Want to know the best kept secret for scoring designer goods? A place where a Chanel bag costs $2.86 and a Burberry jacket is only $1.58. No, I’m not sending you to Chinatown. I’m talking about the virtual world called Second Life.
Your avatar -- the digital, graphical representation of your online character -- is you. It’s your body, your identity, your persona. And just because it’s virtual, doesn’t make it any less “real.” In fact, for many who spend as many or more hours operating in these virtual environments, their avatars become more real than their embodied selves.
So it should come as no surprise that we invest real resources into our virtual lives. When the recession set in in 2008, retail sales plummeted by 35%, while the sale of virtual goods spiked, experiencing over a 20% increase in only a matter of months.
What motivates us to buy virtual goods? The same things that ultimately fuel our real world spending sprees, argues Jeremy Liew of the Wall Street Journal: consumer goods, whether real or virtual, allow us to be able to do more, build relationships, and establish identity.
Like real world products, virtual goods play two key social roles: 1) They are an outlet for affordable luxury during tough economic times (this is sometimes referred to as the “lipstick effect,” as the sale of cosmetics historically rises during economic downturns, when the purchase of other consumer goods declines). 2) They perpetuate conspicuous consumption -- a term coined by Thorstein Veblen, and used to describe the purchasing of luxury goods and services to publicly demonstrate one’s economic might and status.
In other words, for less than a price of a real lipstick, you can get the luxury status associated with a Chanel bag. That’s $2.86 well spent.
Need some guidance on pimping up your avatar? Check out these 5 tips:
- Is your virtual self sporty? Dress your Xbox Live avatar in Burton, adidas, or Roxy.
- Feeling high fashion -- but strapped for cash? Your Second Life avatar can indulge in those Christian Louboutins or that Louis Vuitton bag you’ve always wanted.
- Avatar Style online magazine functions just like real life fashion blogs do, citing notable fashionistas, designers, photographers, and style tips -- only of the virtual variety. (Note: This website is fascinating, so even if you don’t have an avatar, check it out. Start with the description here.)
- For all you light gamers out there, creating a Wii Mii is a great way to participate in avatar fun, with very little barrier to entry.
- Ever wonder what you’d look like as a redhead? Enter Ginger Booth (pictured below), the perfect app for people who don’t want to create an avatar, but want to virtually experiment with their appearance (by becoming a ginger, of course!).