How do you explain where you are going to someone when you enter a virtual world? Is it a secret adventure, another world or just a game? Or is it a curiosity into the new. For those Gamers and Second Lifers, it’s a question we really never ask. In world – our world – the world we enter, is a way of life. To question it is the same as questioning the concrete world that we inhabit. Why do we exist? What is our purpose here? What is this existence for.
Sitting in front of a computer screen, we click buttons and move the mouse and then emerge as a character in an inexplicable world that sends the adrenalin flowing. It’s a new world, one devoid of many of real life constricts. It’s a creative, challenging, secret world. It’s a world that we can either shed all inhibitions or play out a life we wish we had. It’s an addictive form of escapism.
I’ve criticised the way that the controllers of such environments have manipulated such environments for commercial reasons. Second Life is run on real money with a real economy and creates real problems. Like any addiction, Second Life or many MMORPGs, the inhabitants find it hard to leave behind their concrete world and create a mirror image of it in world. But the potential of these environments is vast on many scales – the potential to breakdown barriers, to allow everyone to cohabit in harmony (albeit often at war with each other). We hide behind masks. We drag our alter egos into virtuality. We sit in front of screens en masse across every continent. Going there is just another inexplicable concept that we accept.
The screen has been acclaimed as a 20th century revolution. But as we move further into the 21st century, the effects of the screen are becoming more and more apparent. Spending too much time in front of a screen can cause a number of side effects including headaches, eye strain, tension, hyperactivity and even depression to name only a few. It can affect sleep, relationships and self-esteem. There have been several reports of children committing suicide after playing for too long where reality and virtuality have blurred into one.
In the New Scientist today, Nic Fleming reports on the negative aspects of too much screen time for kids. .
Are we nurturing a generation who will have the worst psychological problems in adulthood that Western Society has ever seen?
About eight years ago, an American teenager in the same chat forum as I, complained that everyone was bored in life and suggested that what America needed was a war to liven things up. I remember the onslaught of replies that suggested America was invincible and such attacks would never happen. There was a feeling of shock running through me when he posted. Eight years later, the twin towers were brought down. That teenager would have been in his twenties by that time – perhaps newly out of university and just starting a career – perhaps in Wall Street. I always wonder if he remembered his post and if that was the war he envisaged.
Computer games are important in many lives. They create challenges and interaction with others and allow many with disabilities to communicate in a way that they could not in their real life. The environment is rich in visual stimulation and the designs are superb. Teenagers, who are predominantly the users of these games, constantly seek this form of activity. I would much rather see them gaming than creating havoc on the streets. But you need a computer to game and for some games you need a powerful internet connection. That’s not something that everyone can afford.
The media use the term ‘addiction’ more frequently than ever these days when discussing computer gaming. Stories of users committing suicide or relationship failures blamed on this addiction are rich pickings for journalists. But to what extent can we blame gamers for being obsessed with a world that takes them out of their real one?
Are you an addict? Take the test!