The virtual world is fertile ground for exploration of social and identity issues. Like the crucible of competitive sports controversies, synthetic worlds let us burn away irrelevancies to reach abstract truths about, e.g., gender and sexuality. The computer-as-laboratory lets you control the environment and change one variable at a time, and every possible interaction and gesture can be recorded for examination.
Social worlds are the most numerous and have the most users, and so provide the most opportunity for study. Although the examples are still from social worlds, this article is the first I’ve seen that addresses avatar gender in the workplace. My take-away is, “On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog of the wrong gender.” Men can be women if it helps a sale. Women can be men if it helps a negotiation. Otherwise, it’s just not a big deal.
I suspect, though, that we can do even better. I think we’ll see a Village People effect in which we will become both more aware and more comfortable with differences that are now still scary to many people.
< %image(20090829-Gray-Lego.png|202|384|Abstract avatar, with optional badge photo and without face photo.)%>< %image(20090829-avatar-choices.png|311|432|Choice of animated avatar from dropdown list.)%>< %image(20090829-Casual-John.png|159|403|Informally popular pre-designed avatar choice.)%>