Much of my exploring in SL is very much self-directed – I’m a great advocate of the ‘pick a spot on the map and TP’ approach, which can often yield unexpected results, or I’ll harvest locations from the profiles of interesting people I might meet on my travels. Less frequently, my visits will be the result of recommendations or tips from others – although I often find that these aren’t always the niche locations I hope they’ll be… Popular does not always equate to enjoyable in my book!
Recently however, I threw caution to the wind and paid a visit to a sim on a recommendation, and I’ve come away with mixed feelings. Mitsumi-Town is a – still evolving – attempt to faithfully replicate a district in the city of Tokyo, and it manages to do so with impressive success. It feels like the real thing; it’s done on a lavish scale;the attention to detail is stunning; and the degree of realism that its creators have managed to create is admirable. I could go into raptures simply telling you about the detailing on the streetlights and electricity cables! However, in my opinion, it’s fatally flawed and lacks an essential ingredient that is difficult to define – perhaps I could call it ‘soul’?
You see, despite being jaw-droppingly photogenic, hyper-realistic and lavishly set out, the whole place has – for me – an overwhelming feeling of sterility. It is too damn good, too functional and lacks anything that I could connect with on an emotional level. There’s nothing at all wrong with having exquisitely detailed vehicles, parked in pristine streets, but something is missing – you need some car horns, the sounds of traffic, exhaust fumes and… Most of all: People. I spent a decent amount of time at Mitsumi-Town, and whilst I was there, I didn’t see a soul. There were a couple who appeared distantly on the radar, but mostly it was just me – a lonely soul, alone in the city – it all felt very ‘Lost in Translation’. I’m not sure that I like it much.
I do have concerns that this is what the future could look like for virtual worlds, particularly now we know what Sansar looks like. Are we looking forward to beautifully detailed, professionally designed experiences, each floating in their own isolated bubble… Something we can dip into, walk around, then disappear; only running into the occasional unfortunate soul whose visit coincides with our own by accident? My overwhelming impression coming away from Mitsumi-Town was that I’d just visited a proof of concept architectural model, a ‘Hey! Look what we can do’ demo, with none of the fun, anarchy and interaction that typifies SL, and that’s not something I find terribly appealing.
My fear is that virtual worlds could become museums to the future: Lovely to look at, but little else. If I have to visit a museum, I want one with exhibits with buttons I can press, things I can climb on and get inside, that I can touch and handle, not a bland display of impressive, but soulless models – the product of an artist or creator, totally constrained by their own vision and parameters, without the element of the unexpected and interpretive, which the interaction with strangers elicits.
Certainly, my preference results in a messier, more unpredictable, and occasionally broken, experience, but if that’s the price to pay for a world that never fails to surprise, challenge and inspire, then it’s one that I more than willing to pay, even if it means we’ll never have that ‘perfect’ orderly, but ultimately, sterile world.