Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Virtual Takeover

virtual image

Kim Yoo-chul and Choi Mi-sun were good parents. They dedicated hours on end to raising their daughter, Anima, while their real, unnamed, three-month old daughter starved to death.

This, and other recent issues regarding online addiction and cyber bullying, go beyond being irresponsible to reveal the tragedies that can happen when the virtual and real worlds collide. Nowhere is the potential for this greater than in the gaming and virtual world environments where some people spend as much as ten hours per day, not just playing games but living in pseudo worlds.

The fact is that most people responsibly manage their online and real world selves, and escaping to a virtual world is no more addictive than watching a good TV show. However, for some reason or reasons, others can’t get enough, which is unfortunate since virtual gaming is going to take over our lives according to Jesse Schell, a game designer and professor at Carnegie Melon University.

If the opportunities available in Second Life are any indication, Schell’s prediction has already started to unfold. The following is a sampling of the real life areas in which Second Life has already gained significant reach.


Video games, and by extension, online games used to be for kids. Statistics show however, that the vast majority of virtual players are adults older than 26. With so many environments to choose from: outlandish planets with their own culture to the ability to create one’s own alter-environment, it is no wonder that the more popular sites like Second Life play second home to more than two-million subscribers with more than 50,000 online at a given time.


As if the sheer entertainment value isn’t staggering enough, virtual environments are giving a deeper meaning to the term e-commerce. Virtual shops and businesses that were once figments of someone’s imagination are translating into real dollars for some people. But how? Forbes has a list of virtual professions that have turned out to be pretty lucrative.

Already established, social media savvy companies, like Dell, are also getting in on the act.

Education & Training

Second Life actively promotes its platform as a medium for education and training. The advantages for learning institutions and businesses lies in the fact that Second Life goes beyond the typical tools used for teleconferencing and distance learning. In addition to the ability to meet online for collaboration purposes, real environments such as the classroom can be mimicked, and simulations can be created without having to develop new software technology.

Despite these advantages, some colleges are returning to the real world in hopes of creating their own virtual environments following Second Life experiences that did not live up to the hype. Considering its commercial success, Second Life might be a better alternative for companies like Alpine Access that are in need of an interactive meeting point for employees that are geographically dispersed across the country.

While it is my personal hope that gaming technology does not grow to the point (at least not in my lifetime) where it is somehow integrated into how we brush our teeth, as Schell asserts, where we are at now is clearly only the beginning.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I remember the first time I ever played a video game. It was called Pong, and the whole game consisted of two cursors and a dot. Two players would send the dot back and forth to each other using the little cursors, just as if they were playing ping pong. Every time the dot contacted a cursor, there was a beep. It was on an Atari system (I think) owned by a friend of mine, and this guy played Pong so much that his wife finally left him for greener pastures.

    Well, actually, those green pastures had been calling to her for a while, and she was going to go, anyway. The Pong was just a handy excuse. But apparently the addictive lure of electronic gaming has been around just about as long as the games themselves.

    Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, I earned a degree in behavioral science, and one of the many subjects we studied was that of the addictive personality. At that time the term referred more to physical addictions such as drugs, alcohol, or tobacco, but the science and the research of the day also indicated that the people who were prone to physical addictions were also more prone to behaviorial addictions.

    When virtual reality becomes more attractive than real reality, some people will be (and are being) lured to the dark side. It makes them feel better, just like a drug addiction, or an alcohol addiction, or some other excess that gets out of hand makes them feel better.

    As for me, I never liked Pong. I would have rather just played ping pong. My second attempt at a video game was with the Mario Brothers on a Ninento System I bought for my kids several years later. Alas, poor Mario. I killed him with regularity! And I'll have to admit it was a better game than Pong, but I wasn't tempted to blow the mortgage money on the next version of the game.

    Virtual reality is cool, but real reality is cooler still. And as for the young Korean couple who neglected their child until the poor thing starved to death? You can bet that they will be spending the next twenty years in a real prison and not some virtual equivalent.

    By the way, the graphic at the top of your post is pretty cool.

  3. Count me in with the group that scratches their head in dumbfounded amazement that there are people in the world who will spend countless hours in Second Life – and enjoy it.

    Here’s a true story – a couple of years ago the fine people at this grand learning institution (KSU), said to one another, “You know what Kennesaw State University needs?” After several minutes of shoulder shrugging and vapid dog-eyed stares, the person posing the question responded, “A virtual Kennesaw State campus in Second Life!”

    Somehow, even beyond my reasoning, people bought into this and we went out and spent a crap-ton of money to have someone come in (with a pocketful of Linden) to build said KSU virtual campus.

    It’s there alright: Kennesaw Hall, the campus green, flagpoles, a place for online classes, a ferris wheel, a cannon that shoots stuff into the ocean… Yup, it’s ALL there. Seriously, I’m not making this up: https://elearn.kennesaw.edu/secondlife

    About a month ago, me and my work buddies went into the virtual Second Life KSU and it was like a creepy ghost town. All that was missing was the tumbleweeds and that old-timey whistling music. As was referenced in your post, many collegiate Second Life experiences do not live up to expectations; I would wholeheartedly throw KSU into that mix.

    As a person who REALLY loves video games and computers – and is completely open to their awesomeness – Second Life just isn’t registering with me…or the other 22,000 people, for that matter, who go to school at KSU.

  4. With school and work, I barely have time for anything...let alone participating in time-wasting games such as SecondLife, Farmville, Sorority Life, and Bejeweled. I'm sure there are more meaningful ways to spend one's time. I hardly have any time for anything, yet I don't regret not partaking in any of these games-it's not really a wise way to spend time as an adult in my opinion.

  5. Like Raymond, I've never gotten hooked on video games and know many people who can play for hours. I last a few minutes, then walk away. As Nadia basically says, who has time?

    Having said this, I had a strange experience on Easter. My dad, stepmom, sister, and brother all have an iPhone. I, alone, do not. My brother tells me how he's in the midst of playing Scrabble with several friends and has one who is kicking his butt. He asks for my help. He pulls out his iPhone, and I begin. Before I know it, everyone has their iPhone out and are playing games. We are sitting together, in the same room, playing games on iPhones. We did this for at least an hour. Family time spent playing games alone.

    I know this is a fairly common occurrence. When I get on Facebook sometimes, I've seen entire families playing Farmville. This article was sort of scary because I don't want our lives to become consumed by computers. Games aren't the only way we're losing ourselves to the online world. As we've seen in this class, people are obsessed with Facebook, email, and so on. There are already too many ways out there to disconnect from reality.

    As this article shows, our lives may eventually become virtual. We're allowing computers to control our lives. The problem is, as much as the other blog on "opting out" says we have choices, I think that in order to stay current and be successful, our choices are somewhat limited. I wonder what this means for the future.

  6. I'm pretty much going to agree with Ray here. There will always be unhappy people with addictive personalities or who lack social skills. Back in the 1980's, the hoopla was that they were becoming addressed with Dungeons and Dragons, then came Magic the Gathering, trenchcoat mafias, Ultima Online, World of Warcraft, etc. etc. As long as there are sad people who were never properly socialized, there will be people who escape into addiction. (Ray's example of drugs and alcohol were good ones, too. They also encourage social behavior based around an outside anchor.) I think virtual worlds are making this type of behavior easier, but they aren't causing people to have these types of personalities.