Tales From Earth:Reality? Virtually!

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This is part of the compilation created for the book Tales From The Third Planet, created by the Cubehunters on Earth, and printed by Lulu. Anyone can buy it here, with proceeds to go to unfiction! :)


Reality? Virtually!

Gaming, on Earth, is increasingly becoming a way of life. I don't mean sports, which have been around as long as man. I mean electronic gaming. Which although they have been around for over 30 years, with titles such as pong, have only recently started to 'take-off.' From flight simulators (please excuse the pun) to brain-bending strategy games. This is due to the advances in computer technology and the development of computer consoles. However the thing I find most interesting about this phenomenon is the ever blurring boundary between reality and gaming, or fantasy. Just to further emphasise this point, it is stated that Japan describes electronic gaming as a national sport holding annual national tournaments, which involve 'games consoles' as I mentioned above.

Ever since the internet became widely available into people's homes, we have been using it to communicate on a global scale; often using an alter-ego, an 'online handle' living as a character which can be who, or whatever you want it to be. Unfortunately some people use this ability for unsavory activities, however I still have faith in mankind as I have taken many hours of pleasure from playing games which harness the power and opportunities of the internet. There are 2 types of games that I feel blur the lines of reality, ARG's (Alternate Reality Games) where the players are submerged in the story by means of interaction with characters and real world events or advertisements; and the second type is affectionately known as MMORPG, or Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Games.

Whether or not this cross-over is a good thing, is something for debate elsewhere. I am just here to give you my take on the phenomenon. I have only recently been introduced into the world of ARG's and have been loving my experience. If nothing else, this is a great way to make friends and meet new people that you would have otherwise probably never met. Most people however, take much more from there experiences in ARG's as each one is different and there are so many different aspects to each Scenario. People of all ages, abilities, and origins can come together to 'solve' or 'explore' the events and characters involved, each using their own specific skills and talents. Racism and Prejudice can be forgotten about in the Alternate Reality world, either by way of people working together towards a common goal or by means of creating yourself an 'online handle' to hide anything you fear may be subject to prejudice. For example, I use a wheelchair and have done all my life due to a condition known as Spina Bifida, I do not hide this fact from people but in the world of ARG's I have the option to only reveal this information to those people whom I feel will not think any differently of me because of it, so that my ideas and input may be given the same respect as anyone elses. I am happy to say that everyone I have spoken to in the virtual world has been open-minded enough to accept people for whoever they are, and therefore I have enjoyed my experiences browsing forums, surfing websites, cracking codes found in newspapers and monitoring live chatter during live events to help my comrades in the quest to reach the goal of the ARG. I feel I should aknowledge that this almost disputes my original claim about the blurring of reality and gaming, however I feel that rather than dispute, it PROVES my point, in that sometimes it is possible for people to feel more comfortable in a virtual world rather than reality. This has only been a short insight into the world of Alternate Reality Gaming, because as I said above, I have only recently been introduced to it. I would highly recommend this activity to anyone who likes to meet and chat to people, work as part of a team, and basically just have fun working through the various puzzles and challenges that the different scenarios pose, and I hope that some of you at least take a look at the world of ARG's as a result of reading this brief insight. I would like to thank the moderators and members of WWW.UNFICTION.COM for taking me in and helping me out in understanding the goings on in the exciting virtual world, and making it a most enjoyable experience.

My main area of expertise in the field of online gaming is MMORPG's. I have been taking part in this activity for about 3 years now, starting with a game called Legend of Mir: The Three Heroes (from here-on in, referred to as LoM) [WWW.LEGENDOFMIR.NET] There are 3 main types of MMORPG: Real Life, Sci-fi and Fantasy. LoM falls into the fantasy category and this is the first MMORPG I had heard of as it was recommended to me by a friend. There are 3 available characters classes to choose from: Warrior, Taoist, and Wizard. This is your first opportunity to choose who you want to be and how you want to play. LoM was one of the first generation of MMORPG's and is therefore one of the more basic examples of the genre. Each class of character has different attributes which you as the player can choose between to 'level-up' by adding or 'wearing' items. which can either be found or 'bought' in-game, using the LoM currency of gold. Items and even character's or 'game accounts' can even be bought using 'real-world' money, for example via WWW.EBAY.COM i.e. A Judgement Mace, which is a rare, heavy duty weapon for a Warrior (the class that I chose) in LoM currency would cost about 30 million gold pieces, has been known to sell for around £100 real world money on ebay. Just to put things in perspective, i've played on and off for around 3 years, playing 4 hours a day sometimes, and have amassed no more than 6 million including items, so you can imagine how much time and effort someone would have to put in to get some of the more valuable items. Or maybe you could just be a lucky begger and find the items. This cross-over, or merging between the virtual world of online gaming and the real-world trading, at first boggled my mind. I couldn't believe, or understand, why someone would be willing to part with so much real world money for something that didn't even exist, except in the virtual world. Until, that is I began to make money from this myself, selling items that I found in the world of LoM via real world methods. Unfortunately I was never lucky enough to find anything of exceptional value. On top of all this, there is a sociological aspect of LoM, in that you can join or form your own 'Guild.' A guild is a group of people (players) who all share a common interest in the game, or who have a similar playing style. Some guild's prefer to hunt certain areas, some to hunt certain prey, and some to mine for resources or trade/craft items etc. These are just a few of the activities which you can take part in in the world of LoM. Some guilds even are formed by people who share real-world interests and just spend time in the world of LoM discussing real-world events. There are players in LoM known as PKers, or Player Killers, who's sole pleasure whilst playing LoM is to kill the characters of other people. Death does not have a terminal effect on your character, you are resurrected at the nearest town by logging of and back on again. Although you are not permanently dead, you do require healing after death and there is the possibility of losing items which may have taken you a very long time to find or acquire enough gold to buy, so as you can imagine it is very frustrating when you encounter PKers, I suppose in a way, the virtual world's representation of murderers or muggers. For some people who take their participation in MMORPG's very seriously, this can manifest itself in the real-world at events such as Mir-stock, which is an event for players of LoM. If someone let's their identity be known, and someone recognises them as an in-game PKer, tensions may arise in the real world. Make of that, what you will. Legend of Mir is a very good example of a simple MMORPG and I would recommend it to anyone just beginning to explore the world of MMORPG's.

My next foray into MMORPG's was Puzzle Pirates. In this example you are a pirate, and your first opportunity to individualise your online handle is the initial character creation, in the you can choose what clothes to adorn your character with and even style your hair or facial hair. This 'game'... (I use the term game lightly, because to a lot of people MMORPG's are so much more than that)...This 'game' is classified as Real-Life by WWW.MMORPG.COM and blurs the boundaries of reality more-so than LoM. Your pirate can look like whatever you choose, and do all manner of piratey things. To start with, the easiest activity to participate in is just working on already established ships, completing puzzles which are designed to represent, carpentry, operating the sails, loading the guns of the ships and manning the bilge pumps, all activities that would be required to be carried out on board a real pirate ship of days-gone-by. These are all individual activities, however as the captain of the ship you get the opportunity to 'Attack' other ships and plunder them for booty if you are victorious, this is also represented as a strategy puzzle, the actual gunfight between ships and then the ensuing sword fight between enemy crews. Here-in lies the interaction between characters. This is further developed on land, i.e. the many islands in the 'Emerald Sea.' characters can open their own shops to sell commodities such as cotton or wood etc. or offer services i.e. estate agents or tailors etc. and of course no pirate game would be complete without the taverns which can be player owned. All these shops require staff, who as players have to complete puzzles to represent the tasks done in each shop. This all leads to the creation of an in-game economy. Ultimately the goal of the game is to own your own fleet of ships, these of course, first have to be built, which requires a ship-yard. Further opportunities for interaction and individualisation are created here, you can choose the type of ship you would like, what it will look like, what it will be called etc. Next you need a crew to man your fleet and head out to sea to plunder more booty for you to expand. The vast opportunity for interaction on opportunities to individualise your character and in-game experience make this a more life-like online experience.

Currently I am exploring the sci-fi world of Project Entropia (PE) [WWW.PROJECT-ENTROPIA.COM] This is the first 3D MMORPG I have taken part in and is also the most realistic. The in-game economy of Project Entropia Dollars PED, is tied directly with the real-world economy, with a ratio of $1 U.S. = 10PED. The scenario is based on another planet (ok just use your imagination) where humans have been evacuated too, as a newcomer you have to explore your surroundings and learn the customs. In order to survive in the virtual world, you have to first of all create your character, as with the previous examples. There is much more scope for individuality here where everything from height and weight down to eye and hair colour and style can be altered as desired. The ultimate choice is what sex your character is, just because you're a bloke in the real world doesn't mean you can't be a hot blonde in the virtual world. This is option is available to you in the other two examples I have written about but it is more relevant, I feel, in PE. Once you have created your character and explored your surroundings and in-game customs, you need to start 'earning' money so that you can continue your experience, there are several ways this can be achieved. For example, hunting and mining are the simplest and most popular, I chose to be a hunter. This can be further divided in to hunting with melee weapons or ranged weapons depending on your personal style. Once you have saved up enough money from your 'job' which as a hunter is not easy, you make money by selling animal hides to tailors or skulls to collectors etc, but it also costs money to repair your weapons and first aid pack which you need to take with you to repair damage caused by the animals. Mining gets you money by selling the resources but costs money to buy/repair tools. All this and more helps to create a very dynamic trading economy in-game. The reality of this game is enhanced further, by the ability to purchase your own home in game and decorate it however you wish and also dress however you wish. Competitions are held such as Miss entropia and boxing tournaments, all these activities mirror real-life in that you can get your own job, your own house and choose how you want your character to behave. This is the most technologically advanced of all the games I have played and also by far the closest to reality. The lines between reality and virtual reality are blown apart by this game in that, someone has purchased an island in the game with an equivalent real-world value of over £15000 pounds!!! and another player won an auction to own a spacestation which can be reached using in-game space-travel. The final value of which was £1,000,000 PED which roughly translates to $100,000 U.S.!!! Referring back to the relationship between the in-game and real world economies, money can be deposited onto your game account to enable you to purchase items etc. but it can also be withdrawn for a fee so that in theory a profit can be made by playing this game.

The latest development in MMORPG's is called Second Life [WWW.SECONDLIFE.COM]. I have not been able to experience this yet due to technical difficulties but have heard good things about it. It has been described as 'the real world, online' again with this, the economy is tied in to the real world economy and you can have your own home etc. but from what I understand you can do anything in-game that can be done in the real-world. this is the ultimate merging of realities and I hope to be able to experience it soon.

These are just a few examples out of thousands, of the ever increasing break-down of the boundaries between real-life and virtual-reality and it seems to me that as technology improves, the boundaries will increase more and more.

Are we heading towards a scenario not unlike The Matrix, where WE ARE the alternate reality???



Written by Lee Horsley. Online handles: Unfiction - Sentinel / LoM - Mirlord / Puzzle Pirates - Jaks / PE - Flame