The Implications of Virtual Worlds

Where does societal change come from? The printing press changed the way knowledge is distributed. The automobile revolutionized transportation. The computer revolutionized business. And now virtual worlds are changing the way we interact with each other. It took the implementation of the interstate highway system to allow the automobile reach its full potential. In this same light, we have not yet seen the full potential of virtual worlds. We’re currently witnessing the change. The big question is: where will this road take us?

Humans have never before had the opportunity to explore the possibilities offered by virtual worlds. For the first time in human history we’re able to use Avatars to represent ourselves differently, simulate interpersonal interaction and are truly making distance obsolete. These newfound possibilities are changing the way people and businesses function.

MMORPG’s are not for me, but they seem to be very effective ways of socializing for some people. It may seem silly to many of us that they have developed relationships with each other while playing WOWC. But a true connection is created when people work together to complete tasks, regardless of where or how it’s done. At the WOWC conference, there was a married couple that met while playing the game. Our class snickered that “they’re not even touching,” because they looked so stiff. I don’t think that is caused by the game: that’s their personalities. If anything, the game connected them in a way that was not possible just a decade ago.

We saw a massive IBM office building devoid of its inhabitants. They were still working full-time, but the need to physically be at an office was obsolete. If I was opening a new branch of a company that could be staffed by teams that interact virtually, I would skip the $20 million facilities cost. Commercial real-estate in the US is valued at $4 trillion. Will virtual worlds put a dent in this figure?

The military has used virtual worlds to change warfare. Never before has a pilot been able to return home to their family after a day of unleashing ariel strikes. This certainly removes the human cost to our side of the battle, but drone technology probably won’t stop here. Where will this go in the future? Will the empty office building actually be our battle front someday?

Overall, these examples display a blurring of the lines between the real world and the virtual world. I don’t see this as good or bad, it’s just a change. Certainly a disconnect from the real world has implications, but we’ve yet to see an overall negative result. So far, the results appear positive.

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