Sunday, April 13, 2008

Virtual Worlds

After I got over my confusion of how a virtual world with a mansion and people socializing in a living room works, I was quite disturbed by Mr. Bungle lurking around, "laughing sadistically" and harassing other characters. I agree with a previous post (Deb?), that when someone violates another person's mind, which defines the virtual world, it certainly is a crime worthy of punishment and a discussion of this world's "real life" implications. As the women expressed, they were very much affected by the virtual rapes, both as real people and virtual characters. As the author suggested, these actions raise questions regarding the "socially meaningful differences between [virtual] bodies and our physical ones." I have never participated in a virtual world, so cannot provide a knowledgeable answer... Can anyone else? It seems that these women were physically hurt by the mental abuse.
In response to both articles, but to the "Multi-User Dungeons and Alternate Identities" article in particular, I can't help but think how sad it is that some people cannot find a place in which they are comfortable in real society, so they turn to a virtual world where they create another persona. When someone spends 80 hours per week in a virtual world, there is no doubt that it becomes more of their "real" world and "true" identity than the real Real world itself. The author says that people gain communication and socializing skills, but are they able to apply these skills to the real world? If they cannot, are the skills truly meaningful? (My disclaimer for anyone who may be offended: I have never played these games, so it is highly possible that I just don't understand). Perhaps I simply fear the idea of a world where people are only connected by computers.. That brings up another question: Is it enough to be connected by a computer and not in real life? These were both thought-provoking articles...


Kelsey Maher said...

In response to the "A Rape in Cyberspace" article, I also felt surprised by the real-life intensity of emotion that a "virtual crime" can spark. Whether or not the rape involved the woman's physical body, her person--her conscious mind--was there to experience it all. So there does seem to be a fine line between the mind and the body and which (if either) is closer to the "self." Trying to map out this line becomes even more difficult when the author points out that we consider any physical sexual violation a rape whether or not the woman was conscious at the time of trauma. I agree with the author when he writes that "what happens inside an MUD-made world is neither exactly real nor exactly make-believe, but nonetheless profoundly, compellingly, and emotionally true." Our emotions seem to be the bridge between these two worlds, our investment the constant within them.
The intense emotional connection some people do feel to these virtual worlds confuses me also, perhaps because I've never played any virtual reality games either. I share a similar fear that the computer screen connection is not enough to truly and intimately link people together. I'm not sure I like the idea of a relationship being based on an electronic medium. Of course, the obvious caution signs arise when we talk about gamers who use virtual worlds to create virtual selves completely foreign to their "true" real-life identity; if you can't see a person, how can you know what they're posing to be is true? At the same time, though, I hesitate to denigrate this kind of connection too harshly; it is naive to think that similar "posing" doesn't occur in real-life interaction. People always have their own motivations, and their actions, their airs, and their manner of speech and behaviour will undoubtedly be influenced by these motivations. When we meet people in real-life, are we meeting them or the sense of self they are trying to portray (consciously or unconsciously)? Or are we meeting their "self" that we interpret? There are so many forces and factors at work that it is impossible to say that a "real-life" person is by definition a "true" person. And it seems as though the whole notion of a "true" identity or a unified self might be an impossibility, too.

scsorto said...

"I can't help but think how sad it is that some people cannot find a place in which they are comfortable in real society, so they turn to a virtual world where they create another persona"

I agree. I think that the concept that people don't feel comfortable in RL and turn to VR worlds because they can't fit in is sort of sad. What kind of society have we turned into that we shun certain types of people so much that they spend 80 hours a week on a computer world?

"The author says that people gain communication and socializing skills, but are they able to apply these skills to the real world?"

I think that yes, they can gain socializing and communication skills, but i don't know if i would call them useful. I think that if they were useful and transferable to the real world, people would be able to get off the computer and spend more time in the real world, socializing face to face (even if the transfer process is slow). If they are gaining these skills and still spend 80 hours a week on the computer, then I don't think the skills can be called useful.

Adam said...

Having taken part myself in the Multi-User Dungeons, I have to agree, and disagree, both with the article and above posters. Yes, 80 hours is A LOT of time spent on a game. Yes, this is likely socially inhibitive. However, this is entirely unrepresentative of the rest of the 99% that take part in these activities. I take issue with today's seemingly growing tendency to apply sweeping generalizations from a single example or observation.

Games like these are a widespread social phenomenon (ie: 10 million subscribers to World of Warcraft), but in the same regard, create a vacuum of precisely the opposite. As with anything in life, it must be taken in moderation. Someone that spent 80 hours a week reading, watching movies, or swimming would likely be seen as odd, too (though with the relative advent of internet gaming, probably not to the same degree).

I can't help but point out, 80 hours per week of virtually anything is socially prohibitive in some regard.