Grief: not the real thing?

Oh my! Tears and inconsolable grief! A small boy has lost his dog. Its every parent’s nightmare.

Except. In this case, its not a real dog. It’s a virtual one – and it is likely that the dog not so much ran off, as melted back into the matrix when aforementioned boy accidentally hit “delete”.

Should we treat such incidents seriously – or just shrug and…suggest that the child in question get over it. After all, “its not real”.

My own view? No. Because for all that the dog is not real, the emotion certainly is. And telling anyone, let alone a child, to just “pull themselves together” strikes me as ultimately self-defeating – and cruel.

The problem is this idea of a “game”. Many adults who have been out of contact with the virtual world for a decade or more possibly still think that a game is, er, a game, involving points and shooting things and lives and…well, it is, to some extent. But the big thing that has broken all over the “gaming” world is a concept called “immersion”.

Not for nothing was the one time trendy place to be online called “Second Life”. For while many of its early inhabitants have now moved on, some remained and have created – and sustain – a presence, a character and even, in some cases, an economic presence (earning virtual money that can be traded for real) and providing virtual products and services.

Along the way, they make “real” friends, undergo “real” emotions and even, so some would claim, fall “really” in love.

No. I’m not about to enter the debate as to whether such virtual encounters can ever equal the solid first world stuff. Merely noting first, that this is claimed by many and second, that immersion doesn’t mean living lives and “game over”: it means going on and on and on, learning, developing, growing as long as you wish to continue.

I guess, if I have a major issue (beyond the philosophical one) it is the framework within which such games take place. Starting with gentle exercises like “Farmville”, these games pull you in with a requirement that you carry out some facsimile of real world activity, from growing plants, to grooming a dog. Points make prizes – or “money”: and money equates to unlocking more and more interesting and complex levels of the game.

It’s a training, of sorts, for a life of capitalism. The harder you work, the more you earn: the more you earn, the more you can exchange for self-aggrandisement.

This solves the old issue of getting girls to play games. While the boy (our boy – not the dog-grieving one) may happily “work” away, collecting points to turn into dragons and gorillas to add to his motley army – and then go off and attack other players in his worlds – his cousin does much the same point-acquisition in order to, er, furnish her dream home.

Hmmm. Gendered? Much

Otherwise, harmless distraction? Or (mis-)training for first life. I wonder.. .



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