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Sep 13, 2003



Sorry? I was under the impression that "large numbers of people" were immersing themselves in virtual worlds today. Never mind the future.

Legend of Mir claims 700,000 simultaneous users at peak times--in China....

Sure, this is a "minority taste" at present. But it's not an obscure phenomemon, either.


Ah, VR and caves.

I long took for granted a genealogy of immersive tech similar to ArtMuseum.net's: from Lascaux to Greek theater to magic lanterns to cinema to Smell-o-Vision and so to the visions of Jaron Lanier in a straight line toward the holy grail of perfect immersive fidelity.

The work of media historians like Jonathan Crary has since brought me around to suspecting that the line is not so straight. Different eras and cultures have different ideas of what their spectacles are trying to achieve, and immersion, in the VR sense, hasn't always been the goal.

Nonetheless, there is something deep about the relationship between caves and the virtual worlds we talk about here. Not for nothing did the inventor of the computer game Adventure (wellspring of every MUD and MMOG in existence) base his game maps on his experiences spelunking Kentucky's Mammoth Cave system. Not for nothing did Plato (the original D&D-bashing Concerned Community Leader) choose a darkened cavern as the setting for his famous nightmare of mass-media manipulation, the "Simile of the Cave."

I wrote about these connections at length last year ( http://www.topicmag.com/articles/02/dibbell.html ), but I never did quite figure out any grand unifying theory for the affinity between caves and virtual worlds. I don't think there is one. I think that the meaning of virtual worlds for us now cannot be traced to some single, primordial human urge but is, rather, a maze of twisty little passages, not all of them alike.

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