reacted to the younger avatar, too, with a set of incorrect appearance-based assumptions, albeit very different ones.

There was something schizophrenic about switching back and forth between my older and younger personas, and over my first two or three weeks in SL, I became increasingly dissatisfied. Then I saw my first tiny -- a cat, as it happened -- and I intuitively understood that this was solution to my problem. I bought a Wynx tiny avater-- the Tiny Brown Bunny (which, as it happens, was the first tiny she created) -- and I have never looked back.


anna said...

Very intersting. I would like to know, what was the bias that you experimented against long haired young men?
By now I've experimented very little with avis. I'm mostly the same anna begonia, but I foudn with a male alter I have, that I was much more cautious when aproaching people to ask, above all if they were a couple. And I assure you, that my male avi is no muscular hormonate guy: he's tal, slim and bald... not very sexy indeed.
see you in world sometimes!

Shmoo Snook said...

It wasn't that people were biased against me when I "dressed" in my college-aged avatar. It was that they tended to assume, incorrectly, that I am in my late teens or early twenties (I am 56), that I am not Jewishly observant and educated, and similar things. I look forward to meeting you inworld!

Steven Warburton said...

Really interesting to read - I wonder whether tiny avatars form one of Second Life's sub-cultures? Or whether there is an automatic sense of community that comes from a very obvious apperance choice?

Shmoo Snook said...

Steven, I would say that both of those statements are true. And it seems to me that among avatars of small stature, there are a number of sub-subcultures. Bipedal animals constitute one, miniature dragons another, quadrupedal little horses a third, Japanese manga/anime-inspired characters a fourth, and so on. When two or more tiny avatars encounter each other for the first time, I think it is far more likely that they will spontaneously exchange greetings, than would be the case with human avatars similarly situated.

Ellie K said...

I should've read this first, prior to pelting you with "Why do you choose to be a tiny?" questions. You wrote this in ummm, 2008? And what a revelation: never knew there was a college-age Shmoo avatar!

My Second Life mindset is as hide-bound and rigid as in real life, despite my efforts to the contrary. I definitely map persona in Second Life to appearance... or maybe I'm just shallow ;@)

Sweet blog, by the way!