Virtual Worlds

The virtual world was created to provide experiences that the real world cannot—or at least this seems to be the perspective of Jane McGonigal and the authors of the articles we explored this week (Why Virtual Worlds Can Matter by Douglas Thomas & John Seely Brown, Staging the New Retail Drama by Savvas Papagiannidis & Michael Bourlakis, and Ethical Issues in Second Life by Hope R. Botterbusch & R. S. Talab). McGonigal seems to believe that reality is broken and that the virtual world provides the intrinsic rewards that human beings desire. These rewards include benefits like social interaction and conjoined action. Thomas and Brown concur with McGonigal and explore the reasons why virtual worlds can matter. As defined by Thomas and Brown, virtual worlds are persistent, avatar-based social spaces that provide players with the ability to engage in long-term, coordinated action. By the characteristic, persistent, it is obvious that the virtual world is there even when you are not and when you log out you are missing out. Ironically, as I see it, when players are logged into virtual worlds they are missing out on the real world, real life. Yes, I hear the arguments from supporters and players of virtual reality worlds and I respect and take into account their opinions. Losing myself in a virtual world is not my style however.

Judging by the article by Botterbusch and Talab, Ethical Issues in Second Life, virtual worlds are not always the dream places players have created. There are still problems in this world, that transfer from virtual to real world problems. Exploitation, vandalism and harassment, identity issues, and crime are a few of the ethical issues faced by participants in the virtual reality world, Second Life. People take this world seriously and spend a lot of time and actual money on ‘the game.’ So what happens when another avatar steals an item you paid real life money for? Is it still a crime if it is in a virtual world? It seems like the answer to this dilemma is yes, and sometimes real-world lawyers need to take action. Does this start to blur the two worlds?

If players that have experiences in the game can relate these experiences to real life, I believe virtual worlds have been productive. But, if someone is just going through the motions of their real life, only to have more time to play in a make-believe world, games are pointless. Thomas and Brown make the argument that the conceptual blending that occurs between the player and avatar guides learning. The imagination and the act of agency that is created between the two worlds give voice to new dispositions within networked worlds and environments that are well suited to effective communication, problem solving, and social interaction. Thomas and Brown believe the things participants in virtual worlds are learning, as well as the ways they are learning them, can tell us a lot about the future of digital learning environments, what they may look like as well as how they may be used. It will be interesting to see how businesses change in the future as the generations who grew up playing virtual games enter the workforce. Like IBM, will office buildings be empty, while meetings are held in virtual meeting spaces? As much as virtual worlds interest me, I prefer the face-to-face interaction I have with real life human beings.

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