Doing battle with daily dragons

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Staggering Cost of Nothing

Alkelda brought this piece to my attention.

First, I want to say that I’m down with internet gaming, but I don’t do it myself. I have a vaguely addictive, creative personality and I know better than to get involved, especially if I get to design my own purple, flying, mechanical unicorn.

Second Life is an on-line virtual gaming community that seems to be part D&D, part Snowcrash and part Monty Python. For example, this was a screenshot taken several hours ago in one of the game’s 12,000 virtual acres. It seems to show one character taking a projectile dump on another, who seems more interested in reading a virtual magazine on the grass than worrying about how she’s going to get the stains out of her blouse. There also seems to be what looks like a mutant horse, partially buried in the sand. I don’t know if I could survive in an environment where things like this regularly occurred. Real life is totally weird enough for me.

The interesting thing about this game is the vast upsurge in in-game businesses; real companies that make real money selling real services to imaginary people. Like that guy a few years ago who paid 5 figures in cold hard cash for a virtual island within the game. He is now making twice that in rent from other virtual consumers. Let’s face it, our kids are never going to think that’s anything out of the ordinary, but to me, paying real money for virtual services makes me think that someone out there is laughing their ass off. I still have to grit my teeth when renewing my domain names.

The business described in the Times article is a virtual detective agency who investigate virtual adultery. Concerned that your other half is spending a lot of time in his or her Second Life? Worried that Princess Astral of the Kingdom of Feyador or Gladthar the Mighty might not be as concerned about their wedding vows as Susan and Harry? That’s where Mac’s Detective Agency comes in.

The part I found the most amusing is that when the “Honey Trap” is sprung, because of the virtual nature of the game, the aggrieved partner’s avatar can be transported directly to the scene of the virtual flangrante delicto. Talk about being virtually embarrassed. Couples within the game who are “married” have been flocking to this service to make sure that their virtual loved ones are not out contracting virtual diseases from virtually every other person in the city.

Does all of this strike anyone else as just a little bit strange or am I falling behind the times? Evelyn Rodriguez, a rather talented “generalist synthesist” blogger, quotes Steve Jobs from a commencement speech at Stanford this year. Jobs says:

For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

This is the crux of the argument for me, personally.