Affirmative Avatars Market

type - big idea
Big Idea
category - society
sector - health & wellness
As the line blurs between people’s real-life personas and online avatars, socially conscious netizens are seeking digital fashion that reflects their values

Drivers: what’s happening

With more time spent working, playing and socialising online, how we present and identify ourselves in virtual realms will naturally reflect our values and beliefs.

Now, how we dress in digital spaces is becoming more purposeful. Wunderman Thompson reports that UK gamers place almost equal importance on looking good in-game (61%) as they do on looking good in real life (65%). In turn, the Proteus Effect is a phenomenon that suggests a person's virtual world behaviours are influenced by the characteristics of their avatar.

This is fuelling the emergence of cross-game avatars like Wolf3D’s Ready Player Me, which allows people to have a universal virtual identity across different metaverses. Thus, with many netizens no longer distinguishing between their real-world and virtual selves, brands can explore how to use digital dress to communicate beliefs. As fashion designer Charli Cohen notes: ‘There is no longer a line between the physical and digital ‘us’.'

Market shifts: what’s new

Inclusive identities

Social and gaming platforms are being tasked to offer more diverse representation when it comes to avatars' digital characteristics. Bitmoji, the Snapchat-owned sticker platform, recently worked with its user community and disability rights adviser to launch Bitmoji stickers for wheelchair users. Elsewhere, game maker AM Darke is working to improve and democratise representation of Black hair in video games by creating the Open Source Afro Hair Library. Calling for submissions of 3D models with Black hair textures and styles, Darke explains: '[The library] is a free, user-friendly, highly curated 3D model database of Black hairstyles and textures. It is a feminist, anti-racist resource for digital artists and 3D content creators.'

Empathy assets

Where Activism Gaming strategies allow people to be a part of virtual worlds that reflect their beliefs, there is also a growing market for digital fashion and assets that communicate a user’s social or civic standpoints. Exploring this is Enjoy Being in Transition (EBIT), a creative collective who designed a virtual mental health experience, Yellow Trip Road, where visitors could purchase charitable NFT sweatshirts, designed to communicate empathy and solidarity with mental health concerns. Called Bumper Jumpers, the limited-edition merchandise was described by EBIT founder and fashion executive Simon Whitehouse as 'a symbol of safety as we evolve through this tricky new world'.

Published by:

7 February 2022

Author: Abi Buller

Image: Ready Player Me by Wolf3D


Ready Player Me by Wolf3D

Levelled-up looks

Other netizens – in particular, gamers – are using digital ensembles to signify their gaming prowess. When Fortnite players enter this virtual world in a 'default skin', for example, the variety of skins now available has become aligned with players' social status, signifying their in-game wealth or skill level achieved through hours of play. Other games are using strategies to generate value around skins. In the multi-player shooter game Overwatch, skins can be randomly found in virtual treasure chests known as loot boxes. Special-edition skins are also launched as part of in-game events, in some ways echoing the hype culture and drop strategies found in streetwear.

Analysis: what this means

As more brands leap into the virtual world, creating purposeful digital assets will be essential. Consider, firstly, the interests and values of the netizens you are trying to reach, and how you can create assets that better align with their sense of self.

AM Darke's mission to build the Open Source Afro Hair Library aims to bridge representational gaps in video games. Yet such projects emphasise the continued need for intersectional input, not only in how games are designed and built, but who is building them. How can you create inclusive strategies from the inside out to improve people's experience of virtual worlds?

‘This is the Direct-to-Avatar economy… Moving forward, brands will need to level up the phygital fashion landscape and meet the consumers of tomorrow where they are today’
Cathy Hackl, tech futurist

Want to unlock more?
This is a taster of the content we publish for members of LS:N Global

Sign up to our trends intelligence platform LS:N Global and get unlimited access to a hive of insights.

You can also register to attend our free Meta-tainment Futures webinar on 11 February to find out more about the future of avatars in the metaverse and beyond.


Already a member? Click here to login