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Virtual worlds - it's time to take out the intellectual trash

By Malcolm King - posted Wednesday, 5 December 2007


It doesn't matter if you live in Hong Kong, Singapore or Sydney, you would have heard about the revolution of on-line gamers and the virtual worlders and their humanoid avatars. They say there's big money to be made by getting online now. The PR spin coming out of Linden Corp, the creators of Second Life, and one of the most popular of the virtual worlds, is astounding.

It's time to take out this intellectual trash.

Most people welcome the fantastic technological break-troughs in electronic communication in the last 20 years (although my email inbox groans under the sheer volume of messages). While I have some doubts about the quality of some of that information, I have also witnessed the parabolic growth in hype associated with modern communications.

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A Sydney “cyber academic”, Lauren Papworth, said, “it (online game playing) is an escape born of necessity for the young. In the modern world, parks and streets are considered too dangerous for games or meeting friends and fretting parents insist their precious offspring spend more time indoors than out.”

They're going to be better off learning to play guitar, lacrosse, karate, cricket, soccer or chess than sitting alone in a darkened bedroom battling god-knows-what coming at them in 3D through their computer screen.

“The growth experienced by the computer industry doesn't seem to be coming at the expense of book sales in Australia, and that's fascinating. I would argue that computer games, being fairly text-heavy with their complex plots and instructions require literacy, traditional literacy,” said Peter Lalor, in The Australian recently (September 21).

So computer games are good for childhood or teenage literacy because they have to read the instructions? Pigs might fly. The fields of imagination are greenest when one is allowed to travel through literature unguided, rather than be directed by a computer programmer's vision.

Let's cut to the chase. Many “cyber academics” make the astounding claim that the medium of online virtual worlds, such as Second Life, is reality. So virtual worlds are as real as you and me. That's right: conception, love, sadness, ecstasy, reflection, and death. The whole existential merry-go-round.

That's a big claim. One argument goes like this. Cyber worlds are forms of life just as works of art are more than the sum of the materials that comprise them. And here's where they introduce the linguistic slight of hand. Therefore, all thinking is virtual because it stands apart from the object in question.

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If all thinking is virtual, then cyberspace (which is nothing more than a mass of networks) must also be virtual and is simply a part, by extension, of human consciousness.

This type of thinking means that when I go fishing, my fishing rod and me form an irreducible bond of “oneness” simply because in order to go fishing, I need my fishing rod.

There's nothing about thinking that is virtual. One can try describe it in terms of metaphors such as consciousness operates like a machine, an organism or a hologram, but whatever consciousness is - that most defining mark of the human race - it isn't virtual. It's primary, apparent and real. The brilliant Scottish philosopher David Hume, who had problems proving the existence of reality, admitted that it “does seem pretty concrete”.

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This article was published in the November edition of the Adelaide Review.



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About the Author

Malcolm King works in generational workforce change. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University. He also runs a professional writing business called Republic.

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