NotPC or NPC?

arnieThe Feds are watching me!

OK, so I’m a Brit, and we don’t have the Feds, but it sounds so much cooler than saying there’s a policeman looking at me. Even then, I’m being a little creative with the truth: It’s not really a cop, it’s one of those lifesize cardboard cutouts that they put in shop windows to hoodwink potential shoplifters into trying their luck elsewhere. They’re usually accompanied by a sign saying something like ‘Free ride in a police car for all thieves’, ‘Go ahead punk, make my day!’, or perhaps, ‘Face down on the floor and spread’ em, you slaaaag!’, (although that last one might equally well apply to one of your more lurid fantasies!). It always struck me as a bit unfair that it’s always the criminals who get a free ride in a police car – I know loads of people, myself included, who’d thoroughly enjoy the thrill of a high speed chase with sirens blaring!

But I digress.

I’m not sure how effective fake rozzers are, but they do seem to be a popular, cheap, and legal alternative to employing gun-toting maverick guards at the entrance to Mothercare. They’re not a particularly modern innovation – in the past, we’ve seen empty police cars stationed at the side of roads, and the army have been in on the act for decades, deploying everything from inflatable tanks to entire fake cities as a ploy to deceive the enemy. Even that bastion of truth and honesty – the Bible – contains accounts of God encouraging his mates to lie to their enemies by populating their city walls with fake soldiers. And scarecrows have been plying their trade every since humankind got bored with hunter-gathering and decided to try their hand at growing stuff instead.

There appears to be a growing population of fake people in SL too. I’m not referring to those who delight in deceit and insincerity, neither do I refer to bots – or avatars without souls – as I prefer to think of them. Instead, I refer to the proliferation of static, statuesque representations of people that have started cluttering up sims, right across the Grid.

ashemi_012You know what I mean – those mesh creations that sim owners scatter around their properties to give the illusion of a vibrant and homely populace. Unfortunately, to my mind anyway, they tend to have the opposite effect, giving a surreal and otherworldly, and somewhat unnerving feel to what would otherwise be a perfectly normal location. I’m not sure why people choose to decorate their little piece of SL in this particular manner, but whenever I turn up in a new location to find myself surrounded by immobile, overly-lifelike, but undeniably unreal people, I find it rather a disquieting experience.

It doesn’t help that a huge number of these infernal things are quite obviously meshes ripped from game platforms, raising all sorts of questions about IP rights and content theft, but at the same time, it’s a bit weird seeing recognisable characters from other franchises populating SL.

You might think it odd, but I never experience the same freaky feelings when I run across bots inworld. Perhaps it’s because they at least give the impression of sentience – especially those imbued with an degree of AI scripting – they’re almost, but not quite, non player characters – NPCs – an established part of many game platforms that serve to make for a realistic environment and, engage with participants and enhance game play, or – at their most utilitarian – provide someone to shoot at! SL hasn’t really pursued that route to date, and I’m not entirely sure that it should: First and foremost, SL is about people interacting with each other and their environment, and without wishing to get into the whole ‘is it a game or not?’ argument, it’s a lack of NPCs and structured interaction with any set game plan that does help to set SL aside as something different. Even so, I can’t help wondering whether these silent, unmoving copycat people that I keep coming across on my travels are the thin end of the wedge – do people really want a virtual world where 7 out of every 10 people you come across are statues?

carnage23_001Maybe they do, but I frankly don’t… And the next time I come across one somewhere where I have rez rights, you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m going to put a traffic cone on its head, even if there is a policeman watching from across the street!

s. x

Our bones forever in stone
Monuments of life
To dust, as everything must
We fade away in time, oh
Foo Fighters – Statues

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