Archives: October 2006

26/10 The Web Is Not A Virtual Reality

There's been a bit of hype about this Multiverse thing. Now, it does look a bit cool, and certainly the concept of democratising MMORPGs and letting everyone control their own little universe (or part of one) is very attractive. Anyone who's read (earlyish) William Gibson or (early) Neal Stephenson probably has visions of VR goggles, power gloves and skateboards at this point. But I honestly can't see it replacing the web - 3D space is just such a poor interface for anything but 3D spatial information (and sometimes it's a poor interface for that, too, or blueprints would have been replaced entirely with scale models centuries ago).

So, what would we see in the average Multiverse? Take a look at MySpace, I reckon: millions of people from the non-busy classes stamping their personality on a set of templated spaces in questionably tasteful ways; a modicum of actual talent. Expect to see "art galleries" containing rooms filled automatically with cameraphone photos. Perhaps it will gain adoption by the kind of person who is uncomfortable about socialising without anthropomorphic avatars. Certainly there has been no shortage of attempts to tap that market.

But if we're going to see a democratised system, if the Multiverse is going to be to World of Warcraft and Second Life as the World Wide Web was to Compuserve and MSN, there are questions that need addressing. Do you limit the system to predefined human avatars? If not, what's to stop me from creating an avatar with a sandwich board serving banner ads and parking it in your virtual living room for a few weeks? Is there a gaming aspect? If so, how do you enforce the associated rules in a system without central control? Or do all these virtual worlds exist in isolation, with strict border controls that limit what avatars can convey between them? What about John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory?

Instructions to RTFM wherein these questions are answered greatly appreciated, especially those featuring relevant links. There are already some interesting analogies you can draw: to real life games (eg the social consequences of cheating when paint-balling by taking real guns and actually killing people), to web forums (which already deal with generally-anonymous contributions to websites), and to other environments where the inexpensiveness of copying digital data must be carefully controlled (the financial services industry).