October 26, 2004

Real virtuality

Note to gamers: I don't know how many gamers actually find this little blog, but if you are a gamer, and especially if you play MMORPGs, then add The Daedalus Project to your bookmarks and participate in his ongoing surveys. Don't forget to answer his essay questions as well. His first couple of articles are not that well done, but his more recent ones are showing a growing appreciation and understanding of the community of online gamers as well as a more thorough grounding in sociology. Judging from his articles, he's one of the few students who actually pays attention during graduate seminars.

I am beginning to understand that the geek survey I took awhile back was far more revealing than I appreciated at the time. In many ways, I am forever trapped between two worlds, the real one and the virtual one. And yes, I expect you, whoever you are, to click on those two links and actually read them, because therein lies the main dichotomy of my shattered personality: the real and virtual are, to my mind, completely interchangeable.

Around 250,000 years ago (Creationists may leave now, this will annoy you) humanity did something no other organism in the 4 billion year history of our world had ever done: it learned how to choose. One side effect of that learning was the need to form an internal vision of the external world, separate them, and use the internal world to project the possible outcomes of doing something unnatural. What was that first choice? I don't know, but the division between the two worlds has remained and that division is the source of both our genius and our madness. For a sane person, the lines between the two worlds are very clear and easy to distinguish. A sane person can both accurately project options using their internal world and make profitable decisions based on those projections in the external world. Insanity of any kind occurs when the line between the real and unreal blurs, loses distinction, or flat-out vanishes altogether. All insanity can be seen as an inability to make profitable real-world decisions. This inability is directly linked to either a failure to make accurate projections using the internal world, or a failure to carry out those projections in the external world.

Like it or not, Descartes' formulation of the internal/external dualism that both helps and hinders us is flawed, because it assumes that man is the center of the world which revolves around him. The external reality which Descartes de-emphasizes in order to prove his point is, in truth, as real as the internal reality he chooses to focus on. "I think, therefore I am," is most certainly true, but that does not detract from the bruise on your leg when you run into the corner of a hardwood desk while dodging the groping hands of an egocentric colleague. Both the internal and external worlds are equally real, and equally virtual.

Physicists discuss "many-worlds", while social scientists debate the reality of "virtual" ones, and yet neither group notices that the object of their discussion has a dualistic existence all its own which lands it squarely in both camps. Every world being studied exists simultaneously in the external reality of the researcher and internally in the virtual reality of their imagination. Scientific speculation and experimentation is designed to precisely lay out the borders of the external world and prevent the internal world from bleeding over into the external one and thus creating a "false" result. However, if quantum mechanics is also real, then there is no division between the internal world and the external one at all because any "false" result will immediately spring off into a new world where the "false" return is true!

Anything we can imagine is real, but that does not mean it is real here and now. The difference between my insanity and your sanity is a function of both current definition and real-world position on a contiguous and constantly shifting time-space continuum. Your sanity is sane here and now, while in my world, you're the crazy one.

We walk through a world of wars, economic inequality, greed, gluttony, egocentrism, arrogance, and countless other human foibles, all of which spring from the mistaken assumption that my internal world (or yours) is a true and accurate representation of the external world. It is not, and it cannot be, because as soon as I imagine something, it slips off into one of those parallel worlds where it is real and this one is imaginary. The core of my own personal insanity is a profound preference for those worlds which are spun off from this one through misinterpretation, misrepresentation, misapprehension, and plain old misunderstanding. The world of my imagining is more preferrable for me because it is far more flexible than the world of your reality. This flexibility in turn pleases my need to endlessly control and manipulate the outcome of every mistake so that it serendipitously becomes something profoundly divine and there is always a happy ending.

I'm not the sharpest tack in the box. As a result, I have made many unrealistic choices, far more than those of you lucky enough to be both sharp and sane. If you were me, wouldn't you prefer a virtual world as well? If I were you, I'd certainly prefer reality!

October 15, 2004

Meditating on a migraine

This has been a very strange week for me. Well, half a week anyway. It all started on Wednesday. I left work early to go play Magic with some fellow expatriates, but as the clock was winding down I got caught up writing a post for the public forums at the official Lineage II website. A number of people who regularly post to the forums had said some things about both the game and the way it is played that for some reason, just really ticked me off. I don't normally get upset about this kind of thing, mostly I ignore it, so I don't know why it triggered such a strong reaction this time.

So I wrote this post pointing out that far too many people who play Lineage II have no respect for the sheer enormity of the technical accomplishment the game itself represents. Not only that, but they are so busy trying to "win" a game with no clear win/loss condition that they never really take the time to understand the mechanics of the game itself. They don't play the game at all, they work it, and then they complain that they aren't having any fun! What's worse, they complain the loudest when they can't use cheat codes, they get banned for running programs that let the game play itself, or when they get caught buying game data at online auctions and get permanently banned from ever playing the game again.

I started this blog because I got banned from a website.

The irony is not lost on me. Now, instead of being the object of a ban, I find myself defending company policies that lead to and enforce bans. I'd like to stand up and scream that the situations are entirely different, but in truth, they are exactly the same. I got banned from Stories.com because I found myself diametrically opposed to the philosophy used to manage the site. I support bans at Lineage II because the people being banned are diametrically opposed to the philosophy used to design and manage the game. I would like to be able to say I am always right and those who disagree with me are always wrong, but sadly, it is not that simple. In truth, that is the core of the problem.

At Stories.com the management believes there is an absolute right and wrong and they alone know the difference. If you agree, you are right. If you disagree, you are wrong. At Lineage II the management believes there is no absolute right and wrong, but there are playstyles that detract from the ingame experience of other players. Stepping back from the issue a startling fact emerges: most of people who are banned from playing Lineage II believe there is an absolute right and wrong, and they are right.

Comparing these two experiences disturbs me to no end. The world I move through (which may or may be the same one you experience) has become polarized between two groups of people: those who believe in absolutes, and those who do not. The thing that scares me the most is that I was raised to believe in absolutes, but as an adult I find myself consistently defending those who can find no absolutes. When I was young, I firmly believed there were absolute right and wrongs and any sane person could easily identify them. Now that I am middle-aged, I find myself walking through a world where nothing is absolute, and yet a war of anarchy is being fought between two groups of believers in absolutes who absolutely disagree with one another.

The end result is a pounding migraine headache complete with nausea over an issue I have absolutely no control over and absolutely no reason to be concerned about.

On days like today I really hate how deeply I think about things. It must be nice to be shallow. Stress-free living at its finest.

October 06, 2004

Hyperlinking Cyberspace

Sullivan had an interesting link in today's post (Media overlooks successes in Iraq) while Sharon is wondering about the etiquette of providing links without asking the respective bloggers. Not so very long ago, I wrote an entry that included blind links to Playboy, Disney, and a Usenet group specializing in erotic stories all in the same sentence. A few years ago, back when Greyhawk Manor actually worked and I was getting a whole 15 hits per day, I got a very angry e-mail from a person who did not want a link to her mythology website on my page. She took a spiritual slant to mythology that I found intriguing, but she thought the Manor was too much like roleplaying and did not want to be associated with it. Incompatible neuroses, I suppose.

Way back when the internet was young, I read a book called "Earth", written by David Brin. One of the key elements in Earth is a global internet that is completely interlinked. Hyperlinks connect key words in news stories with maps, background articles, historical texts, and so on. Even recipes are hyperlinked to farming texts, shopping centers, and gourmet reviews. When an internet based text appears in Earth, there are always a dozen examples of first generation hyperlinks. He presents the internet as it was envisioned by its creators. Naturally, this is a whole lot different than the way it ended up!

And now, just because I can, I'd like to close with a paragraph that has every phrase linked to someplace else. What is the etiquette of linking in cyberspace? So far, there isn't one, and let's hope it stays that way for a long time to come!