News: too depressing. Video games: virussy

‘David Cameron: Scrap the Human Rights Act’ was a Telegraph headline last week. So much to say. So depressing to think about. Let’s talk about video games instead.

I hate Second Life. And not because it is a virtual world you access via your computer and spend hours of your real life talking to imaginary friends while ignoring flesh-and-blood humans. I am after all addicted to Facebook and spend a good deal of my life on YouTube. I don’t even hate Second Life (in case you haven’t gathered, it’s a website in which people create virtual versions of themselves and interact in a semi-realistic computer-graphics environment) because people there pay vast sums of real money for make-believe houses, clothes and body parts.

I hate Second Life for two other reasons. One: I came to it too late and my inexperience makes me feel stupid and clumsy and ignorant and nobody likes me and I have no friends and I’m gonna have a little cry. And two: I am plagued by a question: ‘Why?’ Why would you create a world that is fairly like this one, characters that are (barring some special individuals who create animal-like characters called ‘furries’ who are a whole column of nutcase-baiting on their own) fairly like normal people, doing relatively real-world things? Why not walk outside? If it’s blameless, amoral, irresponsible fantasy existence you want (and assuming you’re not Paris Hilton), Second Life is nice, but World of Warcraft is better.

If at this point all this is getting a bit much and you’re feeling lost, fear not! Feeling ignorant of online fads is a symptom of a very common disorder known as ‘having a life’. World of Warcraft is like Second Life, only with more killing, orcs, wizards and warriors than property lawyers. Its fantasy role-play nature makes its escapism so obviously unconnected to real life that it seems less likely to replace real life than Myspace, Facebook or the next big thing: MyFaceLifeTube™ (it’s only a matter of time).

News last week of a Princeton University study published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases has made me slightly paranoid though. The study, in the real-world medical journal, was about the spread of a pandemic within the Warcraft virtual world. The ‘disease’, ‘Corrupted Blood’, made news last week as commentators wondered what it taught us about real pandemics. The study showed that it originated in a remote forest region of the ‘world’ and was spread partly by malicious or careless players, but mainly by what the report called ‘the stupid factor’, a neat term for not-to-be-left-out people essentially saying: ‘a highly infectious deadly disease spreading like wildfire? I’m there!’

In a week when it has been revealed that Britain has the worst cancer-survival rate of any comparable European nation, is there anything we can learn from this, aside from the obvious fact that I spend too much time on the computer? No. But I will tell you this. In the 1995 bestseller The Hot Zone there is a story of how a bunch of control-study monkeys that had not been in direct physical contact with the Ebola virus were mysteriously infected and died of the disease while in isolation in their cages. The author suggests one possible explanation is that for a time the virus went airborne. And it could do it again. So even if we’re feeling smug about our lifestyle-choices making us less likely to contract HIV, I’d call that a potential Pestilence to add to the War and Famine rampant in the world. Facing realities like those or the one in the Telegraph it’s no wonder some people prefer escapism to eschatology. We should probably pray about that.  


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