I’ve been thinking about how I look at the world differently since writing about it publicly every day, and of the other parallel cultures that have been wrought by cyber-technology, including “Twitter”, texting, and all the various and sundry social networks. One of the strange things about “Facebook” and its various cousins is that there is no real sense of a shared space, a living room where we can all sit by the fire and feel like we’re hanging out and spending time together. It all still feels very much like mutual shouting-out from across the street.
I realize that we are still in an early stage of all this, where things are sorting themselves out. It’s a bit like those very first years of cinema, at the start of the silent era, before the emergence of anything like the psychological realism and focus on character that we now take for granted on our movie screens.
I can’t help thinking that we are gradually building toward something more.
The pseudo-geographical shared worlds that I know of still all seem bereft of something essential. “Worlds of Warcraft” - like “Everquest” and similar fantasy-novel inspired game worlds - is mostly about directed heroic quests out of Tolkien, without the intense focus on subtle emotions and relationships that made us really care about Bilbo, Frodo, Sam and company.
“Second Life” seems to be mostly about real estate and strange erotic dress-up, and a lot of people protending that they don’t mind the jerky emotionlessness of the experience - the complete lack of the sort of sensuality that we demand of, say, movies or paintings.
“The Grand Theft Auto” series, as well as the “Half Life” worlds, are wonderful things, in all their aggressive splendor, but they are clearly not attempts to build on-line community outside of the shared thrill of shooting and fighting your way through game levels. I mean, would you really want to develop your close personal relationships in a place where your brains could be splattered against the wall at any moment- and where knowing that such possibilities are actually very much the point?
Will Wright and colleagues attempted to put “The Sims” on-line, but that didn’t turn out all too well. Somehow the origins of those characters as animated figures in a virtual doll house kept getting in the away of supporting an illusion that they are really us.
There are literary cyberworlds, but one hungers for a visual component, a space - something with the sort of sensuality and mystery that comes to mind when I think back on the original “Myst”.
It might make sense to first try to describe such a shared on-line world, even before trying to build it. I suspect some of the key components for building such a place are still missing - notably the ability of on-line characters to convey subtle emotions in a way that convinces for any extended period of time - so there’s probably still lots of time to have the conversation now, to prepare for what will undoubtedly be lots of work to do later.