Friday, November 21, 2008

A Life Apart

Participation in the virtual world has taken increasing pace in the last few years. Originally, these worlds belong to the geeky, such as those that live on Ultima Online, etc. But now, with virtual worlds offered by a slew of them - Electronic Arts (The Sims Online - TSO), Linden Labs (Second Life), Blizzard Entertainment (World of Warcraft), Nintendo (the cartoonish but no less absorbing Maple Story) and probably the latest by Google (, one is spoilt for choice. And not all are geeky any more.

For example, TSO is about as geeky as a tomato. It hosts communities of people who would replicate their lifes on planet earth, from the owning of homes to going out to parties to having sex - any kind of sex. Why am I not surprised? Because morals are almost non-existent in these virtual worlds. God didn't create them, man did. And who wants to talk religion when you are having fun? So it wouldn't take long before a curious Avatar - a virtual person in the virtual world with a real life in the real world - would start reporting about virtual worlds instead of just living in it. One Peter Ludlow, erstwhile a University Professor, started the Herald in the world of TSO, taking on the Avatar identity of Urizenus. He would eventually migrate to Second Life, a virtual environment that offered more capabilities and features.

The Second Life Herald chronicles his experience in these virtual worlds through the Herald. The account starts with life on TSO. As the Avatar, Uri, he roams TSO and reports on the various activities going on - such as virtual governments and the griefers and gangs that these governments have to deal with. As he encounters iconic characters that populate TSO, he discusses his encounters with them. The book also has a chapter or two on the sex scene in TSO, which makes for fascinating reading. The Herald is a 'tell-them-as-it-is' online virtual journal in TSO. So there were sometimes un-complimentary things that came out of it, things that can offend. Perhaps the biggest mistake that Urizenus made was to question the fairness of the masters of TSO - EA (Electronic Arts) - over issues of justice. What if someone in the virtual world has a valid grievance - for example - some other virtual character inflicting an injustice on another? Should the creators of the virtual world not intervene to restore justice? Urizenus' argument is that avatars, voluntary and willing participants in the virtual world though they may be, may have invested so much emotion and money into the virtual world that stopping play in virtual worlds was not a viable option at all. Therefore there must exist a set of rules that are consistently enforced to protect players. Often times, the powers that be - the creators and controllers of the games - can be biased and unfair. And he makes the same observation about life on Second Life, which he joined after he got kicked out (erased) from TSO.

Truth be told, I am not a fan of virtual worlds. The first time I entered the virtual world of Google's, I was flipped and thrown to the floor when all I wanted to do was just say 'Hello' to the Avatar who flipped me. No, I am not a whimp, just that I cannot find the time that these virtual worlds demand of my (other) time in the real world. Not so the young. They are taking to virtual worlds like fish to water, unable and unwilling to tear themselves away from the computer which they spend hours on end. This book explains why this is so. Coming from a person that inhabits these worlds and reports on it since the early 2000s, you would be convinced that there is much truth in what he says.

But don't let me report everything. Read the book.

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