Too Much Time on HR's Hands
Sometimes, people get a bit too zealous in the performance of their jobs. In a recent Computerworld article ("Avatar Dress codes and Other Rules", Computerworld, 6/23/2008), businesses are being advised to adopt dress code policies for the computer avatars their employees select as they negotiate virtual worlds.
Let's let this soak in for a moment.
Companies should mandate how you look and dress in both the real and virtual worlds? If your avatar wants to look like a minotaur with 200 body piercings, what's the big deal?
These are virtual worlds populated with graphical symbols. No one, and I mean no one, expects that anybody will look exactly like their real world self. These are rendered graphics that operate, look and behave worse than some bad 1960s offshore cartoon figures. Real people are fully 3-D. They can't change material aspects of their appearance. Bald men can suddenly sport a mohawk haircut. They can't fly or hover a virtual or real world. They exist and we must accept them.
Virtual characters can change genders, age, hair, appearance, clothes, etc. at a whim. They are make believe icons in a make believe world. The concept that an HR person must dictate a dress code for these images seems like a real reach or an abuse of power.
What makes this more amazing is the attention being paid to an alternate universe of business/personal interaction that still hasn't really taken off. Sure, a number of big firms have sunk sizable funds into these interactive, psuedo-worlds but they still haven't caught on in a big way yet. Maybe, just maybe, these HR policies are a bit premature.
Think I'm being tough on HR? Have you ever looked at a teenager's or college kid's avatars? They don't look anything like the person they really are. In fact, that's the point. Some people choose avatars that are:
- exact opposites of who they are
- ideal versions of who they'd like to be
- a joke - they are intended to get a laugh
- shocking - they want them to provoke a strong emotional reaction
The fact that firms want to control an avatar's look seems like an infringement of free speech or self-expression. Personally, I find it to be much ado about nothing.