Thursday, February 7, 2013

When Does Virtual Stop Being Virtual?

It seems the online world is now not so virtual. We've seen things like Youtube celebs turning into real life celebs. The likes of Justin Bieber and PSY (Gagnam Style. Apparently he was already famous in Korea as being a kind of equivalent to Weird Al Yankovich). But it goes deeper than that.

"Unfriending" someone on facebook results in people avoiding other people in real life. During my time on Google Plus I kind of realised this when I thought that someone's online presence was kind of dumb (an obsession with the service) and apologised for removing her from my circles (in meatspace). The article linked about also says that females are more likely to avoid someone in real life after being unfriended.

This goes into the whole difference between communication in the different genders. I've decided that us males are quite aggressive in the way that we communicate. I remember having an argument with a friend about the best way to deal with boxes of stuff. I quite like the "put the box out of the way. After a certain period of time, chuck the box out". The reasoning being that if you've gone through the effort to find stuff, then it's stuff you'll use. Anything that's still in the box after that predetermined amount of time is obviously not all that important. He thought the being tough, made for TV style was better - go through the box and form 2 piles - chuck out, keep. No inbetween. We might as well have been yelling at each other. It was dumb. But we still had a coffee together. We knew it was dumb...

Meanwhile, last night on TV, during Hell's Kitchen, there was an interesting example of this same communication style - only applied to a female. The blue team now has a female and when it came to putting someone's neck on the chopping block, one of the guys said something to the female character which most males would dismiss and probably tell the guy to go fornicate himself. She cried. The funny bit was the men's reaction to this. They genuinely didn't know what to do or why she was crying.

But back to the matter at hand. Back in 2007 a 17 year old was arrested for stealing virtual furniture from an online social media game called "Habbo Hotel". In 2010, the Finnish police were again searching computers for stolen virtual furniture. In 2009 a man was arrested for "stealing" avatars from a Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG - I kid you not). Also in 2009, a man made off with 200 billion kredits, the legal currency of "Eve Online" - another MMORPG. Those kredits were then sold and the proceeds used to put a deposit on a house. This list could go on and on.

It turns out that they take the theft of virtual stuff brought with real money seriously. But where are people's values? I remember being at a friend's and their son was practically hyperventilating in his quest to find the hidden room in a level of a game. When he was sat down and told "It doesn't matter. None of it has any meaning" the child became more inconsolable. When I ask "Where are people's values?" I'm not talking about immoral behaviour, but more, what people find important. If you're playing a game, do you then go and spend craploads of money on a sword? Do you spend a little bit more for that virtual couch that's a little more comfortable than that other virtual couch just so that your virtual self can be a bit more comfortable? And if you're running this sort of thing and find out someone has stolen a virtual couch... well the manufacturing costs are pretty low - you could "give" them a virtual couch and fix up the security flaw that allowed the theft to happen. You've got to wonder about the sort of person who buys kredits - paying enough that the proceeds can then be used on the deposit on a house.

Facebook is a little bit harder due to their use of language. You can friend someone or "unfriend" them. You send out invites (This is a cause of distress to me. I won't go on Facebook but as a result I miss a whole lot of invitations. There are some people I haven't seen for years as a result. Being stubborn has its sacrifices) and people can RSVP (or apply a "maybe").

Speaking of the good ol' maybe. Back in the day - before cellphones and the various bits of technology around them, we'd have to make plans and then keep them. Standing someone up was an offensive which couldn't be dismissed with a single text. The way that we communicate and how we take things like changed plans (or ambiguous plans - although, meeting at a cafe wasn't so hard because they weren't chain stores with the possibility of 2 or 3 on the same street) has changed dramatically.

So I arrive back at the question "Where are people's values?". My own values don't see games as terribly important and the fact that people spend stupid amounts of time and money on it is, to me, their fault/problem. A less moral version of me would probably be looking for ways to leverage the fact that there are people out there who are willing to throw lots of money towards these thigns. The virtual social world of facebook/myspace/google plus etc., while can be used for social aspects (getting invites, making plans to meet up in person etc.), doesn't reflect how I feel about people. There are people who I've blocked on email, not because I don't like them, but because I don't like the content they send me (Various virus warnings. Ways of making money online. Religious chain mails etc.). I get that people probably don't always appreciate my roguish ramblings challenging them not to see money as "all that and a bag of chips" (go on... become a hippy with me).

Unfriend me.... see if I care (Just try not to mess up my stats on your way out).

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