Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Another and still stranger world..."

Ch. 11, Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
Recently, I wrote a blog post, a Google+ message, and a Facebook plea asking for you to help me choose between research topics, and the tally is in. I'm proud to announce that I'll be researching 'digital worlds unseen'--that is, the digital universes that oft times go completely unnoticed in the 'real' world despite their apparent complexity and outright intrigue.

In light of our study of Moby Dick, this is an especially pertinent topic, for in some sense, the leviathans of Melville's work live in a world that is to us likewise unknown and unseen--a place that's neither understood nor appreciated by the vast majority of people. We perhaps catch a tiny glimpse of that world every now and then in our brief encounters with its strange inhabitants, but we otherwise remain blissfully (and sometimes sanctimoniously) ignorant to these worlds lurking just beneath the threshold of our perception. Well, I want to change that.
One particularly interesting 'world' is that of the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) Eve Online. Eve is set in a sci-fi space universe and emphasizes free play in a world that for its immensity and seeming impenetrability dwarfs even the white whale's watery abode. Though this game has been around for only 10 years, already it has developed complex social and economic structures, boasting everything from sophisticated trading systems and stock markets to broad corporations composed of thousands of individuals and small collectives. It has developed its own policing systems, criminal rings, trade cooperatives, transport companies, and to top it all off, the game has an elected council of 14 representatives who meet in real life to discuss the stability and progress of the internal world. In short, this is no child's play.

The question is, I suppose, are interactions within these 'figmentary' worlds any less real than those that we carry on within our everyday lives? Is talking over a video game's real-time voice chat in any way inferior to, say, talking over the phone, and does such communication inhibit or enable certain modes of expression that might or might not otherwise be available? Does the fact that people interact in deep space rather than at a table or on the street in any way change the nature of the communication itself, or does it simply place it within a different context?