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Idoru app
Courtesy of Idoru

Idoru is the app making avatars more realistic and representative than ever

A new app that allows users create realistic, lifelike avatars of themselves is providing a level of representation rarely seen in the gaming and digital world

At some point in time, most of us have created a digital version of ourselves. Whether it’s on The Sims or virtual worlds like IMVU, there are many platforms out there to help you reimagine yourself and your life. However, there are few platforms that allow users to really create the truest version of themselves in a digital format; and when it comes to the metaverse, it’s fair to say avatar options thus far could be described as rudimentary. 

Horizon Worlds was ruthlessly mocked and ridiculed earlier this year, for example, when Mark Zuckerberg posted a picture of his digital avatar which was laughably bad. While the graphics on Decentraland have been described as “basic and cartoonish”. Looking to change that is Idoru, a mobile app that enables users to create realistic looking avatars of themselves from scratch. Founded by humanist technologist Mica Le John and former fashion art director Michael Taylor, the pair believe Idoru is at the intersection of self-expression and creativity. “What we’re building with Idoru is a space for users to create and explore, using themselves as the medium,” Le John says.

A big part of how young people express themselves online is through fashion and make-up. According to a Roblox study from this year, 70 percent of young people make their avatars dress similar to their IRL style, and 2 in 5 said expressing themselves with clothing and accessories in the digital world is more important than expressing themselves in the physical world. With Idoru, users are given space to experiment with their looks in a way they might not be able to IRL. “One of the things we’ve seen is that often we’re limited by either body autonomy, or financial autonomy,” Le John explains. “Body autonomy because you’re 15 and you can’t have a neck tattoo or a pink mohawk. Then there’s financial autonomy because you can’t afford to buy Gucci.”

Before users get to adorn their digital selves in the finest of fashions, the app prompts you to choose a face shape, skin-tone and hairstyle. You can toggle with everything from where the eye sits on your avatar’s face to the length of its chin, you can also adjust the avatar’s body size and even the height of your avatar’s booty because nothing is more important than making sure the booty looks just right. Once you’re pleased with your avatar features, you can deck them out in fashion brands such as Phlemuns, a Black-owned label based out in LA or the Dydoshop, a South Korean label with a cool-girl aesthetic.

At the core of everything they do, Idoru wants to ensure that your avatar is an extension of your identity so users are not only able to adjust the hue of the avatar’s skin but also add skin features like hyperpigmentation, eczema and freckles. We saw how excited players on the game Animal Crossing felt when they were able to add birthmarks to their characters and how for most, it was the first time they felt represented in a video game. 

“Idoru’s avatars look so real and they allow you to really invent and create yourself in the metaverse,” says Olamide Olowe, founder and CEO of Topicals, who collaborated with Idoru for the creation of the skin inclusions. “We think it’s super important to have the opportunity to make it realistic rather than making it this cartoonish character. Your self-identity is always super tied to your sense of your mental health, and Idoru enables people to experiment and play.” Musician and co-founder of Club Quarantine, Ceréna, echoes Olowe’s sentiments as one of the app’s first users. “I wasn't ready for how I’d feel when creating an avatar with so much detail – it’s lowkey healing and so much fun and she’s so cute!”

From day one, to ensure that Idoru’s creation tools were inclusive of every element of identity – from race to gender – the co-founders made sure there was a diverse group of people building and testing the product. “We never ask for gender in the app, instead users are asked to choose undergarments,” Le John says. “So often, avatar products are built around like one or two body types and specific binary genders. And so we wanted to make sure that Idoru was really representative.”

A lack of diversity when it comes to avatar creation has been a major issue in the metaverse and in the gaming industry at large. The Sims games have been around since 2000 and fans have complained for years about the lack of skin tones that were available. Maxis Studios, the creator of the series, added an update of 100 skintones to The Sims 4 back in December 2020 to address the issue but since found themselves in hot water again after being accused of white-washing the NPCs that make up the game’s backdrop.

Action RPG game Elden Ring was called out early this year for the lack of diverse hair options for Black players — an issue which has been seen throughout the industry from shooter games like Outriders to the wholesome Animal Crossing. “I remember being a kid playing games and having all these opportunities to create an avatar. But there’s like two hair options and it certainly wasn’t the type of hair that grew out of my head,” Le John says. “We wanted to make sure from day one, that we had opportunities for folks to create and see themselves in the process.”

Idoru has collaborated with hair brands like Baby Tress and Rebundle to allow users to create hairstyles with baby hairs and play around with different braiding styles. “The core of Idoru isn’t so much tech as it is our values; every element of Idoru needs to be inclusive and well thought out,” Idoru’s Lead 3D artist, Sarah Nicole François, shares. “Black hair, for example – along with skin tone and body shape – are an afterthought in the majority of digital experiences. We know it to be core to identity formation and expression, so we spend a great deal of time getting it right.”

Of course even with the right tools, users might still feel pressured to create a digital version of themselves that doesn’t reflect how they look in real life. From Snapchat filters to Face App, it’s clear that when given the opportunity many people will opt for a homogenised, glammed up version of themselves on social media platforms. One way Idoru plans to combat users making unrealistic avatar versions of themselves, is by making the current iteration of the app invite-only and by bringing in a diverse community of creatives to create avatars of themselves before it’s released to the wider public. “If users see full diversity across ethnicity, cultural background, body size and physical ability then they’ll feel incentivised and inclined to actually create their true physical self, as a digital version,” Le John believes. 

As for how Idoru plans to evolve, the team are currently building the use of prosthetics into the app and are thinking of how to integrate wheelchairs and walking aids like crutches and canes onto the platform. “The goal for us is to enable people to be their fullest self,” Le John says. “That’s the full stop of what we want to work towards. So everything we build within the product is in service of that.”

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