Technology is pretty amazing, combined with vision, knowledge and endeavour it’s enabled us to travel to the moon and beyond, discover some of the hidden secrets of the universe, and bring vast amounts of accumulated human knowledge to our fingertips in an instant.
On the other hand, technology lets us play games.
Yes, all this remarkable technological innovation is supremely well suited for that most noble of pursuits: playtime. By no means is this a new phenomenon – ever since science discovered how to mash a load of transistors together on a sliver of silicon, we’ve pursued whatever means we could find to turn all that engineering to frivolous ends… From painstakingly coded programs taking less memory than a simple email requires today, recorded on cassette tapes and rendered in blocky monochromatic sprites, to the multi-user, voxellated behemoths that abound today, our main interest, it seems, when it comes to testing technological capability to its limit is to make it cater to those pursuits that you’d think we’re perfectly capable of fulfilling without its aid.
There’s no earthly reason to expend such effort on technological frivolity; every one of us is more than capable of digging out a pack of cards, dusting off the boardgames in the cupboard, or dressing up as an orc and LARPing around the woods with a bunch of like-minded friends – and, to be fair, many of us still do enjoy ‘old fashioned’ gameplay of that nature, but the allure of digital is so very strong that few are entirely immune to its pull.
The very fact that you’re reading this is testament to your engagement with a form of play entirely contingent on the ability for technology to deliver an environment and a ‘story’ with which we can engage and become part of. However, unlike pretty much any other computer based game I can think of, whether simple derivative of a traditional game – like mahjong – or something that we might consider to solely be a product of technological wizardry – say, WoW, for example – it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible to have a real world equivalent of SL (or for that matter, any other of those copycat virtual worlds that people keep trying to tell me about).
Granted, you might struggle replicating some game scenarios in RL – GTA springs to mind – but even some of the most escapist games could conceivably be re-enacted with a bit of imagination, a converted warehouse, and well designed sound, lighting and costumes. For other real world equivalents of games you might consider to be an exclusively digital preserve, there’s always Lego! And strategy games have been played out on board and paper since times immemorial.
SL is different: There are certainly elements that could be ported to the real world, but with so many diverse parts that go into making up the whole SL experience, along with the difficulties of physically bringing together a user base as diverse and widely scattered as those who typically would gather together in SL, it becomes – realistically speaking – pretty impossible. Then there are the socially enabling aspects of Sl, about which I’ve spoken many times, to consider – for many, the whole point of Sl is that nobody knows who you are, what you look like, and what a weird accent you have! But there’s no hiding those truths if we try crossing the line into RL.
So, should the day come when, for reasons as yet unknown, the internet unexpectedly grinds to a halt, processors stop functioning and memory chips forget all they know, then I’m afraid all of us for whom SL is our diversion of choice are doomed! Playtime will be over and our friends will just be a memory. That’s the price we pay for SL not being a game.
Best hang on to the Monopoly, just in case!
Dressing up in costumes, playing silly games
Hiding out in tree-tops shouting out rude names
Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers