I’ve been active in the virtual world of Second Life for almost 15 years now (since 2007), and one of the things I have learned (which also applies to the newer crop of social VR apps and the suddenly-ubiquitous NFT metaverse platforms) is the following lesson: people are willing to invest a significant amount of time, energy, and money in their avatars!
But what I do find extremely interesting about Second Life (which has a userbase which skews significantly older than, say, VRChat or Rec Room) is that people almost uniformly confirm to looking as young as possible! In my peregrinations and perambulations across the grid, I can often go for weeks at a time before I see another avatar who appears middle-aged, or (God forbid!) a senior citizen. SL is full of clubs and nightspots where everybody seems to be young, pert, taut, and beautiful (even the men!). Why is that? Why does nobody question the status quo?
Well, I think that what happens in virtual worlds is a reflection of what happens in real life, with all its distortions and biases. Modern society does not treat aging well, especially the aging of women, who are often seen as undesirable as the grey hairs and wrinkles accumulate over time. The entire beauty industry is built upon the irresistible allure of keeping aging at bay: cosmetics, hair dyes, plastic surgery procedures. I could write an entire separate blogpost about how Instagram filters are impacting real-world beauty standards in a sort of endless, soul-less feedback loop.
It doesn’t just stop at plastic surgery, either; did you know that one Dutch man wanted to legally reduce his age by twenty years? (He failed.)
But what if we were to use the metaverse as a fresh opportunity to restore some balance and some much-needed sanity to modern society’s obsessive worship of youth, and disdain of aging? Previous societies (and Indigenous cultures) valued their elders instead of dismissing, disrespecting, and discarding them.
Second Life, with its multi-year head-start over the many newer metaverse platforms, has seen a small but growing movement of products to allow for the more visible avatar representation of seniors, as can be seen by the portraits of three avatars which I share with you today: Grace, Mr. Read. and (one of my favourites!) Rose Queen.
Grace is a proud senior citizen whose glorious grey hair and wrinkles make her stand out in any SL crowd of twentysomethings, and whose profile reads in part:
I visit various places to show that, even in a place like Second Life, where everybody seems to be young and beautiful, old age can (and should) be represented as well.
Grace is wearing:
- Mesh Head and Body: the Clodet three-ages mesh body by Altamura comes in three versions in one package: young, middle-aged, and older as shown here (I believe you can buy the various ages separately).
- Hair: the Brenda hair from Alli&Ali comes in a greyscale (white/grey/black) fatpack with a variety of beautiful ombre tones such as the one I used for these pictures.
- Eyes: the perfect finishing touch, these grey eyes are a current free unisex group gift from Gloom called the Hercules collection, which you can pick up if you join the L’Homme Magazine group for free (they come in four different colours and three different sizes, in system/Bakes on Mesh, Omega, and LeLutka versions)
- Outfit: the Older Lady Outfit from The Little Black Dress (*LBD*) includes system skin, shape, hair and clothes, plus a capsule wardrobe of blouson top, skirt and trousers with texture change HUDs (5 textures each)
- Shoes: Deborah flats by Baby Monkey (warning: store is on an adult sim!)
- Jewelry: the Daphne choker, earrings, and bracelet from Beloved Jewelry were prizes from a long-ago hunt I participated in, and include an extensive HUD to change the metals and gemstones
I admit that once I saw this completely free outfit from Kauna, I knew I was going to create this look! To me, the book and the pipe are the perfect finishing touches (yes, I admit, there’s a little bit of Hugh Hefner in the mix, as well as The Most Interesting Man in the World advertising campaign!).
Mr. Read is wearing:
- Mesh Head, Eyes, and Skin: the Victor head from LOGO allows you to adjust the level of wrinkles from young to old, and anywhere in-between! Very versatile if you’re going for an older gentleman look, and highly recommended.
- Mesh Body: the Meshbody Classic male mesh body (only L$1!). I also used Sweet’s free tintable Quick Nail Cover Fix for hands to match the fingertips with the included body skin from the Victor head package
- Hair: this part was easy; it’s the free hair from the Leonard starter avatar, already in your inventory!
- Outfit: the entire outfit—smoking jacket and shirt, trousers, socks, and shoes—is available for free from the tiny Kauna menswear store on Jo Yardley’s Time Portal sim! Kauna is one of the hidden gems of menswear in SL, and includes retro styles from the 1920s, 1930, and 1940s as well as a wide variety of more modern suits and tuxedos. You’ll have to buy everything in bundles for L$0 from the vendor panels and then unpack it all, but it’s worth the effort!
- Book: the Everybook comes with a HUD with 5 different Bento hand poses, and was a free 10th anniversary gift from Contraption, home to all kinds of weird and wonderful steampunk accessories!
- Pipe: this wonderful pipe with its particle smoke effects was an old gacha prize from Kauna
Rose Queen (yes, that is her honest-to-God, legacy Second Life name!) is the avatar I use for Victorian/steampunk roleplay purposes. You can usually find her strolling through steampunk neighbourhoods like the Caledon, Mieville, and New Babbage sims, exchanging pleasantries with the other residents. I first wrote about Rose back in 2018, when I upgraded her from a classic, system avatar to the all-mesh look you now see here.
Rose Queen is wearing:
- Mesh Head and Skin: Vivien Bento mesh head by LAQ (you can adjust the wrinkles on this as well)
- Mesh Body: Maitreya Lara mesh body
- Outfit: the Respectable dress comes from HotDog, one of my absolute favourite period/vintage/gothic/horror stores on the grid! I would buy out the whole store if I could afford it! I bought the entire fatpack of this glorious dress at their last Black Friday sale, just so I could mix and match all the different colours of the top, skirt, and lace detail to my heart’s delight. I call this particular combination Rose’s “Victorian widow weeds” 😉
- Hair: this is another Alli&Ali hairstyle, called Lucille
For more pictures of Rose, please see my earlier blogpost, which includes full styling credits.
Now, I don’t want to paint a picture that Second Life is some perfect nirvana for seniors. Unfortunately, there’s an absolutely dire shortage of virtual places in Second Life where senior (and senior-appearing) avatars can meet and chat (and NO, I am NOT talking about the small number of adult-rated sims which cater to the dirty-old-grandpa crowd). Where in the fresh hell are the spaces where the age and accumulated wisdom of our elders are welcomed and celebrated, instead of just treated as a sexual fetish?
Forgive me; I just turned 58 a couple of weeks ago, and I fear I am rapidly becoming a cranky old man myself! If you’re into fetishes like findom (link is safe for work), well, there’s a place for you in Second Life, too (far, far away from the rest of us!). After all, it is your Second Life; you do you, boo. 😉
So the (im)pertinent question this old man would pose to all the metaverse newcomers is this: how well will your worlds support the older users who want to see themselves represented? Or are your worlds going to be only for the uniformly young?
UPDATE February 17th, 2022: Wow, this blogpost has received more comments—and I have received more feedback from people via Reddit—than any other recent blogpost which I can remember. I clearly have struck a nerve!
And I want to make it very clear that I am NOT advocating that people who use Second Life must have an avatar that looks like them in real life, if they happen to be older. As I always say: it’s your Second Life; be whoever (or whatever) you wish. Follow your fantasy and your desire!
And one person on the AltspaceVR Discord server, named Wookie Picard, had this absolutely wonderful comment, which I got permission to share in full with you here:
Thanks for posting this. I’ve been doing virtual worlds for about 20 years, first Second Life and now Altspace. I’m almost 70. My hair in Altspace has plenty of gray. I get called granny. I get told him too old to be in there. But mostly I get ignored. I’ve done a test. When I change my hair to a more youthful color, more people talk to me. I’m proud to represent “my people .” The funny comments include “Who bought you the headset?” “Who taught you how to use it?” I have some snarky replies. I tell them that every morning my nurse gets me out of bed and wheels my wheelchair over to the desk and puts the headset on my head. When I tell them my age and they say “Good for You!!!” I reply, “Yeah, good for me! I’ve managed not to die yet.” Yes. Representation matters. I’ve heard people say they like avatars because they can look younger. I say, come out of the closet! We deserve to be in virtual worlds and we deserve to be respected for our experience. Our people created all this stuff!
Amen! Thank you, Wookie!