By Keara22HI, HSM staff writer
How do people behave when they’re conveniently and safely anonymous?
How would you behave?
In an ideal world, appearance would not matter. Color, age, size, racial characteristics, gender, and sexual preferences would be invisible. The only thing that would matter is what the person had inside himself – integrity, intelligence, and a sense of humor. You would be accepted on the basis of your conversational skills – or lack thereof.
And you had the opportunity, when you created your avatar, to alter your appearance and improve on what mother gave you. Did you make the chin a little stronger? Add some inches to your height? Delete some inches from the waist? Or, did you go for a complete makeover? After hundreds of interviews, I was amazed to learn that almost no one in Home changed the racial markers (skin color, facial features, hair) that identify them in real life – even those who admitted that they have been the victim of racial prejudice at least once in their lives.
The other amazing social phenomenon taking place within Home is that some prejudices, in a digital world, are presently considered more socially acceptable by the community at large, while others are politically incorrect. Let a group of skinheads surround a black person in Home, shouting racial slurs and shaking their fists, and the onlookers will often come to the defense of the person being persecuted. But let that same gang taunt a gray-haired avatar for being “an old hag,” and others will just walk away. And if the avatar is overweight, not only can they be openly harassed as “fat and ugly” — some onlookers will even join the rout.
To explore this topic in depth, I used my own avatars in a variety of settings and disguises to attract abusive behavior. In each instance, I changed the appearance of the avatar and then went to a public area in Home where I assumed a passive stance.
In no instance did I make the first move of any kind. No invasion of space, no passing comments, no threatening gestures of any kind. Just being there was enough to bring the haters out for an attack.
Some of the younger members of Home treat old age like a contagious disease. All it takes is gray hair and a few wrinkles to bring out the attacks.
In this instance, you can see that my female avatar is slim, physically fit, and reasonably attractive. She was sitting quietly on this rock at the edge of the beach when these two young men approached and started shouting.
“Go away, you old hag!”
“Why don’t you just die now?”
“You don’t belong here – get out of Home and go die.”
One young man (yellow bathing suit in the background) tried to reason with them and get them to leave me alone, but most of the others just watched the entire incident without comment, and the one in the animal costume congratulated the two toughs on how they “owned that old byotch” and “give granny hell.” “run her off the beach.” “kick her.” “f**t in her face” and other encouragements.
Apparently, some of the children and teens in Home assume that gaming was invented within the past few years and it is their domain – adults are not welcome.
I wonder how they would feel if their own mother or grandmother was treated in such a way if she came into Home.
I quickly discovered, when dressed in my young black male avatar, that racial attacks are done in groups in Home, singling out the lone target for persecution. I first observed such an attack in the Mall when a group dressed in what appeared to be aluminum foil from head to toe surrounded a young black male and started taunting him. The attackers used programmed dance moves to simulate kicking and hitting the victim while shouting racial slogans too terrible to print in this magazine. Eventually, they had backed him against the upstairs railing and he had no choice but to navigate out of the Mall to escape.
I then interviewed numerous persons of color from a wide cross section of cultures to see if they had had similar experiences. Most of them said they had learned to cope in real life so such actions in Home have little or no affect on them. Their passive resignation still does not make such negative behavior acceptable, however.
I decided to test out the theory on my own. I created a young black male who was well dressed and non-threatening in appearance. (see picture below). I walked into the lower level at the Godfather public space. And, in less than two minutes, a pair of young thugs surrounded me, shouting “FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!”
I tried to reason with them, “I am not here to fight anyone. If you want me to leave, just say so,” but that did not stop their determination to beat up on me. Finally, when I refused to fight back, they turned in disgust and walked away while outlining exactly what they thought of people of my appearance. Again, the overt racism is not fit to quote in here.
For this prejudice, it doesn’t matter if the target is male or female, any race, any age: if your avatar appears overweight, many occupants of Home will feel it is their duty to walk up to you and tell you; “You are FAT and ugly,” “U FAT f**k, u shud die,” and similar threats and insults.
This is perplexing to me – a person who is overweight in real life has usually experimented with some kind of diet and/or exercise regimen in an effort to improve their health and appearance. So, why would they voluntarily create an avatar with a weight problem? Why not Photoshop off the extra 50 pounds? Is it possible that they want to torture themselves over their real life appearance? Or that they have reached an attitude of, “To hell with all of them – if they can’t accept me as I am, warts and all, then I don’t need to know them!”
Ironically, when interviewing avatars of ample girth, I discovered some are not overweight in real life! They have altered their appearance in Home to discourage the incessant sexual harassment that takes place in the public areas of Home.
Once again, I put my avatar into a public place (Central Plaza) and waited for the inevitable attack. I stood there passively, admiring the water fountain, until this young man approached me and began the usual litany of insults. His wish for my impending death was hampered by his lack of spelling skills. Apparently, he had dropped out of school long before the English grammar classes – and had dropped head first.
It was interesting to see how huge an insult it is to be called “gay” in Home. I have witnessed many nasty altercations that either start with “yur gay” or end with “u r gay”. That is one prejudice I had never been exposed to before. I will admit to being content, happy most of the time, occasionally even blissful, but never gay. So it took a while for me to discover that the attacker is accusing the victim of being a homosexual.
The term seems to be used indiscriminately. One young man at SingStar, cross-dressing as a girl, became belligerent over being called ‘gay’ by another young man who repelled ‘her’ advances. When he/she could not get any response from him, he/she turned on me, the passive bystander, to vent his/her rage. Once again, I was being attacked with dance moves that simulate other actions (see picture below).
As you can see, I am standing quietly, not attempting to defend myself, while the attack took place. The frustration and anger that had built to a boil in that young man was frightening to behold.
The inaccurate assumption made in Home is that, any male who chooses to create a female avatar must be a homosexual on the prowl. Here is a picture of an avatar created by a straight guy, not because he wanted to attract other men, but because he wanted to make some ‘eye candy’ for himself to play with.
I also met some brave souls who take a perverse delight in inviting attacks from the little cretins. This chap on the beach is only 27 years old, and yet he deliberately created an avatar who looks elderly, overweight, and (if the pink boots and shaved legs are any clue) also a homosexual. And here he stands, passively waiting for the inevitable verbal and physical attacks that have become commonplace in Home.
Bravo, sir! I admire your resolve but I lack your courage. I am scrambling back to the refuge of my socially-acceptable avatar and staying there!
The decision is up to you. Go for the real life appearance – and dare anyone to comment on your physical imperfections, racial characteristics, or other focal points for attack. Or, back to the drawing board to create the next Chace Crawford and Britney Spears clones.
Keara22HI is a retired septuagenarian college professor and extensively published nonfiction author. In addition to being a rabid RPG fan, she can often be found in Home, particularly at Sully’s Bar, the Nepalese Village, or Seaside of Memories. She lives in Hawaii.