French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, author of Simulacra and Simulations, has vacated our reality. Seems right to pause a moment and consider
is truly upon us, and if so, does it mean we have sold our collective soul for
the promise of bigger, better, faster, more, convincing ourselves in the
process that pale imitations of precious human activities are fulfilling us?
It is more difficult for us to imagine the real, History, the depth of time, or three-dimensional space, just as before it was difficult from our real world perspective to imagine a virtual universe or the fourth-dimension. The simulacra will be ahead of us everywhere. The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth — it is the truth which conceals that there is none. Since the world is on a delusional course, we must adopt a delusional standpoint towards the world. - Baudrillard
So, let's talk about our delusions...
Many of us find ourselves in the position of defending videogames and virtual worlds in particular, arguing that in the absence of safe physical spaces, videogames are an adequate substitute for socially-binding play, or that we develop important skills (my favorite soapbox), can cease bowling alone, find sanctuaryand freedom of expression, or various other platitudes that we technophiles embrace in order to rationalize the thing we love and others fear.
And while I tend to view the glass as half full and that we are better off focusing on what's positive… Well, Baudrillard est mort. So let’s pause for a minute and consider and look at the evidence that he might have been right - does the presence of simulacra mean there is no truth? Or is it just a different kind of truth that springs from the creation of different kinds of worlds? Consider:
- Kids don’t have real pets anymore. Why have something that scratches the furniture and pisses on everything when you can have simulacra that are much less troublesome? I confess to buying my kid a robot dog for Christmas in the vain hope that she will stop nagging me for a real pet. How long before I have the option of deciding that if I can't find Mr. Right, I can have him built? I mean, if I'm entirely self-absorbed, what do I care if he actually exists or not, let alone what he dreams about? I bet I could mod him to give me foot massages and not leave his dirty socks lying around. I can take that last boyfriend who was so perfect in so many ways and just tweak the not-so-good stuff out of him. I mean, really, what's the downside?
- There is a '"modern-day equivalent of hippies freaking out the squares." Sigh.
- LEGO toys are now an MMOG. Does every major brand in the world need to have a virtual world associated with it? Isn’t the whole point of LEGO the joy of unstructured physical play? (I’m becoming more and more of a luddite as I type – I’d better lay off the Wendell Berry essays)
- Those Entropia ATM cards? Did anyone ever really think that was real money?
- Even cute little web toys create existential identity crises for young children. My 3-year old and I created a version of her in Pictaps, which then rendered a scene that included several dozen versions of her. Is it any wonder that we are so self-absorbed when it is so easy to insert ourselves into the center of so many universes? Amazon adapts to me. RSS pushes news to me. We no longer have to adapt to our environments because our environments adapt to us. Or so we think. Once our credit card numbers stop working, well, it's over.
- Girlfriends need to play videogames so couples have something to do on dates. Now I'm big fan of people exploring alternate manifestations of their relationships in virtual spaces, but it's pretty incredible how divisive an issue this can be in relationships. If you have any doubt, spend some time lurking on the EQ widows mailing list.
- People are having teledildonics-enhanced cybersex. Okay, well, this shouldn't surprise anyone. In an ecosystem, every niche gets filled.
- In the race to stake some claim to the Metaverse, hype eclipses reality. Yeah, I know we're well used to this phenomenon, but it seems to be taking on entirely new dimensions. It's hardly necessary to do something, only to say that one's going to do something - that's what PR people everywhere count on.
- The virtual invades the real. No wonder we're all so confused. But overlays of the virtual on the real are just so freaking cool.
- Our world might just be one big virtual world and we might be the AI. But if there's a heaven, it's kind of fun imagining Baudrillard there right now getting the real scoop.
- We exercise our physical bodies using virtual spaces. All part of wishing these pesky physical bodies wouldn't react so badly to our obsessions with virtual activity.
- Entire countries are obsessed with virtual sports. What's next? Mandatory avatar registration?
- China is electrocuting Internet addicts. No, no, you'll live in OUR REALITY, not yours!
So, are we that opaque mass that happily accepts meaningless substitutes for meaning, while simultaneously scratching our heads wondering why we are bored and depressed and narcissistic? And if so, do we really care? Or is reality worth fighting for? And can reality be found in virtual spaces, despite the prevailing notion that non-physical=not real? In fact, might virtual reality foster spaces and communities where mainstream consumerist tribalism is sidelined and meaning can be found again? Is that the real possibility of play?
Or does the possibility that there is no reality but hyperreality mean that hyperreality is now reality?
Ah hell. My little brain hurts. I'm no philosopher. But vive la réalité! What do you all think?