AS THE WINDY DAYS OF AUTUMN stretch out before me, as the leaves on the trees begin to turn to gold, I find myself thinking back on past experiences in my life.
Like the time I went wandering in the farmlands outside the medieval village of Tristram and unexpectedly came across that very vocal cow.
Or the time I infiltrated Area 51 in Nevada and poked around in that alien spacecraft.
Then there’s the time more recently, that emotional night in Ostagar, when my friend Duncan initiated me into a sect of mysterious Grey Wardens.
Wait. These were all things I only experienced while playing video games — in Diablo, Tomb Raider, and Dragon Age: Origins, respectively. They didn’t actually “happen.” How can I be nostalgic for something I only encountered in a video game?
Would my experience have been more “real” if it had been part of a MMO game — if I’d been interacting with other actual human beings online while doing these things?
The fact is, whether there were other living human beings around or not, I do feel nostalgia. When I think about these experiences, I’m flooded with fond feelings. And while I also feel fondness for books I’ve read and movies I’ve loved, it’s not quite the same feeling: with books and movies, it doesn’t quite feel like “I” was there, like it happened to me.
Here it does — because, of course, the experience was interactive. It did happen to me … sort of.
What is “reality” anyway? How are “other people” ultimately any different from cyber-creations, at least from my own subjective point-of-view?
Oh, boy. Best not to pursue that line of thinking too far.
There’s already been way too much written about the future of entertainment, how a Star Trek-like holodeck is the inevitable destination to which which we’re all furiously rushing, a virtual reality indistinguishable from “real” life — except, of course, that it’s way more beautiful and active and entertaining.
To hear many sci-fi writers tell it, our brains will eventually reject reality altogether, choosing instead the ever-increasing stimulation of the virtual world.
Island of the Lotus-Eaters, here we come!
Basically, Skynet won’t need to declare war on us, and the makers of The Matrix won’t have to bother plopping us into saline baths to power their machines. We’ll have long since surrendered to the cyber-void. The human race will end with a whimper, a virtual one at that, not a bang.
Depending on the day you ask me, I might agree or disagree with these predictions. But today I think: like any new media, the entire virtual experience is not “good” or “bad.” It’s completely neutral, merely a tool, to be used or misused based ultimately on the character and integrity of the human race.
Yikes. As Krusty the Clown might say, “Oy. That’s not good!”
The greater point is, we’re all fools not to acknowledge the massive, transformative change that is currently occurring in the human race — a change that’s centered on that Xbox (or whichever is your platform of choice) sitting atop your television.
Increasingly, I’m finding myself nostalgic for things that never “happened,” for experiences I never really had.
And that is simultaneously extremely cool and also, when you think about, kind of off-the-charts terrifying.
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