Saturday, August 11, 2007

Who's On First?

I made passing mention the other day in a rambling post (yes, I realize that doesn't narrow it down much) of how a Catholic writer was urging fellow members of his faith to enter into the popular "virtual" world of Second Life to spread their beliefs. I should have elaborated more on that at the time, but then again I was really only blathering on about anything that happened to come to mind.

Earlier this week my friend Gordon - known to a lot of folks as "Real Live Preacher" posted a thought provoking piece about his youngest daughter and her fascination with a Nintendo game that is essentially a virtual world, and some of the new ethical concerns it brought him to consider.

23 years ago or more, I helped run an on line chat-room in San Antonio. This was pre-Internet, at least for the masses, and a friend of mine actually bankrolled the operation - not that it made money, but he paid for the seven phone lines running into my house and the Apple IIE equipped with seven 300 baud (yes, 300 baud) modems which allowed this simplistic system to function. We eventually were able to tie our chat room to others in various cities. It was really a lot of fun and the software offered a lot of flexibility. For example, if you wanted to chat with one specific person, you could go off into one of the private chat rooms. That may not sound like much today, but in 1983 it was very "gee whiz." Still I saw some relationships form which made me uncomfortable "hosting" so eventually we put in some restrictions I think.

None the less, a lot of romances bloomed on that little chat room and some deep friendships, some I still have to this day.

Years later, still before anyone besides academics and super geeks were using the Internet, Amy and I "met" on a vaguely similar computer "bulletin board" system which offered "chat" and various other time wasters.

I have spent many hours on computer bulletins boards, and have wasted more hours than I can imagine playing various computer games. These days though the only computer game I play is "chess" which should give you a good idea of where to set the bar on the boring meter.

I ran across an absolutely fascinating, and truly wonderful article in Friday's Wall Street Journal which goes in depth about one man's obsession with the on-line game/fantasy world "Second Life."

Although, I consider this a "must read" article, I know a lot folks don't like to click on blog links so I'll give you a few pertinent highlights. This guy is 53 years old, with some health issues that have kept him from getting out in recent months and he discovered he can be 25, healthy and active in "Second Life." Now, he's really, really active. On any given day, he's busier on Second Life than Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton's Public Relations people are on Friday nights.

He not only runs a number "virtual" businesses - including topless dance clubs - but he is "virtually married" to a woman from Canada...a woman he's never met.

A woman he has met - oddly enough on-line - is his "real" wife of less than a year.
Her reaction to her husband's blind enthusiasm for his "virtual life" and her discovery of his "virtual wife" is summed up with the priceless quote from the article, "You try to talk to someone (him) or bring them (him) a drink and they'll be having sex...with a cartoon."

That about says it all doesn't it?

I feel guilty spending time writing a blog entry when there are always other things I "could" be doing. Still, Amy doesn't have to worry about me joining Second Life or having sex with a cartoon.

The "real" wife of the guy in the WSJ article has now joined a support group for spouses of people who are addicted to Internet games. Apparently there are several such groups to help so called, "Gamer Widows."

There's also a rather humorous parody of Second Life, but take note some of it might be a little offensive.

Humor aside, it is a lot to digest: evangelism in cyberspace, cyber-obsessions, and most importantly I suppose realizing our children are going to grow up with these virtual worlds being as common and attractive as TVs were when we were growing up.

It's going to be a big challenge to parents raising the generation of tomorrow to not only instill a personal code of ethics in their kids, but also help them understand that because that code is inside of doesn't matter what world it is in which they find themselves.

I think I'll pray a lot of parents make that a "first life" priority.

Humans are satisfied with whatever looks good; God probes for what is good.- Proverbs 16:2 (The MSG)