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Designing for Avatars with Additive Body Configurations

Updated: Jan 23, 2023

In my last blog post, I took up the section of Polycount’s definition of the metaverse which reads “3D virtual spaces within which people (represented as avatars) …….” and related it to the birth of the virtual fashion industry. In this post, however, I am going to refer to academic research that will indicate that the market for avatar virtual fashion could be larger, richer, and more complex than it appears.

Research carried on in the 1990’s and early 2000’s has explored the concept of homuncular flexibility (Lanier,2006) by which persons represented as avatars can become comfortable with and learn to control bodies very different from their own. A very interesting VR experiment that demonstrated this capability involved equipping participants’ avatars with a third limb and setting them the task of touching three target cubes in three configurations. Two of the arrays were at normal arm’s length while the third was one meter further away. Participants quickly learned to use their third limb to reach the furthest set of cubes without having to take a step forward as they would have to have done if they used the avatar’s normal right and left hands. The results of this experiment were clear “people could rapidly learn to use a novel body and succeed in that body compared to a more “normal” configuration, even when the bodily scheme differs radically from that of the user’s own body” 1

We only have to imagine the tasks and movements that avatars need to or want to perform in virtual space to see the implications for the fashion industry. Locomotion, dodging obstacles, dancing, fighting, reaching, all these movements in virtual worlds might well be facilitated if the user could enhance his avatar’s capabilities by adding a third or fourth, or fifth limb which might or might not resemble its human equivalent. It follows from this that VR participants across a broad range of activities will create novel bodies for their avatars to make their performance more efficient. Designers of digital fashion will have to adapt to this trend and design clothes for avatars with all kinds of bodily configurations. Fortunately, the very nature of the metaverse liberates designers to accomplish this since an avatar in virtual space can wear any kind of garment and some digital clothing designs already cannot be worn in the real world. Going forward, designing for avatars exhibiting a multiplicity of body configurations will constitute a great benefit for the fashion industry opening an exciting new market limited only by the ways in which the users of the metaverse wish to configure their avatars.

  1. Andrea Stevenson Won, Jeremy Bailenson, Jimmy Lee, Jaron Lanier, Homuncular Flexibility in Virtual Reality, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Volume 20, 2015 Retrieved October 7, 2022

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