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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Blue World Notes: Blue Mars, a Virtual World Made in Hawaii, Has Starter Avatars Which Resemble Hawaii's Ethnic Melting Pot

Blue Mars is a virtual world developed in Hawaii by a team of multi-national developers, many from Japan, and when I first created my own avatar, one thing stood out to me: The starting avatars look strikingly different from those of any virtual world I've ever played. In fact, originally being from Oahu myself, I'd say that many or most of the starting avatars look like Hawaii locals -- that is, various blends of Asian, white, and Polynesian. (Interracial marriage in Hawaii is extremely common. For example, the Honolulu Advertiser reports nearly 55 percent of the resident marriages in 2007 were inter-ethnic or interracial.)

Did the Hawaii-based developers of Blue Mars intentionally create beginning avatars who look like they're from Hawaii? I put that question to Koji Nagashima, the Avatar Reality engineer who developed them. He says not so: "Our face customization is based on the FaceGen application. [The program] captures many people's face (age, race, gender), then the FaceGen engine blends shape and texture to generate a new face. That's why [they] look mixed, I guess."

So the Hawaii resemblance was accidental (though I suspect the selection of FaceGen blends might have unconsciously leaned toward Eurasian, or what Hawaiians call hapa.) In any case, whatever the reason, the ethnic mix Blue Mars offers is striking. Where most Western-made virtual worlds are likely to give you avatar options that are predominantly Caucasian (with a smattering of ethnic avatars added on the side), most of Blue Mars' beginning avatars are not white, but mixed. It's almost as if they convey a future when Mars is colonized, and the inevitable blending of races has already taken place.

For myself, I keep thinking my avatar looks like most of the guys I went to high school with. Which means I may occasionally resort to chatting in Hawaii pidgin:

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