• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Dokkio Sidebar (from the makers of PBworks) is a Chrome extension that eliminates the need for endless browser tabs. You can search all your online stuff without any extra effort. And Sidebar was #1 on Product Hunt! Check out what people are saying by clicking here.


Brandon Lesko's Race Switch Project

Page history last edited by Joe Essid 13 years, 8 months ago


Brandon's Blog Page 

Brandon Lesko's Race Switch Project


 Second Life allows for individuals to essentially recreate themselves to look like anything imaginable, ranging from an exact replica of their real life self to having elf ears, fur or arms as long as a gorilla. Originally my avatar VinceGold Rexen was of medium height and muscular build with dark brown hair in somewhat a somewhat messy style. My avatar was also caucasian like myself, in order to represent as much of me as I could. For this project I decided to make myself an African American, since I had seen relatively few African American avatars in SL that it would be the best means of starting a conversation with other avatars. I chose the basic stock African American avatar from the library folder and "wore" my new self. I was not really sure what to expect with regards to how I was treated based on a different skin color, as I do not usually speak with other avatars unless I know them. However as I moved to various areas and spoke to other avatars it was hard to tell whether or not my treatment was due to my skin, or because of other factors. In most cases I was seemingly ignored by other avatars in conversation and then in other instances other avatars were more than helpful to me unlike what the author of "The Skin You're In" experienced when she gathered responses like "Oh great they're gonna invade SL."(Au). Conversely, I was treated with indifference at worst, and at best with much empathy. 

    The first place that I decided to go seemed natural enough, it was the one place where I had seen the most amount of traffic and that was Milky9. I had seen all sorts of people, animals and everything in between in Milky9.It took some courage for me to talk to random avatars.  I approached a group of other avatars on the bottom floor who were having a conversation about different types of jeans in SL. Since I had no clue how to initiate conversation I just waited until I saw a natural break and said that I was new to Second Life and what were some good places to go for free items. Roughly ten seconds went by and I saw that one of the avatars was typing and I assumed that it was to me. After those ten seconds, the avatar's response was just a continuance in the conversation that they were engaged in. I persisted to ask quesitons but after a good ten minutes of standing there like an idiot, I picked up the hint that they were not going to speak to me and I wandered away from them  . 

In this picture there are three other avatars that promptly ignored me, even though they saw that I was trying to communicate with them. It is hard to say with certainty however, whether I was being ignored because the group did not know me, they do not respond on the general chat, talk to noobs or because of my skin color. 

     In search of more conversation I went to a Linden Welcome Area. As soon as I teleported there, I saw that the area was a hub of avatars. Different avatars shopping, flying, jumping and conversing were all  around me. So I tried the same approach that I had applied earlier and slowly walked towards a group of avatars.It felt as if I were trying to use some cheap pick up line on an attractive woman. This time however, I noticed that one of the surnames was Linden, indicating that they were an employee of Linden Labs. After waiting for the group to finish talking, I introduced myself and said that I was new to SL and was wondering what places were good for a noob to go and become familiarized with the Second Life world. At first I thought that I was going to be ignored but a member of the group (though unfortunately not a Linden) responded and gave me a few suggestions of areas for free things and ways to become acquainted with SL. Although it was only a few basic places that I had heard of including Milky9. After this conversation, it was good to know that I was not being ignored or outright rejected but that I was not being treated differently than I had been. Below is a picture of myself and the other avatars at the Ahern Welcome Area. 

 After leaving the Welcome Area my third location was another freebie store, because at this point I felt that it would be the best place to strike up a conversation with anyone. I travelled to the freebie store that was across the street from the Nike Store, as it was the first one other than Milky9 or Sarha Nerd's Freebie Store. As soon as I stepped in I noticed that a woman appeared to be talking to teddy bears. As I took a look around, I realized that it was not actually a freebie store, but a store that sold skins in the shape of cartoon animals and characters called Screwball Cartoon Avatars. I struck up a conversation with one of the teddy bears and told them that I was new to SL. ( I will leave the names private because I do not have explicit permission from any of the avatars to publish their names in the public domain). After I told them that I was new to SL, they were more than generous with advice, money and even friendship. I also told them that I was a student that was doing research on gender, race and identity in SL. They told me many stories of how at first they were ignored by other residents or had even outright insulting things said to them, but that I should not take these isolated incidents to be representative of everyone in SL. They actually encouraged me to meet as many other avatars as I could and to not be judgmental of anyone I meet. When asked for other locations to go I was given many areas, however they said that I should consider mainly freebie stores and noob areas for the first few months of being a resident so that I could relate with the other members and we could gain experience off of each other if i made any connections with any of them. Below is the picture of my avatar conversing with one of the human avatars after they had transformed from being a teddy bear. 


   For the fourth and final location, I decided to go to an international location. I travelled to many regions including London and my hometown Chicago before deciding on a pub called "The Blarney Stone" in the middle of Dublin. I chose this as my last location because I wanted to gather somewhat of an international perspective  to see if the color of my avatar's skin would matter in a place like Dublin. As I walk into the bar, I was greeted by the bartender, welcoming me into their pub. There were several other patrons seated at the bar, all engaged in conversation. I went into chat and introduced myself and said that I was new in SL. Every person there welcomed me to SL and several even asked if I would like a tour of Dublin and several other cities. I could not tell if my race was a factor in the way that i was being treated. However one interesting conversation piece came up and it was politics. More specifically I was asked where I was from to which my response was the United States. I was then asked what my political views were and whether or not I supported Obama, and I replied yes I did. This so far had been only what could be considered "racial" issue, whether or not I supported Obama. At no point was I asked if I supported him due to his or my skin color, but merely if I supported him. So at this point in time it is hard to say whether or not the question was motivated by my appearance or skin color, or whether it was because I answered that I am from the United States and that it was close to Election Day. Overall my experience at the Blarney Stone was very positive and I plan on going back to interact with the other avatars that I met while there.  Below I have included a picture of myself sitting at a table in conversation with the other customers of the Blarney Stone. 


  In Second Life, a person can re invent themselves to appear however they choose. There are a variety of races and skins to choose from, to meet the needs of seemingly every ethnic group in the world. In this case I chose to be African American and to note any changes that occurred compared to the reaction I would receive if I were my "normal" caucasian avatar. It is hard to tell in SL if race is a factor in the way a certain avatar is treated, because there are a variety of variables that determine how someone is treated including if they are new in SL, the way they engage in conversation and if other avatars tend to ignore others that they are not already friends with. The experience of interacting with others, left me with an overall positive experience due to the fact that so many people were willing to help me due to my relative inexperience with the world of SL. This project has left me somewhat hopeful that although racism still exists in both the real and virtual world, that people are becoming color blind in the way that they interact with others.  

Comments (1)

Bridget Kinealy said

at 5:25 pm on Nov 4, 2008

I felt that the major claim of this paper was, "Second Life allows for individuals to essentially recreate themselves to look like anything imaginable ranging from an exact replica of their real life self to having elf ears, fur or arms as long as a gorilla.... However as I moved to various areas and spoke to other avatars I realized that at there were times when I was treated differently although it was rather implicit and then in other instances other avatars were more than helpful to me."

10 generalizations:

1) You were treated differently by other avatars in SL
2) Although SL allows you to be anything you want, do you really want to take the chance of being treated differently?
3) There are social norms in SL
4) People in SL bring their real life prejudices with them
5) SL allows for some freedom of expression
6) Other avatars in SL are not as quick to judge as people in real life
7) The way you are treated in SL often depends on your appearance
8) SL deals with real life situations ie: being judged by what you wear or the color of your skin
9) SL gives a person the chance to "reacreate" his or her real life identity
10) In SL you can hide the person you truly are

You don't have permission to comment on this page.