Thursday 30 October 2008

Virtual Worlds

It had to happen – the digital “whodunnit” crime.

A middle aged piano teacher from Japan was arrested recently for murdering her virtual husband by hacking into his computer and erasing his carefully constructed character from Maplestory, a role playing game. Her crime in real life was hacking into his computer.

A few weeks ago, in a less sinister but bizarre scenario, a friend of mine was swooped upon and passionately kissed in Second Life, another virtual world.

I then switched on the radio and happened to hear assorted food chemists in a happy frenzy discussing modern day equivalents of Roald Dahl’s everlasting gobstoppers and sticks of chewing gum that taste like three course meals.

All of this got me thinking. Where and how do we draw the boundaries between real and virtual?

Our most current example is of course, our virtual money markets. Not that I can claim to understand exactly how they work or why they collapsed like a pack of cards, but it smacks of virtual living gone wrong.

The reason all of this bothers me is that I went to visit the Imperial War Museum.

Entering the hall I was struck by the sheer size of First and Second World War tanks, the hanging bombers and massive guns. I was spellbound by the old helmets and the tattered soldiers’ playing cards, lighters, photos and diaries.

I felt somewhat overcome. Everything seemed too big, too frightening, too ...real.

However, in some ways, it was the innocuous signs outside the Holocaust exhibit and the Crimes Against Humanity sections that made me pause the longest.

“This exhibition is not recommended for children under 14. Parents wishing to take younger children into the Exhibition may do so at their own discretion. Children must be closely supervised at all times.”

Even the last gory Batman movie “The Dark Knight” had a 12A certificate.

So back to the exhibits.

In some ways they were frightening and distressing but only because they refused to hide historical facts. I browsed stories, photos, testimonials, video clips, speeches and poignant remains of shoes, clothes, letters and drawing from concentration camps.

It was a reminder how recent the Holocaust was and how many wars and genocides around the world we’ve created since.

I find it continually amazing that we are so eager to shelter people from the real world - but we are so ready to enter into virtual ones.

What does that really say about us and has it done any good?

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