In 2007 I wrote:
A Luddite in Cyberspace — Part I
When I was a kid we played the game of “Life.” For many today life has been reduced to a game… a video game. Given the ever-growing sophistication of computer games, I’m not surprised they are mistaken for reality. The technology has come a long way since we slotted quarters into the “Space Invaders” console at the local pub.
Sometimes a game’s realism spills off the screen into real life. Sony’s launch of Play Station 3 induced kids, who would never consider camping in a national forest, to bunk down outside of stores. Some wound up robbed at gunpoint after getting their precious PS3s at something like $400 a pop. Other buyers were sprayed with pellets from drive-by BB gunners. One sucker was sent to the hospital, when he joined in a Wal-Mart version of musical chairs… 10 chairs plus 50 people is the formula for a riot. What didn’t Wal-Mart understand about that? Or has the sadism on the computer screen infected the retailers, too?
Video game violence makes a Quinton Tarantino movie, such as “Kill Bill,” look like “Bambi.” A few titles catch the flavor of the products: “F.E.A.R.,” “Assassin’s Creed,” “Metal Gear Solid: Guns of the Patriot.” Then there are the Internet addicted. Dr. Rudolph G. Briggs, whose web site indicates he’s a member of the Department of Psychotechnology at SUNY-Albany (http://library.albany.edu/briggs/addiction.html), defines Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) as, “characterized by seven basic diagnostic criteria, among them increasing tolerance of long online hours, withdrawal, and unsuccessful efforts to control Internet use.”
Dr. Briggs goes on to say that Alcoholics Anonymous is considering a separate branch to deal with this new plague, which the good professor claims can have “devastating impact on people’s lives.” Inevitably, an online outfit seeks to help addicts get the electronic monkey off their backs. What an idea… spend additional hours on the Internet trying to break your addiction to the Internet. Well, for those who need help and think that might work, check out the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery (http://www.netaddiction.com/).
In my book — for those who can recall the word “book” — all these saps are losers. Among the winners are college kids who are majoring in video game development. I kid you not. A handful of colleges and universities now offer an opportunity to major in video gaming. Earlier this year the University of California – Santa Cruz joined this small club, launching a new major entitled “computer game design.” Dr. Ira Pohl, chair of the computer science department in the school of engineering, expressed his pleasure at the inauguration of studies which combine “technical and artistic training.” The University of Southern California, which created the first film school in 1929, also hopped on the bandwagon this summer. Other institutions with the major include Pennsylvania’s own Carnegie-Mellon. CMU has a whole Entertainment Technology Center.
Video game meets Internet at the cutting edge in Linden City, the virtual capitol of Second Life (http://secondlife.com/). As this column was written, Second Life counted 1,755,704 residents of Linden City. In the past 60 days more than 700,000 of these folks had visited the virtual city, i.e., logged onto the site. While Second Life is mostly an on-line simulation site, the operators also reported that 650,000 real dollars had changed hands in the previous 24 hours among Linden’s denizens.
A hairy guy, who looked a little like a Doonsberry character, pointed at me like Uncle Sam and said, “YOU might be a Linden.” He asked, “Where else can you help create a new world and have the time of your life doing it?” A link directed me to a “jobs page.” I’m not positive, but I think the jobs were for real. I wished I had the ability to become the “Italian-speaking Liaison.” I guess getting a job like that would make me one of the winners of the video game world.
Still, I think I’d worry about submerging myself in a virtual world and never resurfacing… except for the annual riots outside Wal-Mart. Back in ’82, when “Space Invaders” was still state of the art, Jeff Bridges made a flick entitled “Tron” in which he entered his own computer to battle cyber-pirates who had stolen his computer game. The plot doesn’t sound so far fetched as it seemed 25 years ago.
No, I think I’ll add a few more books to my Christmas list, along with a request for the Philadelphia version of Monopoly and a couple of new decks of poker cards. Win or lose, reality is still life enough for this ‘ol writer.
A Luddite in Cyberspace — Part II
In his 1997 novel, “Idoru,” sci-fi writer William Gibson postulates a pending marriage between a real-life rock star and a virtual vamp. The bride is an “idol-singer” or Idoru. Although Idoru are computer-generated fantasies, “Some of them are enormously popular.”
The kids with whom the Idoru are “enormously popular” inhabit a virtual world that is more real to them than their own homes and families. In an early chapter, “They met in a jungle clearing. Kelsey had done the vegetation: big bright Rousseau leaves, cartoon orchids flecked with her idea of tropical colors…. Zona, the only one telepresent who’d ever seen anything like a real jungle, had done the audio, providing birdcalls, invisible but realistically dopplering bugs, and the odd vegetational rustle artfully suggesting not snakes but some shy furry thing, soft-pawed and curious.”
Less than a decade later, Gibson’s vision is here. In case you — like me — are not one of the 900,000 already enrolled, “Second Life” is a virtual world in which you can buy property and build a home, indulge yourself in a pseudo-career and… even conduct real business. [http://secondlife.com/]
Yes, in Second Life’s Linden City you can really sell stuff. Something close to half a million bucks exchanges hands every day in Linden, according to a recent Yahoo report on the Internet phenomenon. Concludes Yahoo, “The IRS is interested and Congressional economists are looking into how to tax digital assets accrued” in virtual worlds.
Is virtual taxation without virtual representation tyranny? Search me. Frankly, I’m more interested in issues such as blackmail. If Linden City citizen A threatens to expose some peccadillo of citizen B, where does jurisdiction over the crime lie? Let’s make citizen A a Brit and citizen B an American. Sure, both John Bull and Uncle Sam have an interest in the dirty deed. But where did the crime occur? In England, where the perp lives? What if he joined the website and made the blackmail threat while airborne over — oh, I don’t know — Uganda? And what if victim B joined the “game” and got the threat while airborne over Australia in an Air China aircraft?
Forget the geography. The crime occurred in Linden City, which falls under the jurisdiction of the state of Second Life. I guess that’s not quite the state of Grace. But for the religious the analogy is apparent.
For the record, our law enforcement apparatchiks can’t even cope with the Nigerian scams. A case on point: an international student recently decided to sublet a room or two in her condo, her family having returned to China. She advertised on the worldwide web. An offer came in via email from Africa. The offer was followed by four $500 American Express checks, an amount equal to a month’s rent plus the security deposit. The student deposited the doe. Next thing she knows, her new tenant is asking for half of the money back to buy a plane ticket. The student sends the money, not waiting for the four checks to clear. When the American Express checks prove to be counterfeit, she’s out a grand she can ill-afford to lose. Who can help her? Answer: nobody!
You see the problem, right? Mystics and new age twits talk of Gaia, an ecological theory that the living matter of planet Earth is a single organism. Who knows? What we do know is that the Internet — the worldwide web, more or less — is greater than the sum of its billions of parts. The Internet, one might fairly argue, is an entity which has passed beyond the control of any nation, any corporation, any set of statutes, even any international organization.
Anarchists and libertarians may applaud this state of global affairs. Those of us who have devoted our lives to the rule of law may justifiably feel differently.
Following World War II, we created the United Nations to bring all nations under one legal umbrella. We developed a canon of international codes, everything from crimes against humanity to international intellectual-property regimes.
Perhaps what is needed now is a virtual counterpart to the U.N. I wonder if Bill Gibson would agree?
My pieces drew this retort:
Response to a Luddite in Cyberspace
Here’s what at least one blogger thinks of my views on cyber-societies:
Second Life – Just say no!
Posted Dec 17th 2006 2:01AM by Tateru Nino
Filed under: Odds and Ends, Mixed Reality
Who are the virtual world nay-sayers, and why are they saying no? Does it actually even matter that they are, or is it a good thing?
For one we have Jim Castagnera’s now relatively famous ‘losers’ press-release on Lawfuel, insulting and largely devoid of fact or research.
We’ve got Clay Shirky on Valleywag with his widely read piece castigating — actually not castigating virtual worlds, per se, but those who are writing favorable pieces about them without rigorously checking their material — though apparently he does so without actually doing so himself. Oh, my, but we’ve not heard the last of this one, I’m sure.
We’ve got Andrew Orlowski of The Register and his dismissive neo-luddism pieces about Sadville, again, largely devoid of accuracy or foundation.
Does it matter? Even if it does matter, does it matter that it matters?
Not all of our naysayers are strictly on the outside, either. Some of the most vociferous are residents who can’t let go. They may not log in anymore. They may have even cancelled their accounts. You’ll still see them, however, posting on blogs and forums — presumably to try to ruin it for others, though their motives in this wise would seem to be obscure. Many people just consider that to be griefing.
And then you’ve got the insider-nay-sayers. Vocal critics who speak volumes, but apparently don’t take their own concerns seriously enough that they actually depart. There’s a consistent babble of those. The most common thread is that they say ‘No!’ and that they say it in the most offensive ways possible.
Another class of naysayer are those that seem to feel that the dog is to blame because it isn’t a cat or that a virtual world designed to be one thing lacks qualities that it was not designed to have, and that isn’t intended to have. They often don’t have anything very positive to contribute.
Every one of these people, however, have one particular thing in common. They are all as much a part of the hype-machine as the relentless, happy cheerleaders. In some ways they may be even more effective at promoting Second Life in the mainstream public consciousness than the plastic cheerleader figure.
We all know the plastic cheerleader figure. She or he has been as much a part of marketing hype since the late 1950′s as catchy jingles, puppies and improbably cute and clean children. We’re suspicious when we see the plastic cheerleader, because of her strong and persistent emotional aftertaste. Reality is never perfect. We resent being told that it is.
“The Show with zefrank” talks about brand in this video podcast (starting about 90 seconds in) — no dry thesis, this. It’s bright, quick and odd. Go ahead. I’ll still be here when you get back.
All done? Lovely. Now, with that fresh in your mind, let’s look at branding-attachment.
So where is Second Life four years later, I found myself wondering. Well, it's still very much alive. http://secondlife.com/ And plenty has been written about it: