Love it, or loathe it, mesh is here to stay, and it’s finding its way into every nook and cranny of our virtual lives. Certainly mesh body parts arrived on the scene fairly early on, and it was inevitable that full mesh bodies, and heads, would make an eventual appearance, and now with the advent of fitted mesh, we’re seeing an ever-growing trend for these body doubles throughout sl.
Mesh – even the fitted variety – is not without its downsides. Alpha layers are here to stay, unless our body shape happens to fit the template, which of course can also change, according to the specifications set by the designer of whatever we’re wearing at the time. This needn’t really be a big deal… unless you happen to be one of the many sl residents for whom a unique and personal body shape is an important part of their identity.
And that’s where i personally feel mesh bodies let us down. Mesh bums, boobs, feet and fingers may well look the bee’s knees, but they’re pretty limited in scope when it comes to personalisation… even colour-coordinating skin tones can make them less than friendly to use. Beyond size and the limited parameters for variance they possess, our bodily bits have to conform to the same basic pattern, again eroding the individuality that we strive so hard to create.
Similarly, the new generation of fitted mesh bodies may sound good, but they’re nowhere near as flexible as the old fashioned shapes, and – by virtue of simply being mesh, they can severely limit us when it comes to clothing choices, and ultimately, the options we have for self-expression, through our avatar. Then we have the ultimate enmeshment – mesh heads – something that i just can’t get to grips with at all. Maybe it’s the lack of facial expression, although we’re starting to see some steps in the right direction with this; or it could be that the invariably strange, doll-like countenance is just way too deep inside the Uncanny Valley for me to feel completely comfortable with, but mostly it’s because the mesh head strips away the final bastion of the unique sl-self.
i live in dread of a time in the future that i’ll log in to sl, to be entirely surrounded by almost identical, smooth featured, perfect skinned, blankly staring clones, all spawned by the same gene pool and sporting approved hairstyles, shoes and outfits – it would be like a horrifying bybrid version of North Korea and Invasion of the Body Snatchers combined – a terrifying prospect indeed.
Before you accuse me of being an old fuddy duddy and resisting progress, please be assured that i’ve nothing against the meshification of either sl or our avatars, but it does seem to me that by doing so we’re in danger of losing one of the key features of sl – the ability to customise, alter, re-arrange, warp, mold and re-design that most personal of all our virtual possessions: our avatar. If there’s one thing that is capable of expressing who we are and the essential uniqueness of our personalities whilst inworld, it is that collection of pixels, carefully shaped by sliders, tweaks and experimentation to endow it with what makes it fundamentally ‘ourself’ when in the virtual state.
Personally – whilst i think some mesh accoutrements are a definite improvement upon the standard avatar – i also think there is something fundamentally humanising about the imperfections of the plain old version. Those wonky seams, badly-crafted joints and jagged edges aren’t so much different from the often less-than-perfect rl people that sit behind the screen. Perfection is not our natural state, no matter how much we may purport to strive for it, and it’s the flaws and wobbly bits that so often add character and make us essentially who, rather than ‘what’, we are.
And the same, i’d argue, is true for our virtual selves too.
Sie trinkt in Nachtclubs immer Sekt (korrekt!)
und hat hier schon alle Männer abgescheckt!
Im Scheinwerferlicht ihr junges Lächeln strahlt,
sie sieht gut aus und Schönheit wird bezahlt – ja!
Rammstein – Das Modell