07 February 2008

One World Is Enough for All of Us...

"Virtual reality, the reality that might be said to be perfectly homogenized,
digitized and 'operationalized,' substitutes for the other [the "real" world]
because it is perfect, verifiable and non-contradictory. So, because it is more
'complete,' it is more real than what we have established as simulacrum."
[Baudrillard, Passwords 39]

It's important to understand that for Baudrillard there is no real world, no accessible, verifiable reality in the sense of concrete fact: it's all layered interpretations. But that's not really all that new, since Nietzsche argued similarly way back in the late nineteenth century. So what we've "established as simulacrum" is what most of us call the "real world." However, since it's so built on perception and interpretation, it leaves holes and inconsistencies, and that's where virtual reality comes in to save us -- it has rules programmed straight into it, and those rules don't change. Hence Cube's story of the Sims Reign of Terror.

It's important for the players to know that the game is fair, that the inequalities and indignations of their real lives can be leveled by the program running behind the GUI in their virtual worlds. My avatar can be the right height and weight, even if I'm not. It's like existentialism gone horribly wrong: instead of the despair I'm supposed to feel in being condemned to be free, I seize upon my freedom to remake myself in every aspect -- I'm a suave urbane ladies man with a nice car and well-appointed apartment. Why not?

Are we more like ourselves as we want to be when we're in our Second Life? We already know that the [relative, assumed, and imperfect] anonymity of the internet allows us to be nasty to perfect strangers, perhaps proof nearly a century later of Freud's major thesis in Civilization and Its Discontents that society's real problem is that it's built on a trade-off between freedom and safety that as human organisms we've never fully accepted.

Are we more free in the online world, or does that assumed freedom simply remind us of how constrained we are in our offline lives?

1 comment:

m.a. said...

I think that it reminds me how constrained we are in real life. But it does remind me that there are a lot of smart people out there. Like you.