March 6, 2006

Blurring distinctions between the real and virtual worlds

There's an excellent blog entry on 3quarksdaily about how virtual worlds are increasingly coming to resemble reality.

MMORPG, or massive multiplayer online role-playing games, are starting to become extremely popular, and by consequence, extremely sophisticated. Virtual worlds can boast of having such things as retailers, thieves, prostitutes, married couples, and even genocidal war criminals. With some MMORPG's having as many as 6 million subscribers [wow!], academics are starting to study the economics and psychology of virtual worlds, while the IRS is even thinking about eventual taxation.

Not surprisingly, computer addiction is starting to become a real problem; last fall, a Chinese girl died after playing for several days straight and neglecting her health. Others are staying home from work, or devoting far too much of their time to their adventures.

Clearly MMORPG's are here to stay, and one can only marvel at how an entirely new realm of existence has emerged as a result of computer technology. In a sense, computers have spawned an alternate dimension of being.

Thinking into the future, I wonder how far virtual worlds will go and what role virtual reality will play in all this. I can imagine future MMORPG's that are fully immersive and involve both active and passive personalities (ie characters with real people controlling them and those that are completely computer generated). I also have to think that the line dividing simulations and MMORPG will eventually start to blur.

Given the potential of man-machine interfaces and the future of computing, perhaps future existence will be entirely entailed by persons living multiple existences across many different virtual worlds. Given that the virtual world will eventually meet the real world in terms of realism and intricacy, it's possible that what we regard as individuality today will become a thing of the past. There won't be one you so much as there will be multiple you's -- and all of them legitimate existences in their own right.

This has me thinking of Barry Dainton's essay, "Innocence Lost: Simulation Scenarios: Prospects and Consequences," where he describes potential simulation types. You may also want to check out my column, Welcome to the Unreal World.

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