Ron Jeremy – The Avatar Builder Tool Experiment (part 1)

9 09 2008

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Our Model Our Model

There are so many options for crafting avatars that Mediasapien decided to kick the tires and road test some of them.  Using a decidedly unscientific protocol, each will be put to the test using a single person as the model.  Since many of these apps are geared towards kids and tweens, there are plenty of options for making slender, emo-ish, Jonas Brothers and Miley inspired avi’s.   So in order to make the test challenging, we’ll pick a person who is generally familiar looking but definitely not a typical user of avatar-based games and entertainment – someone older, rounder, less willowy.  Naturally I’m talking about the Hedgehog himself, Ron Jeremy.   Ron is a beautiful Adonis of a man, with an amorous appetite to match.  The years may have tried their best to curse him, but he defies the ravages of time – mostly.  His hairline may be receding a bit and his ‘stashe peppered with grey, his belly may be a few inches larger than in his glory days, but he still retains all the charm and charisma for which he is known – his 9 3/4” dick (unverified).  

So RJ is the perfect model for our test.  Some of the apps will handle the Hedgehog with ease, while many others simply don’t offer wide enough options.  Few if any will include his “charm”.  Here are some of my results:

Ron JereMii

Ron JereMii

 

Nintendo Mii

Technically I used an online flash game that reproduces the Mii-building experience almost exactly, so the results are the same.  The deceptively simple tool palette masks an outrageously deep creation tool, capable of reproducing almost any face, from RJ to Obama to Darth Vader.  It can even be used to make illustrations and abstract graphics, turning Mii’s into walking postmodern artworks.  Dozens of these celebrity and character Mii’s are available for download via the Mii channel on the Wii.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RJ visits Springfield

Simpsons

The Simpsons online avi maker uses a fairly extensive palette of facial features, body parts and props, all of which are instantly recognizable from the long running series.  You can choose Milhouse’s glasses and Sideshow Mel’s bone-in hairdo among the hundreds of choices.  One aspect of this app is the distinct  Simpson’s visual style, which makes avi’s that are more about ‘type’ than specific individuals.  All of RJ’s ingredients are present, but if you didn’t know it was the Hedgehog, you might never guess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

South Park

Like the Simpsons app, the South Park online avatar maker offers a wide range of body parts and features that are instantly familiar to viewers of the show.  Like the Simpsons app, this one is also highly stylized.  The resulting avatar is funny, if not immediately recognizable.

 

 

 

 

 

Meez, WeeWorld, etc..,

There are so many avatar-centric websites and social spaces for the kiddies that I’m limiting myself to just a few of them for this experiment.  The tools provided are so simple that frequently RJ is reduced to a skinny-looking kid with a fake mustache.  One or two of these may be slightly amusing but ultimately these apps are too limited to offer much playability.

 

If RJ was Picasso...

If RJ was Picasso...

 

 

Mr. Picasso Head

This was definitely one of the most fun Flash games that mediasapien came across while researching this story.  Using only elements found within Picasso’s actual artworks, a surprisingly wide range of people can be created.   The added bonus of adding any signature in the artist’s hand is a nice touch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mediasapien came across a few oddities during this exhaustive search…  Talk about odd vanity brands… How about RJ Mobile?  A short-lived start up that sold cellular service, ringtones, video clips and games all branded with a cute, ironically harmless looking Ron Jeremy avatar.  Nothing says quality cell service like a washed-up porn star with a mobile phone shoved in his thong.

Would you buy Cel services from this man?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the current election season, the following image seems like an obvious call to action.  Could it be time for a write-in vote campaign for the next president?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally…   Apparently the best example of a Ron Jeremy avatar has been right under our noses for nearly 25 years, first appearing way back in 1983.  Known to just about every gamer ever, he is more commonly referred to as “Mario” and may very well represent the earliest example of a famous person or celebrity to be enshrined in the glow of game pixels.  Ron Jeremy – The original Mediasapien!

The results of this test are a mixed bag, but it’s far from finished.  There will be plenty more to come, including Ron Jeremys built in Second Life, Tiger Woods, and more.  And if you have any RJ Avi’s that you want to show off, send mediasapien a link and we’ll post it.

[Part 2 is HERE]





Wii Fit Avatars, Gold Farming and the Future of Exercise

22 08 2008

Grind. 

What does that word mean to you?  Probably something along the lines of : wake up, shower, commute, work, commute, eat dinner, watch TV, go to sleep, repeat.  Even if you have a different routine, chances are it is exactly that – a routine.  Unless you’re professional snowboarder Shawn White, a chill dude who seems like he doesn’t have any routine at all, chances are you have a daily grind.

For many people, that “work” part of the grind entails sitting at a workstation or staring at a laptop for most of the day.  Regardless of the way their job used to be done, now it is done online, or at least on a computer.  It’s hard for many of us to remember, but once every job was done without a computer.  Now, it’s hard to find a job that doesn’t put the computer front and center.  The overwhelming penetration into our work lives by computers and digital technology has created a new grind so rapidly that we are just now getting our collective head wrapped around it. 

There is however one group who seems to understand the new grind.  I refer to gamers in general, and WoW players in particular, who have seized on the notion of grinding in-game as the most basic analogue to “work.”  And in the economy of Warcraft, grinding is a discrete means of creating value.  So much value, in fact, that a whole, RL economy has sprung up around the concept of outsourcing the activity of actually playing the game to low-wage earners in China and even Canada.  For a modest hourly wage, these tech workers will dutifully play your character in WoW, while you sleep or work or whatever, mining virtual gold or slaughtering digital rats, incrementally but steadily advancing your character’s level.

Why would you pay someone else to play your game for you?  The two main reasons are you are lazy or you are greedy. 

For some, the many, many hours needed to raise a character’s level high enough to make playing fun is too much commitment, and so for them paying someone else to slog through endless repetitive task seems like a good deal.  They get to cruise right into an advanced character.  To others the resale value of a high-ranking character is appealing.  A mature character with lots of money, property and rare valuables in the game is worth plenty of RL cash.  To these players, the cost of hiring the digital equivalent of day laborers to literally grind away day and night at a character is minimal compared to the  potential returns.

Look, it's Andy!

Look, it's Andy! Oh, it's just Mediasapien in drag.

But WoW is not the only virtual world with ties to RL economics.  There are dozens of MMO’s and virtual worlds where things of value can be made, found, and most importantly, traded.  Inevitably economies develop by the players, if not planned outright by the developers.  I’m reminded of dancers in Second Life, more specifically, people who are employed within SL to be entertainers at clubs, discos and casinos.  By placing their avatars on specific hotspots, they will begin to dance based on the particular animation loading into that hotspot.  A dancer doesn’t choose his or her moves – they act essentially as a marionette performing whatever animation the club owner installs.   The owner is willing to pay for this service because it makes the club seem more “happening,” so the dancing avatar earns in-world money called Lindens for every minute they remain on the hotspot.  Because lindens can be converted into US currency there is the ability to make RL money dancing in SL.  This might sound like a good deal, until you consider that the converted wage is often just pennies per hour, while you ( the player), are just sitting there, idly watching your avatar cycle through the same moves endlessly.  Compared to playing, exploring, meeting people and seeing new things in SL, the earned value of robotically dancing in a club seems pitifully low, yet there is no shortage of people willing and eager to dance. 

Why is that?  Would these people be willing to do the same activity for the same value in RL?   Probably not.  Yet the most mundane, boring and repetitive tasks, regardless of the equivalent lack of RL value, seem to offer something to players in game. 

With this in mind, what is there to prevent a RL company from setting up sweatshops in virtual worlds as a way to exploit people’s willingness to work digitally for pennies?  An employee-intensive business could just fire the folks who sit at computers in RL all day (eliminating the cost of offices, health care, etc…) and replace them with volunteer avatars who sit at virtual desks in SL.  The work getting done would be the same.  The only difference is that the boring task has now been made enjoyable simply by adding an additional layer of mediation.  Accounts receivable is boring, but virtual accounts receivable is fun.  Updating the corporate database is a drag, but updating a database in a video game is a blast!

Future Cubicle Farm

Future Cubicle Farm

All of this grind-think is because of the commitment I’ve made to spend an entire month evaluating Wii Fit and other video game-based exercise and workout options.  Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of exercise for it’s own sake.  Although not specifically a couch potato, rarely do I go for a run or hit the gym.  I have in the past been extremely fit and active as a bike messenger in NYC, and as a full time ballet student for several years.  But these activities were waaaay back in the 20th century – in recent years I’ve become more sedentary, working at a computer almost all the time.  I may not be cocooned in a matrix-style goo-pod highrise, but some days it feels close. 

But I am a gamer and technology fetishist.  I believe in the power of serious games and entertainment technology to provide new and valid experiences, so I am often willing to experiment and push the boundaries of what can be done with technology.  I’ve never argued one way or the other whether violent games will make kids violent, only that they  make kids better at being violent.

So I posed the basic question to myself of whether the virtual environment has the richness of experience, the allure to provide actual, valid exercise – a real workout to a user who is pretty lazy about such things.  As of this writing, I am just past the halfway mark in my one month test, and I’ve had a lot of time to consider why this interaction with technology has inspired me to remain committed and working out 6 days a week for roughly an hour.  It’s a modest commitment really, not terribly focused or even well defined.  Yet here I am, eager to fire up the Wii, warm up with 40 minutes of yoga, and then hit the ring for a half hour of virtual boxing.  These are not activities that I would normally be excited about, whether I had made a commitment or not.  I’ve had gym and yoga studio memberships in the past and I dragged my ass there with decent regularity, but I always let the membership expire within a few months.  It always became a grind.  The same commute, the same exercises, the same people.  I got bored or distracted. 

Ping.. something or other

Ping.. something or other

But gaming has been a passion of mine since a little white square first started bouncing between two paddles, and rather than growing out of it, I find that I am more committed to these technologies than ever before.  I am the Mediasapien, after all. But being the Mediasapien doesn’t require me to like all games.  In fact I am very picky about games and don’t enjoy most of them.  I’ve never played Diablo or WoW because I hated the notion of grinding.  Boring.  Repetitive. 

Grinding is at the heart of most exercise, and grinding is at the heart of many game activities.  Separately, these two forms of grinding are hard for Mediasapien to take, yet somehow the combination of the two activities creates a new thing altogether, one that seems to overcome the limitations of each while creating a compelling environment for fitness.  The synthesis of the two seems natural and inevitible.  Wii Fit and it’s ilk may be easily distained in some circles today, but the next generation or two of theses technologies have seemingly unlimited potential and won’t be so easily dismissed. The future of exercise, like so many other futures, will be hypermediated through video games and entertainment technology.





Virtual Transgender, Avatar Mortality and More with Marc Owens

15 08 2008
SABRE & MACE Memorial

SABRE & MACE Memorial in SL

From We Make Money, Not Art, a great profile of artist Marc Owens

He makes interesting works that bridge the gap between real and virtual, including the Avatar Machine.  More recently he has created the Virtual Transgender suit, which puts the inclination for virtual cross dressing into  RL by allowing males to replicate the digital aesthetics of the female form by wearing a RL costume.  According to a study cited, apparently more than 1/2 of all gamers choose avatars of the opposite gender.  Hmmm…

More interesting to Mediasapien is Owen’s collaboration with Tony Mullin, called SABRE & MACE.  It’s is basically a mortality service for Second Life avatars, offering a complete package of death-related virtual needs.  Their service offers users more than just a way to delete old avatars and alts.  They are providing a channel for sentimentality and relevance towards digital identities.  This is done through a somewhat chilling orientation, in which users are given a chance to write a last will and testament, shown the “storage chamber” and told to expect a “tap on the shoulder” one day soon by a rep, who will guide them through the final process.  Once the account is “deleted, ” all that remains is a golden statue of the avatar on a massive, somewhat Mayan monument.

Read the whole story here.





New York Times Magazine Explores Avatars

12 08 2008

Thanks to Suki for the heads up on this one.

The Sunday magazine of the paper of record has added it’s two cents to the growing awareness of VR and it’s inhabitants. The August 8th On Language column discusses the word “avatar” and it’s meaning in new media.  They note the word’s usage in the recent Tina Fey movie “Baby Mama” as well as it’s appearance in numerous science fiction novels, especially Neal Stephenson’s cyberpunk novel “Snow Crash,” (a personal fav of MediaSapiens everywhere).  Naturally they get a few choice quotes from Second Life honcho Philip Rosedale as well.

They don’t shed any new light on the word, but they may have just introduced it to the widest readership ever.  Grok the story for yourself.