There is a growing call from consumers of digital content and virtual goods for avatars that meet a PG-rating. While many deeply immersed users of avatars would object strenuously at having their avatars de-sexualized, the audience for a less sexual avatar not only exists, but is vocal in their desires for an avatar that will allow their projects to proceed without emphasis on some of the more mature aspects of interpersonal interaction.
Such audiences include both enterprise and educational users, many of whom have specialized audiences that need to either be protected from exposure to mature avatars or who regard the avatar as a tool whose effectiveness will be hampered if it is too ‘hot’.
Users who have an audience that is underage will usually insist on a PG-rated avatar for a variety of reasons, not least of which is to reduce their legal exposure in the event that a user attempts to engage in inappropriate behaviors for their project. Likewise, corporate audiences may simply wish to have reasonably attractive, high-quality avatars that are appropriate for everyone in the organization to use, from the entry level worker to the CEO.
Fashion Research Institute has been asked to develop such avatars for various organizations. Our work in developing these specialized avatars has shown that creating a premium PG-rated avatar appropriate for these clients is not as easy as simply welding a bathing suit onto the avatar skin. There are additional considerations that must be taken into account, including the age, culture, and gender of the intended user base.
For example, in developing for Preferred Family Health Care, one of the requirements was that any clothing provided could not have bare midriffs or plunging cleavage. Their user base is under the age of 18. As any parent knows, this demographic can often be found in malls wearing plunging necklines and low-rider jeans; this is the fashion that is preferable to this age range. However, the requirement was not that we provide what those users would want, but rather what the administrators of the program where the avatars would be used would want.
Likewise, when we developed both the Content Library as well as the shopping mall in ScienceSim, we focused on providing quality clothing and avatar customization that does not have plunging necklines, wife-beater tanks, low-cut waists, excessively long hair or overly made up skins. The user base uses the OpenSim-based Sciencesim as a work tool to advance their research in data visualization and in other areas. Inappropriately sexualized avatars would be distracting to the real work, and would be inappropriate.
In thinking about the PG avatar, users may opt to have the avatar developed with PG skins, usually with some sort of modesty garment added (usually a bathing suit for all of the obvious reasons). Less commonly, a client may ask to have skins with the ‘wobbly bits’ removed, but with no modesty garment. Clothing is generally modest with knee- to tea-length skirts for the women, and trousers and jeans for the men. Tops are opaque for both genders, and where graphic Ts are provided, care is taken to use innocuous graphics. Jewelry and other accessories tend to be discreet – no Mr. T Bling, and above all, no trademarked goods unless a formal license has been obtained and permission granted to use the trademark in question.
A well-developed PG avatar will enable organizations to conduct their real business using virtual worlds without worrying about inappropriate visuals marring their programs. A PG-avatar may even be regarded as a mission critical component for corporate and education use virtual world projects, especially those with mixed age demographics or those with underage under users.
As the number of entities entering virtual worlds to use them as formal work tools increases, so too will the need for premium PG-avatars, and for the development of best practices and standards that define both quality and rating. Fashion Research Institute has begun the process of developing such standards for its own content, which is developed following its existing product design and development methodology.