The Virtual Whirl: You know that guy

Tateru Nino
T. Nino|04.10.10

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The Virtual Whirl: You know that guy

This week, in The Virtual Whirl, we're looking at people, worldviews, stereotypes, public perception, technology angst, and ... most importantly, we're looking at that guy. Trust me, you'll know the one.

Every now and again, I bump into a college class of age 18+ students in one or another of the various virtual environments that I frequent. Usually they're online with their professor as a part of an assignment. Few of them will actually return once the coursework is out of the way, but while they're there the majority of them are interested, engaged, sober and enthusiastic (if, at times, just a little confused).

Then there's that guy (of either gender). You know that guy.

The instant he turned his laptop on, he went into 'game' mode. While the other members of his class are learning the ins and outs they'll need to pass their coursework, he's stripped himself naked, gotten a virtual shotgun and is running around talking trash, shooting at anything and everyone and generally being an offensive berk.

And in his own mind, he's not doing anything wrong. Instead, he thinks, the fault lies with everyone else. They're all thrice-darned griefers, because they're interfering with his game, spoiling his fun and generally giving him a negative experience by asking him to follow location-specific, social or environment-specific rules.

They're ruining it for everyone he thinks, and he redoubles his efforts to achieve unrestricted play.

That's the dark side of ludism right there: Crossing the line into inappropriate play.

Sometimes it's said that one person or another "comes from a different planet" or "lives in a different world." Technically, that's true for us all. If you can find two people on the planet who seem to see the world in the same way, then you've just not examined their perspectives closely enough.

Our personal priorities, beliefs, attitudes, social circles, experiences – and more – all contribute to our overall worldview: How the world works, how we think it should work, and all of that. Our personal experiences of the world are remarkably, almost astonishingly, different.

But the very same things that define your worldview tend to constrain and limit your casual exposure to the worldviews of others, except in the most superficial of senses. You can't find out much about who someone is or about the world they inhabit while they're secure in their comfort zone in amongst the humdrum and familiar.

So, there's that guy. He knows in every fiber of his being that pretty much anything that happens out of his direct sight doesn't matter. The Internet, mobile phones, Twitter, text-messaging, Facebook – he sees them all as non-zero-sum games, free of consequence.

Quite why that happens is a good question. If or when the consequences of his actions finally catch up to him (often eventually lawsuits or arrest for some crime), he's bewildered and astonished. The world just doesn't work that way. It makes as much sense in his worldview as a gigantic chess-playing spider turning up at the front door during dinner.

Sometimes it might seem like there's a disproportionate number of people online, but that's not really the case. In virtual environments, and on Web-forums, they're just easier to spot, what with varied world-views rubbing up against each-other.

You know this guy. You met him in college, or you've worked with him, or maybe you work for him at the office. His working motto is often "It is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission" or something with a similar flavor. He's either come to a sticky denouement already, or you can see he's well on his way there, as his inappropriate ludism draws him to play increasingly fast and loose with the world offline as well as online.

In a virtual environment he stands out from everyone else around him.

For every one of that guy, there's more than a couple dozen people in virtual environments, seeking entertainment, killing time, socializing, doing business, making money, exchanging ideas and rubbing their worldviews and cultures together and coming out richer for it; but they're doing it quietly.

On the other hand, that guy sticks out and is highly visible on the Internet in general and in virtual environments especially. All of our fears about new technologies – and how they might inevitably alter or impact our societies and our traditions – need a symbol, and for the most part, our symbol is that guy. He's the jerk whose worldview and grip on reality get increasingly out of touch with time and distance.

Back in 1938, traditional newspapers under threat from new media technology (radio, in this case), responded to the radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds by running more than 12,000 sensational stories that the broadcast had caused a widespread panic – one that hadn't existed.

While there's some scant and anecdotal evidence of some disruption, the newspaper media of the time were keen to paint radio (as a medium) as reckless and irresponsible, and to bring traditional readers back to traditional habits.

Well, new technologies and new media become traditional ones by turns. Now we have the Internet, MMOGs and virtual environments. With them we have the spectre of that guy. The perfect symbol to allow you to guiltlessly pretend that these things aren't worth your time and trouble.

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