|eXistenZ||2007-06-24 18:32:00 GMT
by Kami Harbinger
Computer games and virtual worlds do something strange to our perception of reality. They bleed over, they tantalize us with more powerful interfaces and additional information we can't acquire in the real world. We're left with the nagging feeling that the "real world" is not real, that this is the imitation sub-reality we don't belong in.
I've been experiencing this effect all my life. I can do near-total immersion into a game, which gives me far better overwatch of the screen (rather than just focusing on a point), faster in-game reaction, etc... But surprises in-game will startle me physically, and it takes a while to wear off. Some traits never left.
Driving games like Pole Position and Burnout permanently damaged the way I drive. At least kids these days have Gran Turismo, which isn't so deranged, but my hyper-aggressive "accelerate into, through, and out of curves" type-A driving owes a lot to videogames. Don't worry, I no longer drive in cities, I can't stand to be stuck in traffic. I've never hit anyone, never had a crash, but as a friend put it, "The way you drive, you'll only ever have one crash".
Missile Command was the first one I noticed it in. I would see a skyline and look for missiles. If I saw contrails, I'd have a moment of total "which world am I in?".
The Atari 800 game Rescue From Fractalus (more screenshots) ate my brain for months. I would dream about sweeping the planet for survivors, getting ambushed by Jaggies. I would always jump when the Jaggies pounded on my screen, even when I knew it was them. Even now, certain mountain ranges look like the mountains of Fractalus, and I get confused for a second.
Alternate Reality: The City didn't change my behavior, I think, but I'm still there: I often dream in AR, and hear the music. The life simulation of AR influenced all of my later game design; I've spent my entire life building things similar to Alternate Reality or Ultima.
Doom had a profound effect on me. I instinctively check corners when I walk into a room; there could be a demon or another player there. You laugh now, but I'll be the one laughing when a demon's eating your face. Key-cards in secure facilities give me deja vu and trepidation, as I know the game's going to get much harder on the other side.
Descent was just plain dangerous. I could barely walk after playing a few hours of it. I had to wait half an hour before I could drive again, or I'd try sideslipping and maneuvering in 3D. The worst Descent experience was walking into a bathroom which was tiled floor to ceiling with tiles exactly like the walls in a Descent level. I could barely stand up for perspective confusion.
One afternoon after playing too much Final Fantasy XI, I took a nap. Waking up, I was hungry, and my first thought was that I needed to get my sword, go to the park, hunt cockatrices, then use a fire crystal on them to cook meat mithkabobs... I was halfway across the room to my swords before I realized that was insane... There are no cockatrices in the park, just squirrels!
Animal Crossing: Wild World looks cute and harmless, right? Unless you live near a garden full of apple trees, in which case the urge to go steal all their apples every third day is nearly irresistible. Sadly, this doesn't seem to pay the rent as well in RL as it does in AC. I've had many dreams in Yama, my Animal Crossing town. It's such an idyllic world, so easy to live in as long as you do a quick bit of maintenance on the town and your animal friends, that it's hard not to dream there.
Second Life is all of those and more. I get annoyed that I can't fly or teleport, or change my avatar quickly, or dance for 4 hours straight. Flight, in particular. The notion that I'm stuck on the ground and have to find stairs or an elevator is confusing and weird, and I'll spend some seconds trying to see the balcony or window I need to get to, before realizing I have to go inside a building to go up. My first thought about how to get somewhere is to grab the map and teleport (Google Maps on my Treo is a partial substitute...). I obsessively observe the construction details of architecture, furniture, and gadgets, because I need to figure out how to build it in the least number of prims. Cell phones are a reasonable substitute for IM, but I pine for my tabbed group chats. I often wish I could turn on name bubbles and mouse over objects for a description.
There are positive effects. I've found that I dress better after using SL for a while. My avatar still dresses better than I do, but we're getting close now.
I use my avatar's name in a number of non-SL contexts now. Am I really sure which is the avatar and which the "real" person? "Are we still in the game?"
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