Massively multi-user on-line role playing games (MMORPGs) may, in India today, be restricted to teenagers who have access to broadband but there are two powerful reasons why this is about to change : first – broadband is becoming ubiquitous, more so with 3G and WiMAX on the horizon and second – the teenagers themselves are becoming adults and hence significant ! But the advent of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft and EverQuest are harbingers of a far more subtle but significant shift in the way we humans perceive ourselves and the world around us.
If you think that social networks like Orkut, Facebook, MySpace and professional networks like LinkedIN have changed the way people know and keep in touch with each other then 3D virtual worlds like Second Life represent the next generation ( or the third generation !) in relationship management. Based on the technology that is responsible for the intense and immersive 3D experience of MMORPG, and offering the flexibility and personalisation possibilities of social networks, Second Life – and similar 3D virtual worlds – offer unimaginable possibilities to create a “virtual” digital world where humans – on their own, or in collaboration with others – can live, entertain, form relationships and even profit from artefacts and activities that can be as similar to, or consciously different from, their counterparts in the “real” world.
Words are inadequate for describing 3D virtual worlds; a re-look at Matrix, the movie, may be a smarter idea. With the advent of direct brain-machine interfaces, like the bionic eye and thought controlled wheelchairs, the gap between the real and the virtual is getting blurred. Maya as articulated in Sankara's Advaita Vedanta – that veils reality and makes us believe in a world of errors and illusions – is perhaps the closest description of the situation into which we are being led by MMORPGs and 3D Virtual Worlds.
This article is a summary of the presentation that I had delivered at Infocomm0809 and appeared in the Infocomm Supplement of The Telegraph, Calcutta on Friday the 13th March 2009.