The Iron Cage of Fantasy: World of Warcraft, City of Heroes and Fable II

Jonathan McCalmont @ 19-08-2009

If modern gaming is all about escapism, why do we choose to escape to virtual worlds that contain so many of the negative pressures of the world we’re trying to leave behind?

Blasphemous Geometries by Jonathan McCalmont

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I’d like to begin this column by discussing escapism. Describing something as “escapist” has always struck me as something of a back-handed compliment. A tacit (and sometimes dismissive) acknowledgement of a work’s lack of topicality or verisimilitude coupled to an attempt to shift the critical yardstick from the aesthetic to the psychological : Yes, we know that this film/game/book is all about giant stompy robots hitting each other but it scratches an itch that we, the audience, need scratching.

The itch in question is the need to escape from an increasingly inhospitable 21st Century existence; an existence filled with long commutes, unpaid mandatory overtime, credit card bills, mortgage foreclosures, unemployment, failed relationships and the plethora of modern-day worries, problems and fears that many choose to medicate with alcohol. People justifiably want to escape to a world that is less oppressive and miserable. This explains why the grand-father of escapist fiction is J.R.R. Tolkien and not Jean-Paul Sartre. Continue reading “The Iron Cage of Fantasy: World of Warcraft, City of Heroes and Fable II”


The metaverse: booming despite your absence

Paul Raven @ 31-07-2009

As if an invasion of psychiatrists desperate for work wasn’t hint enough, the metaverse is still big business. Despite the media furore over Second Life and other synthetic worlds having died off considerably, the virtualities themselves have not, as Victor Keegan at The Guardian reports:

Actually, they are booming. The consultancy kzero.co.uk reports that membership of virtual worlds grew by 39% in the second quarter of 2009 to an estimated 579 million. Not all these members are active but I can’t think of anything, anywhere, that has grown so fast in the recession this side of Goldman Sachs bonuses.

There’s another curious thing: Facebook and Twitter are lauded to the skies, but neither has found a way to make money – whereas virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft, Entropia Universe, Habbo Hotel, Club Penguin and Second Life are all profitable because their business models are based on the digital elixir of subscriptions and micropayments, a formula that other websites, including newspapers, would die for. Twitter makes the noise, Second Life makes the money.

If you think virtual worlds are a passing fad, look at the figures. Almost all of the 39% growth came from children.

It seems that many of the newer metaverse startups have learned from Second Life’s very public teething troubles, too:

In order to get a more streamlined experience, most of the new virtual worlds don’t allow users to make their own content. Twinity, which has just raised €4.5m in new funding, has a virtual version of Berlin and Singapore (with London still in the pipeline): you buy existing apartments or rent shops but can’t build yourself. Bluemarsonline.com – still in testing mode – promises much better graphics and more realistic avatars at the expense of not allowing members (as opposed to developers) to create their own content.

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With technology moving so fast and a whole generation growing up for whom having an avatar is second nature, virtual worlds have nowhere to go but up. Only they won’t be virtual worlds – just a part of normal life.

Maybe more normal than normal life. After all, if we continue down the paranoid path of protecting children from reality’s every rough edge, the poor sods will still need somewhere to go and hang out.


Merging with your avatar

Tom James @ 20-07-2009

avatarAn interesting discussion from Thomas Frey at the DaVinci Institute on at which point our individual identity merges with that of our avatars:

With each generation of avatar, they will become more life-like, growing in realism, pressing the limits of autonomy as we become more and more reliant on them for experiencing the world. The avatar will become an extension of ourselves. The pain that we feel is the same pain that they feel, and vice versa. Like symbiotic twins separated only by a dimension or two, we are destined to become one with our avatars.

Karl Schroeder explores a similar notion of avatars becoming extensions of ourselves in Lady of Mazes.

[via FutureBlogger][image from TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³]


Multi-user Google Earth with avatars – this is Unype

Paul Raven @ 20-08-2007

Much as I love Second Life, I’m not so infatuated that I can’t see that Linden Lab are wide open to someone overtaking them with a smaller, lower-spec application with a similar feature set. And while it’s still in Beta (isn’t everything these days?), Unype’s ability to use your Skype account and Google Earth to create a multi-user avatar populated virtual world looks like it has the potential to become a serious contender. Granted, it doesn’t have SL’s content creation features or the bells and whistles … but the lower barriers for entry may render that irrelevant. [Clickable Culture]


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