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Residual Self Image is what you get when a Virtual Reality, Spirit World, or other alternate plane of existence designs the appearance of avatars in its domain off of personality and how people think of themselves, rather than real-world appearance.

In fiction, a world seen through residual self-images will often have Beauty Equals Goodness in effect, or else the absolute inverse. (Self-hatred might skew things a little.) Gender and (sometimes) species may be different in that VR than in the real world. Odds are, there will be a set of Personal Appearance Tropes the VR is using to translate personality into looks...

Examples of Residual Self Image include:


  • The Matrix: Trope Namer. A person's avatar within the Matrix is generated by a combination of will and programming parameters established by the Matrix. This appearance can be markedly different from the "outer" self.

  Morpheus: (speaking to Neo in the Construct) [...] Your clothes are different; the plugs in your arms and head are gone. Your hair has changed. Your appearance now is what we call 'residual self image'. It is the mental projection of your digital self.


  • Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover uses this trope in "the Overworld", the spiritual/mental plane that some laran users (especially healers and monitors in the Towers) operate on. A person's appearance in the Overworld seems to be determined entirely by their self-image. In one memorable case, the Overworld form is a huge crab-like being.
  • In The Wounded Sky by Diane Duane, every time the Enterprise uses the experimental drive, the crew members experience a reality based on how they perceive themselves. While Kirk's self-perception is never actually described, McCoy provides a solid clue when he asks "Is that armor getting heavy, Jim?"

Web Comics

  • In Order of the Stick, Roy discovers that everyone in the afterlife "good" plane looks like their Residual Self Image. His father looks the same as he did when he died, an old man, because he always was a Grumpy Old Man, even when he was young. His mother, however, looks young and hot.

Western Animation

  • In the third season of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aang visits Avatar Roku in the spirit realm. While there, Aang has his traditional shaved head and Air Nomad robes, rather than the short hair and Fire Nation disguise he is currently wearing.
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