When I was younger, it was the Dungeons and Dragons crowd which ran some small risk of becoming entangled in the fantasy worlds they created, to the point they could lose their grip on reality. At the peak of its popularity, I was in the military in Europe. My wife was a serious hobby seamstress at the time, and a neighbor in the military housing area begged her to make him a complicated full wizard costume to add some reality to his gaming. She declined because he came across entirely too brain-fried. Testimony from others who knew this fellow indicated he had some difficulty keeping his obsession under control, to the point it affected the performance of his military duties. He was over 30, so it was no mere youthful diversion, and his wife complained often of his neglect of family, too.
From the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden, we have seen the wish to be God a strong leg in the tripod of sin standing in the center of our fallen human nature (Genesis 3:5-6). This leg exists largely because of the other two -- the lust of carnal appetites and insatiable curiosity/thrill seeking. We seek the god-like powers to fulfill our other desires, and this tripod is visible in the Wilderness Temptations Jesus experienced during the inauguration of His public ministry (Luke 4:1-13). John summarized the tripod (1 John 2:16) as:
It's nothing new to see people indulging in anything which seems to dim reality in favor of the fantasy. Thus, intoxicating and mind-bending substances remain popular, as do violence and all manner of property crimes. Everybody wants what they don't have, and many are willing to pay any price to obtain. Childhood in our culture is wrongly treated as a time to incubate these fantasies, rather than a time to introduce gradually harsh realities. Extending these childish fantasies is the stuff of marketing, so don't be surprised when the business culture of the world encourages what Scripture calls evil. You can't sell what people don't want, so creating a culture where everyone is forever bored and dissatisfied is a goldmine.
Painted upon this canvas is the newest rage called Second Life. Ostensibly a harmless game, there is already some evidence it serves as the newest drug for some, with bloggers and writers only half-joking about calling it an addiction. Is it any surprise when someone comes up with a means to indulging fantasy within a fantasy world? Now we have cries of alarm the virtual economy of Lindenworld will collapse due to artifact inflation: Just copy what you like and be wealthy, instead of paying for it in Linden dollars as normally required. What began as an experiment in modelling a virtual libertarian capitalist paradise is undermined by a simple bot.
Oh, how harsh the bedrock of reality! Anything which exists as a virtual artifact in electronic format will forever be missing the one essential element of profit-making, the Principle of Exclusion. In meat space -- "the real world" -- a material artifact can only be one place at any given time. By extension, while we control it, we can deny others access to it. On those grounds, we can demand others give something in exchange for access. We can rent it or sell it; as long as someone else values it, a thing has a market value. If it consists merely of electrons held in a memory media, it remains nearly impossible to deny access. That is, once we have given someone else access, there is no way to completely deny access to the next person. Electronic information is, by its nature, uncontrollable in the sense of access.
Computer hardware is one thing, having existence in this four-dimensional reality (the fourth by including the factor of how long it lasts). Once across that line into software and electronic "virtual" reality, the rules all change. You can encrypt something to deny access to all others, but even that is not absolute. People of talent can create software to decrypt anything, given sufficient time and processing power. Once access is granted to, or otherwise gained by, any other person, it becomes subject to their whims and abilities whether access remains limited. While our system of contract law seeks to enforce somewhat any agreements, the virtual world remains a place where evidence sufficient to gain a court ruling is dicey at best. Massive resources are wasted trying to make the virtual world adhere to the rules of reality.
By definition, a "game" is an alternate reality with rules and limitations not matched evenly to reality. Otherwise, it would hardly be a diversion. Diverting a small part of your existence into a game can refresh the soul. Invest too much of yourself in a game and you are asking for pain.
Ed Hurst is Associate Editor of Open for Business. Ed operates a computer ministry in Oklahoma City. He loves computers, runs FreeBSD and GNU/Linux and reads all sorts of things. You can reach Ed at firstname.lastname@example.org.