6:36 AM

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Virtual Worlds, Digital Crack

The World is what you Make it

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I reported on my first steps in SECOND LIFE recently. I was pretty impressed in general and still am. The virtual worlds concept itself, first hinted at in postmodern science fiction novels NEUROMANCER and SNOW CRASH, is still pretty mind-boggling to envision. Until recent years, I would have relegated the notion to another poorly written Science Fiction plotline-- the kind of second-rate rehash of NEUROMANCER that plagued the genre for a decade after that book's release. Second Life and other Virtual Worlds have undeniably demonstrated that technology has advanced to the point where we can interact with a 2D representation of a 3D world on our home computers.
Your intrepid author dancing at the Caledon ball with the vivacious 'Lau', one of the many avatars in residence on 2L id= Accessing a world where almost anything you can envision can be created is a heady concept. Barsoom, Middle Earth, Victorian Science Fiction.. they're all in there, in various degrees. One of my personal favorites is a virtual 'place' called "Caledon", which punctiliously recreates a genteel Victorian world with heavy gothic and VSF subthemes, a place where a man can kiss a lady's hand, bow, make outrageous, flowery compliments to the female company and retire for port and cigars, b'Gad! (that's your intrepid reporter dancing at the Caledon Winter Ball, top right) This modern REAL world being a poor reflection of our real world's genteel past, it's amusing that we can recreate bygone days as a fantasy, although it feels a tad bittersweet. Dancing, sort of, with the lovely 'hannah' in a club somewhere. Like the hat and monocle? I'm such a fashion plateOf course, there's a flip side to all this fantasy, as you may well imagine. There are plenty of "sims" (lands rented to create a theme based reality, not the popular computer game) that are not so pleasant or PG13 rated as the ones I have mentioned. Every tawdry aspect of the human mind can be played out in Second Life, after a fashion. I was astounded at the amount of "Gorean" sims based upon the work of the late John Norman, for instance-- but then again, should I really be this naive? "Virtuality" is the ultimate safe environment. There's no injury, no disease, no consequences. Developments such as these are bound to happen in an open environment. Give the kids a big enough sandbox, and the inevitable results. The first time I've impressed a young lady with the line: 'wanna ride in the zeppelin?' One hopes that the boundaries between the more mature content and impressionable minds are more rigorous than clicking "I certify I am over 18" in a box somewhere-- though I can't imagine a young man connecting to second life for a porn fix when the real stuff is so abundantly available elsewhere (I wish that was a joke!). With all the pitfalls that lurk within a virtual world, one quickly learns how to navigate between the tawdry and the worthwhile. An entire lexicon has been built up around the tension between the folks who are trying to have a good time and the folks that wish to intrude with their own sick notions. For instance, an avatar (usually male) that persistently bothers a female avatar is a "Griefer".. and griefers are fair game for abuse in turn. Fortunately, the griefers tend to cluster (remember that phrase from last time?) in areas where female avatars will respond to them.

The virtual world can be highly seductive, since it promises much. What it can actually deliver is a shadow play of reality. It would be best to remember that-- beware the landmines of the Id and libido.