Thursday, March 5, 2009

Internet City: The Internet Made Real

Virtual reality is here. But it's not where you think it is.

In the news a few months ago was the story of the woman arrested for hacking into the account of a fellow gamer in order to "murder" his character in the virtual reality of an online role-playing game. Incensed over his character's abrupt divorcing of her character, she virtually killed him.

In the news that same week was the story of a man who purchased a virtual space station for $100,000 off of eBay. That's a pretend space station, purchased off of real eBay, for a hundred thousand real dollars, by a real person.

Then there's the true story of the woman who filed for divorce because her husband—no, pardon me, not her husband, rather her husband's virtual character—had been having an affair with another virtual character in yet another online game.

My first thought on reading these articles was, "I thought reading a mystery novel was escapist. But these online role-playing games are taking escapism to an extreme. How far we've come, to deceive ourselves so greatly about what is real."

But my next thought switched it all around. "No. These people are not losing touch with reality. They're intensely in touch with the reality of the day. The most extreme escapism that we're experiencing is not virtual reality at all. It's something else altogether. It's the Internet itself."