Virtual Fashion – Self-Expression in a Digital Realm

From the humble toga in days of old to the extravagant fabrics paraded down catwalks today – fashion is everything

The clothes make the man, so the saying goes. And so, we thought we’d take a break from the norm of reviewing the most recent games or industry debacles and take a slightly more ‘cultured’ insight into the role that fashion plays in modern digital games.

When we look at any modern game, it doesn’t take long to see the extensive work put into character customization. Whether it be a human avatar, a vehicle, or any other form of in-game character representation, the ability for personalized customization is near-limitless, even more so for online-only games – which is what the bulk of what we’ll be focusing on here.

For when we are awarded a new cosmetic skin in a single-player game, it is typically as a reward for an accomplishment that we have achieved. Collected all the hidden artifacts? Bam, here’s a dope little treat to reward your efforts. It feels good, certainly, but it’s utterly isolated for what it’s worth. Multiplayer games? Now that’s an entirely different story.

One could argue that the true progression path for a modern multiplayer game is utterly cosmetic. The moment the progression path of stat-based weapons, armour sets, and any other modifiers that directly impact gameplay is completed, the yearn to stand apart from the rest of the crowd kicks in.

Psychologically, this is a massive player – for the desire to be unique runs rampant throughout humanity. Although clothes do far more for us than merely accentuate or change our appearance, in the digital realm they are the primary manner in which a user can both differentiate themselves from others AND clue in those around them just who they might be.

This is very limited when the developers themselves control the means of generating garb, and thus, self-expression.  But in the instances where developers give their players free reign, something truly interesting begins to occur.

Those users that find themselves more inclined to spend time designing clothing, accessories, and attachments for other players to pursue can find themselves reaping in quite a hefty little profit – particularly in games like Second Life, where players sell their creations to others.

The most popular of the community-made products are worn by most people – until more people look alike than different.

Suddenly, the player populace finds itself stuck in a group of look-alikes, and the need for self-expression pivots. Now, they’re on the hunt for the next big thing that will make them stick out – Star bellied Sneetches, anyone? As futile as it may seem, such is the natural order of fashion, be it in a physical or virtual space. Trends rise and die by the rising and setting of the sun, only to be resurrected once they’ve passed into obscurity – and so the cycle goes on.

What truly sets the phenomenon of digital fashion aside from that of our mortal plane is this: when everyone has the perfect, idealized body that they want: how do you stand apart from the crowd?

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