When we both lived at home, I’d sometimes sneak into my brother’s room, and specifically his comic book collection, to sample the treasures he hoarded there. He was a fastidious collector, keeping every precious comic book in a mylar bag with alkali-buffered backing boards, placed in vertically stacked, acid-free boxes, archived by title and date.
One of my favourite titles was the “What if” series, published by Marvel, exploring how the history of the Marvel Universe would have unfolded if key moments in its history did not occur as they did in mainstream continuity. Alternative realities the series explored included questions like: What if Captain America became President? – an invitation to run that he declined; What if [Spider-Man’s] Uncle Ben had lived?; and, What if Tony Stark and Victor von Doom had been involved in a body switching incident at an early age?
I imagine these titles would have served as fun challenges for the writers, who would have necessarily needed to immerse themselves in the mental gymnastics required to consider the consequences of alternate history, forcing them to break with assumptions that had come to form the universe in which they were immersed.
In virtual worlds like Second Life, we similarly have long become accustomed to rarely questioned conditions (decided at some point in history by Linden Lab to be features of the platform), that those of us with Second Life experience now take for granted.
I was reminded of this when reading Loki Elliot’s post asking what we’d be willing to sacrifice for the next VR platform. In it, he suggests: with an opportunity to re-invent a virtual world, Linden Lab might be in semi-blue-sky mode whilst dreaming-up their next virtual world, reconsidering all sorts of features that we have come to know and consider “laws”:
If you go back to the beginning of Second Life, the whole thing was simply an experiment at first. A big massive ‘WHAT IF WE DID THIS?’.
So, for a bit of fun and inspiration, I’ve devised some questions that I’ll be exploring as thought experiments in virtual worlds – via this blog, comments, and through chat salons at the Basilique. Here are some of my questions, some possible, others fantastical:
|What if avatars aged and died?|
|What if we could experience all our senses in virtual worlds?|
|What if there was no teleporting or flying?|
|What if the landscape of virtual worlds was connected like it is in the real world?|
|What if sims where set to the owner’s local day cycle, season and weather in the real world?|
|What if alts where impossible?|
|What if our real life and virtual life identities were transparent between worlds?|
|What if we all looked just as we do in real life?|
|What if the virtual economy was as practical and relevant as the real world economy?|
|What if our avatars had physiological needs?|
|What if our avatars could mate with other avatars to produce new avatars?|
|What if the virtual world mirrored the real world in terms of geography and topography?|
|What if we had to abide by real world laws, and were subjected to real world sanctions for breaking them?|
|What if we could freely share, rent, gift and will our virtual possessions after we payed for them?|
|What if the virtual worlds and the real worlds were switched in terms of importance to our lives?|
As I consider these questions, I’ll be looking at them from an objective perspective. I’ll aim to avoid judging whether the alternate reality is a “good” or “bad” thing – and instead try to imagine (ideally collectively), what the consequences of such alternate conditions might be.
I may, as time passes, change, add or drop some of these questions from the discourse. If you have any similar questions that you’d like to me/us to consider, please add them in the comments below! I hope this series inspires a few reply posts too!