Virtual games take on new life of their own
Posted September 1, 2010 at 9:53 pm in Opinion
âWorld of Warcraft kills 15,000 people every year,â said James Ellias, president of the USC Objectivist Club, with a laugh. I asked him how he came up with such a mesmerizing statistic, and he proceeded to blow my mind.
The average âWoWâ subscriber plays 10 hours a week, and something like 11 million users are currently subscribed, many of whom are actively playing at any given moment. Thatâs a lot of man-hours of Warcraft each week. Divide that by the number of hours in a week, and you get approximately 15,000 human lifespans used, per year, on Warcraft.
âIn terms of death rate, its going to be ranked up there with heart-disease,â Ellias said.
As humorous as that might sound, it begs a valid question: Are we wasting our lives in virtual environments? Or can we consider games to be a valid and constructive use of our time?
Consider PlayStation Home, a unique social gaming network that allows users to create their own custom avatar and interact with others in a massive alternate reality. Users can customize their avatars and decorate their private apartment (or âHome Spaceâ) with default, won or even bought items.
Why is this becoming such a common trend? Â It seems absurd to spend physical money on a virtual world. However, with more than 12 million users worldwide and counting, Home is no joke. Some of the landscapes and architectural feats are actually prettier than their real-life counterparts. Itâs beyond real â itâs surreal. Virtual reality is becoming so extensive that part of it actually serve to replace our physical lives, and not in a good way.
We now have a plethora of virtual communities, from PlayStation Home to Second Life to Farmville, as well as many online games on massive community servers, such as World of Warcraft, RuneScape, Everquest and EVE. All of these âuniversesâ are expanding and looking more appealing every day. But what will happen when our virtual alternatives are more attractive than our actual reality?
The need to make money, you might say, will prevent us from spending the majority of our lives online. How can we play games all day when thereâs bacon to be brought home?
This is where it gets disturbing.
A form of commerce already thrives on Second Life, with millions of dollars in transactions every year. It is entirely self-sustainable monetarily, which makes it more than just a fantasy land. Second Life promises a better life than the one you currently live â âWho will you be? What will you discover? Anything is possible in Second Life … A whole new world is awaiting.â
You can dress your avatar in the latest clothes from the Second Life Fall Fashion Lookbook, you can purchase your own developed private island and host extravagant parties with your friends. Yes, you can even fall in love with other Second Life users in some cases.
Still, that doesnât make it real.
As vain as the real world can be at times, how much more vain is this?
Yet, with museums, art, learning environments and networking events, Second Life does seem to offer something productive. Wherever people are, there is money to be made â even in virtual reality.
The future is only going to bring more advancements in gaming technologies, especially in the realm of graphics, virtual reality (the headset wearing kind), haptic systems and immersive environments. When virtual reality becomes widely commercial and practical for the everyday consumer, time spent in alternate realities such as PlayStation Home and Second Life will most certainly increase.
Home is already a very real and immersive social environment for the online community â imagine what will happen when people are too immersed to stop?
It gets better. Although PlayStation Home was originally considered to be a social network for gamers, it is now considered to be a game platform in itself. The first game that was widely released just for Home. The first virtual world-based alternate reality game for the console was called Xi, made by nDreams. Because of Xi, the number of Home users is estimated to exceed 5 million people.
âI really think we have brought the community together like never before,â said Patrick OâLuanaigh, founder of nDreams, in an online interview titled âThe Making of Xiâ. But what was unique about the Xi experience was that people from various countries and cultures had to work together to win the game.
âWe actually had crossover between the language forums, which Iâve never seen happen before,â OâLuanaigh said. Millions of people crossed cultural boundaries and language barriers for a common cause â to solve Xi.
So can these alternate realities be considered a waste of time? New businesses, new relationships and new ways to learn have sprouted from them. That would not be possible in the real world. They unify people from a diverse range of demographics and allow for worldwide collaboration to solve common problems. Real-world commerce occurs in these virtual worlds, with real-world consequences. Can all this be considered productive, or should we be more careful as consumers?
These games are more than just addictions. They are changing our world, moving us all online little by little.
James Iliff is a junior majoring in psychology.