Today I had a chat with Philip Rosedale, who is planning a sequel to his “Second Life” shared virtual world. We agreed on a lot of things, but on one point we ended up having a little bit of an intellectual tug of war.
Philip feels that because people really want to communicate with each other, it is extremely important to convey the nuance and subtlety of things like facial expression and head movement. On some level this makes a lot of sense to me.
Yet I feel that on another level it may not be the best goal. The more you try to recreate reality, the higher you raise people’s expectations, since people are experts at experiencing reality itself. The resulting dissonance is often referred to as the “uncanny valley”, which I think is largely a result of unmet expectations.
We have no problem relating to Bugs Bunny, but most people had quite a bit of difficulty relating to the far more literally realistic characters in “Polar Express” or the 2007 animated “Beowulf”. The more we work to make something look/act “real”, the greater the disappointment when those efforts fail.
There is another reason I would like to see a shared world with less focus on realism: It would be far easier to have something I think such social on-line worlds should have (which Second Life did not): Cool non-player characters. For one thing, things get a little more interesting in a virtual world if you are never quite sure who is real and who isn’t.