Friday, 11 October 2013

Naked Truth

In a recent blog post, sian asked 'how nude can an avatar get?', and then 'does it matter?' That wasn't throwaway rhetoric on her part, and she explained her reason for asking in the subsequent line: 'our identities are mutable.'

I asked exactly the same question - 'does it matter?' - in a post I wrote on this blog in June, and concluded, a little uneasily, that for reasons I couldn't wholly put my finger on, the nudity of my avatar did matter. It does matter. And it matters moreso now than it did in June because the pictures in that post featured an un-naked Kitti, wearing a skin that was beautiful but which appeared to be made of porcelain. In the picture in this post, Kitti is wearing her everyday non-porcelain skin, and combined with Second Life's advanced rendering and lighting settings, it looks all too real. And, of course, this time Kitti is naked.

 But this brings us back to sian's first question- 'how nude can an avatar get?'. Whilst Kitti might not be wearing clothes in this picture, she is not naked in terms of avatar-nakedness. She is wearing mesh hands and feet, hair, eyelashes, eyes, skin, and a body shape. It is impossible for an SL avatar not to have a shape and a skin and eyes - those are a given, simply part of the way SL works - but I have chosen to put on everything else. 

And why have I chosen to include these 'wearable' items in my attempt at a tasteful nude of my SL avatar? Because these are the things which allow the picture to be about Kitti's nakedness. Without them, it would be impossible, after the initial oh-she's-naked, not to notice the unreality of Kitti's virtual body. Her blocky hands and strangely triangular feet would act as a barrier between the point of the picture and the viewer (and so would her baldness, but that's mostly because Kitti doesn't look good bald). They would serve to alienate, in more ways than one, her nudity, perhaps offering it up instead as a critique of Linden Lab's graphic skills. 

Don't get me wrong; the supposed reality of this image could also be used to offer a critique of Linden Lab's graphic skills, and a whole lot more besides, but that it not its primary purpose.

This isn't the picture that I wanted to take. I wanted to take a nude photo which revealed precisely nothing, but avatar limbs don't always play ball, and finding poses that weren't uncompromising in one way or another was impossible. Whilst I didn't want Kitti to be flashing her bits, so to speak, I didn't want her to be actively hiding them either. I didn't want her posed with the intention of being seductive, nor did I want her nudity to seem like a mistake. This turned out to be quite a tall order, and in the end, I felt forced to compromise, although I did so on my own terms. 

Posting this picture here is still something of an ordeal for me, and I still cannot put my finger on why exactly. Perhaps it is partially because, as I began to say in my original post (link at the end), Kitti acts as my medium in the virtual world, and her body is the only body many will ever come to associate with me (That I could change everything about the way she looks the moment I released the picture into the world, making the photographed body no longer even exist, is not the point). Whilst she speaks with my voice and shares my thoughts and opinions, and whilst I have always acknowledged the differences between my avatar and my self, her nakedness is a kind of honesty I have not yet ventured to share. Would her nudity be so important to me if that gap between us was greater, or if the truth of it was not so broadly known? Would I feel so uncomfortable if I wasn't going to post a link to this blog post on my Facebook profile where it will be seen by people I am friends with in both lives?

The picture I mentioned in the opening paragraph of my June post has never been posted. It is buried, as it were, in a folder on my laptop, and there it remains. It might seem strange not to post it now, along with this picture, but the truth is that Kitti's pose in that image is far more revealing. When I published that post, there were no rallying cries, no pledges of support, no encouragement to post the image if that was what I wanted to do. There was no conversation at all. Whilst that might be the reaction I was expecting, I don't suppose it was the one I was hoping for.

I'm going to see sian's questions, and raise her a couple: What does it really mean to be naked in SL? Is nudity in the virtual world measured by how many clothes we are wearing, or by how honest we are about our real and virtual selves? How naked is your avatar now?

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