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Microsoft’s new diverse avatar editor represents more body types, disabilities

In its E3 presentation last year, Microsoft announced that it was making a major overhaul to the Xbox avatar system. The goal of the new system is to make the avatars much more representative, showcasing not just our style and tastes, but also our body types, disabilities, and genders. Today, the first public preview of the new avatar editor is finally being rolled out to members of the Xbox Insider preview program some time around 3pm Eastern/noon Pacific.

The new avatar system includes new customization options such as fingernails, limbs, and moods. There are also new gender neutral clothing options. On top of that, most elements can be further customized, with skin and hair color (among other things) being customizable so that they can look however you choose. This means there’s a much greater ability to make an avatar that looks like you—or if realism isn’t your thing, you can pick exactly the right shade of green for your alien alter ego. This customization extends to new props such as wheelchairs, which can similarly be customized to match your stylistic preferences.

In addition to being more customizable, the new avatars are also more poseable; there’s a photo booth for taking still pictures of your avatar. You’ll be able to pick the exact frame of an avatar’s animation to get the facial expression and positioning that you want.

Currently, the new avatars are only used in the new avatar editor. “Soon,” they’ll also start showing up on the Xbox dashboard and on your profile. If you’re attached to your current avatar, that’s OK, too; Xbox Original avatars will still be an option for those who prefer them.

The full range of props, moods, clothing, and appearance categories isn’t available yet; Microsoft says that more will be added both during the beta period and subsequently once the new avatar system is launched to all.

The company’s pictures show the kinds of things that the new system enables: among others, there’s a pregnant avatar, a couple of avatars with prostheses, and two that use wheelchairs, all with a wide range of skin tones, poses, and hair styles. While the avatars aren’t exactly “realistic” in their appearance, they plainly have a level of expressiveness and representation that’s far beyond those of the original Xbox avatars, or systems such as Nintendo’s Miis. Microsoft has been making a more conscious effort to make gaming more accessible—and to acknowledge that there have long been gamers with disabilities.

That said, Microsoft’s cast of characters does leave certain dimensions unexplored. They all look pretty young, and while there are a few that aren’t quite runway model thin—including one possible case of dadbod—none of the avatars could really be described as fat. Whether this is a limitation of the new system or just the aesthetic preference from whoever put together the picture will no doubt become clear once Xbox users can use the avatar editor themselves.

ARS T

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