This story is not a prophesy. It is not a prediction. Nor is it a prescriptive.
This story is a warning.
Reality is changing. Cheap, widely distributed bandwidth and advanced networking technologies are divorcing an ever-growing segment of the population from traditionally “real” constraints like geography and socio-economic status.
At work, your closest colleagues could be sitting in the next cubicle…or on the next continent. Cutting-edge simulation techniques will soon bridge even the visual divides, making you feel like you’re sitting across the table from someone thousands of miles away. Millions of people are already choosing what “reality” they inhabit.
At the moment, online multiplayer games are the most dramatic example of these constructed realities. According to economist Edward Castronova, at least 10 million people worldwide subscribe to an online world like World of Warcraft, Star Wars Galaxies or WWII Online. While the vast majority of these worlds are centered around a videogame (kill the dragon, blow up the Death Star, shoot the Nazis), people are doing far more than just “playing” in them. They are making friends, discussing the weather and politics, getting (virtually) married, even making real money.
How “real” are these places? Plenty—at least to the people who live in them. According to Castronova’s book, Synthetic Worlds, fully 20% of the people who subscribe to EverQuest, a pioneering online game from Sony, consider its virtual world to be where they “live.” They travel elsewhere “occasionally.”