Sunday, July 24, 2005

The Attraction of Virtual Environments

Recently I've been thinking about why computer-generated virtual environments hold such a big attraction to me.

A standard answer I've been giving out in the past few years has been “because I grew up with them.” I started to play computer games since a young age, and they were basically my childhood “toys” that defined much of the colors and joys in those early years. I was especially attracted to a number of graphic adventure games created by Sierra On-lines that focused on puzzle-solving and social interactions with computer characters. My fascination started from, and continues to be the fact that you could speak, interact, make friends with or enemies of those little computer characters living inside the virtual worlds.

This morning I had a new answer. It was also about seeking “freedom”: freedom from burdens, freedom from restrictions, and freedom from the reality. Much of what exists in our day-to-day life is about limitations and restrictions, of things we're either not allowed to do because of rules and regulations, or things we're unable to do due to lack of ability or resource. And yet, a large part of human efforts and endeavors has been to seek out and pursue the possible, or carry out and realize the potentials.

Perhaps that is why virtual environments have become more and more popular, and in some cases, addictive as well --- because it satisfies our imagination or wish to become more, more than what we usually can achieve with our little and insignificant real-world identities. Just by opening up a new game application, we can immediately assume alternative identities or suddenly transform into super-heroes. Computer games have enabled a new form of expression and a new way to explore our inner-selves that was not previously feasible or possible – it's a new type of freedom that we did not and could not have before.

However, is it really freedom? Or just escape from the reality? Or… in some way, there isn't really a distinction between the two? As freedom has always been about breaking, or transcending restrictions?

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