Update: Instead of (or after) reading this post, you might want to visit Emerging Communication site which features several on-line books (chapters downloadable in pdf format) on this topic.
I was thinking if the analysis of being-in-a-virtual-world might give some insights for our being-in-world. The idea is that for being-in-a-virtual-world we have both our experience, and the definition of the virtual world itself, as it is an artifact. Of course being an artifact the analogies would go just far, but even so, noticing where the differences lie might be interesting, and give food to thought. Anyway… this is not to be critical analysis, I will just throw some thoughts.
As for the things which might be analyzed:
The issue of body
Players in multi-player games have their own characters which they control. The characters usually can interact with the virtual-things in the virtual-world, and with other characters. In that way the player has body in the virtual world. Most importantly he has position in the virtual world, from which spatial relations to other things can be abstracted.
The issue of transcendental inter-subjectivity
While playing we notice the things in the virtual-world. Also we notice other players in the virtual-world. What we assume is that the other players in that world also notice those things we notice in the virtual world. Usually (in all such games afaik) that is what really happens, if some thing is shown to our character, and if the other character is in the same room, those same things are shown to the person who controls that other character too. In such way, it is possible for two players to talk about the in-game things. If both are in same room, and there is an axe in the room, one of the player can ask the other, if he can take the axe.
The issue of existence of the virtual-things
On first thought, we might be inclined to say that those virtual-things about which the players talk don’t exist. But not just that two people (think that) can see the virtual axe, not just that they (think that) can speak about the same axe, but also the one that gets it can use it to do something with it in the virtual-world. And the causality of that fact is not limited in game only. In a games like “Second Life” for example, you can sell the things in-virtual-world you own, and get linden-dollars. And then in real life you can change those linden dollars for real money, and tell to that other person “I sold the axe and got 10$”, here they are.
What makes this possible? Let’s see what is true about virtual-things…
- They can be owned
- They have function (or artistic value, but this case should be matter for other discussion, as how is a picture in a virtual-world more virtual then the real picture? after all all the picture does is that it looks somehow to someone, and what was mentioned in previous point – be owned)
- They keep their identity through the world. (identity here doesn’t mean that they don’t change through time, in contrary as in the real world, things might change, and by that their function to change and so on – that would be included in the things identity – or we can say it would be in its essence to accommodate particular change)
The issue of representation
In the virtual world we can be speak of an representation of the “virtual-ax”. Why is that? Because what appears on the monitor of the player has no connection with what the virtual-ax really is. The function of the virtual-ax is defined separately, and has no connection to the representation that appears on the monitor.
Even if the virtual-ax functions similar to the one in the real world (e.g. it can cut trees), there is no need for it to appear as something similar to real-world ax. It can be a two dimensional square with “ax” written in it, or it can be just big X, or might be like ax. It doesn’t matter.
The primary purpose of the representation in those games is for the players to be able to notice the virtual-thing in the virtual-reality. If the virtual-thing can’t be noticed, probably the players can’t interact with that virtual-thing. The interaction usually consist of getting in proximity of the thing (using virtual-body), and then pressing some key,or controlling some kind of cursor with the mouse, and clicking on the representation of the thing.
A thing can have position, but not a visual representation. For example a gravity vortex can be imagined, which doesn’t have representation, but which affects some properties of the things around it (e.g. attracts them), and will be given to us just through the representations of those other things.
I believe more detailed analysis might be done, probably even looking in more details of the implementations of such virtual worlds, and what is necessary for the virtual-world to be seen as a world.
Of course there are several points which need to be kept in mind in order not to get too bold and think that those concepts as analyzed in the virtual-world might be as such taken and applied in case of the real-world:
- Virtual world is an artifact
- the categories of the things are “well defined”. It is fully determined how
a type of thing “reacts” in different contexts – it can be and is fully described in particular language.
In real world it is not clear if any of the categories can be well defined, as per classical account of concepts (i.e. through necessary and sufficient conditions)
- what can be done with the virtual-things is defined by the programmers.
- interaction with the virtual-things is done in the way specified by programmers (click on it on screen for example)
- in general all the things or all activities in it can be modeled through set-theoretical model (not including the players), because it is created as such.
- Even in such sophisticated virtual reality as in The Matrix movie, the matrix is just a virtual world. That there might be just one Matrix, is a contingent fact. The matrix is grounded in the machinery existing in the world.