Saturday, March 1, 2003

Online Communities

By way of A Surprisingly High Tower, Justin writes:

Both postulates completely overlook what I can only offer as anecdotal evidence. When I was in college, MUSHes and MUDs were all the rage. I lived in a very energetic dorm that had a raging social life that saw us routinely sit around until 7 in the morning, interacting in large groups and generally being social. When we discovered MUDs, though, several of us took to hanging out obsessively in the computer labs at the Teer or North buildings, losing ourselves for entire weeks in the online universes when we had BETTER, PHYSICAL options closer to home. And after we came to our senses, we discovered that this wasn't an exception, but a rule; tech heads were giving up physical socializing for virtual community. It wasn't due to lack of alternatives, it was despite alternatives. I can't explain it, but I know in my gut that tech heads don't go online because they have nowhere else to turn.

I'm not sure I can completely agree. His assertion that the physical places are BETTER is what I take exception with. Comparisons like this one assume that there are some sort units of "goodness" and that that physical places rate a 7 while the online ones rate a 3. I would argue that even if there are some notional units, it's a vector quantity, not a scalar, and the axes for the two types of interaction are orthogonal.

The way I see it, the online experience (or role-playing games such as Vampire, which I still enjoy) have aspects of creation and control which real life lacks. The times when I get most involved in the computer is when I'm crafting something or solving a puzzle, and the reason I like both computers and fantasy/sci-fi fiction is that it proposes a world where magic is real and humans can transcend their inherent limitations. Real-life seldom offers these sorts of psychological payoffs, although that might explain why Mafia is so damn fun - it combines elements of both.

1 comment:

  1. See my response back on the Surprisingly High Tower. ;)