Virtual worlds have been rolling about the collective imagination for years. But where did they come from, and, more importantly, where are they going?
Some of the first virtual worlds are early IRC chat rooms and MUDs. While these served to ignite the minds of those not daunted by these newfangled computers, they never really enjoyed mainstream acceptance, or really acknowledgement.
The general public's first glimmer of the possibilities of a virtual existence came with the AOL chat room culture taking the net by storm, creating little corners in which people could discuss anything from mashed potato recipes to the continuing storyline of Final Fantasy ... as made up by the inhabitants of the room.
Neuromancer and Tron also set creative wheels in motion, casting an interesting light on possible communication methods and even lifestyles. These stories and ideas prepped a generation of tech-comfortable people for a life of using virtual worlds.
Then came Garriott with his Ultima Online. And then came EverQuest, Second Life and World of Warcraft. Each round of virtual world drew a larger player base. People first played, spending hours of leisure time in these worlds.
And then someone, not the builders, figured out how to monetize these virtual worlds. From land speculation to creating goods for sale to "farming" resources for sale, virtual worlds took on a semblance of reality when people's worldly needs were paid for by their activities in virtual spaces. And people spent more time, relationships grew and died, entire social hierarchies were formed.
People are beginning to live the entirety of their lives in a virtual space. Some scoff at them for doing so, but let's take a look at many people's daily, real life. The larger our cities grow, the more spread out they become, making commutes longer. We have less time to make contact with people - the after work cocktail scene has all but died for the majority of the population.
The internet has so sped up and increased the efficiency of work, most of us sit in front of a monitor all day - emailing, IMing, reading - many of us going long stretches without hearing a human voice. Is that work more real than a guild officer corralling a 200-person guild? Or how about someone who makes a six-figure income in a virtual world selling virtual land - is that less real?
What's the next step for virtual worlds - we're already socializing, entertaining/being entertained, even working there. What's left? This week, The Escapist takes on this issue, virtual worlds, their creators and their uses. Enjoy!