Throughout our history, humans have been obsessed with the idea of living other people’s lives. Through poems, plays and books we’ve been drawn into the worlds of completely different characters; through fancy dress we’ve regularly transformed ourselves in amazing ways; in the 1970’s hippies blasted themselves off into other realms of consciousness; and now, thanks to digital technology, we’re leading totally virtual second lives.
Throughout the 1990’s, as the possibilities available to gamers diversified exponentially, one of the most significant new trends in gaming was the idea of the player playing God. You could argue that we were already doing so by striking that little white dot with our Pong “racquets” or by telling Pac Man which way to go, but this was nothing compared to the degree of control over a virtual world we were given by games like Theme Hospital with its hilarious maladies; Sim City, which allowed the player to build and even destroy whole cities with the click of a cursor; and Rollercoaster Tycoon, where players construct fantasy theme parks out of digital thin air down to the tiniest candy floss vendor. By the 1990’s gamers weren’t just playing games, they were playing God.
Controlling a little world is all well and good, but controlling a little life is infinitely more enthralling. The focus zoomed in from a wide panorama to a flattering close-up at the turn of the millennium, with the February 2000 release of Sid Meier’s ‘casual life simulator’ game The Sims. Since the first title’s release, the Sims series has sold over 150 million copies worldwide, making it one of the biggest things to happen to gaming, ever.
Virtual avatars had existed for some time before The Sims, but here for the first time was a well-actuated, commercially successful title in which players designed their character, often as a reflection of themselves. Sims were the forerunners of today’s Wii Miis or customisable GTA V characters, and at present, personalized avatars seem to be on an unstoppable trajectory towards ubiquity. Soon we’ll be able to personalize our own characters whenever we play virtual poker at sites like www.gamblingafrica.com, or even tweak our own character designs in plat-former games. In fact Poker could be even more interesting as could users potentially fake their poker face via their character? If so this could create some interesting debates!
For some of today’s gamers, there really is such a thing as virtual alternative realities. Hardcore devotees of Second Life are even known to marry digitally, creating relationships which may well be more important to them than their bonds in ‘real’ life. Alternative digital realities are here, and they’re more than just a game.
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