Tuesday, June 15, 2010
In the open Sunday thread Void proposed his theory that "we are turning more and more to virtual worlds for our sense of advancement because it's so hard to find in the real world". I think he got the reason right, but the underlying problem wrong. In my opinion we are turning more and more to virtual worlds of our sense of achievement because we are so bloody bad at realizing our achievements in the real world.
Our real lives are full of amazing achievements: We learn how the world works during our education, then create value every day in our jobs. We make friends, we love, we build families, and participate in communities. And we collect ample rewards, living a life of unprecedented luxury, with houses, cars, entertainment electronics, and other "leet gear". Only most of us have trouble realizing all these achievements for what they are, because there isn't a "+100 reputation" sign popping up after we were nice to somebody, and no achievement title when did a task well in our jobs. In spite of the fact that there is somebody who values what we do in our jobs so much that he even pays us for doing it, we often believe our daily jobs to be meaningless. And with many of the achievements of our private lives being long term, we lose sight of their importance.
So we turn to virtual worlds, where rewards, achievements, and a sense of advancement are so much more visible, and so much faster. Woohoo, I gained another level! Woot, I gained a title! Yay, more purple pixels for me! And all in the space of a single evening!
Thus we tend to value these virtual achievements too much, and our real achievements too little. In the greater scheme of things, your boring day at work created a lot more value for humanity than your exciting and successful raid night. Your day out with the family created more meaningful "reputation gains" than your grinding Timbermaws. Not only are the achievements in virtual worlds not worth very much, they can even lead us to do negative things. For example WAR had achievements for doing battlegrounds naked. Woohoo, another achievement for you! And you just caused the rest of your team to lose because that achievement was more important to you than putting on your gear and doing your bit to actually win that battle. And don't get me started on all those games where you advance by griefing other players.
Some people have realized these deficiencies of the video game generation, who are unable to realize their real achievements unless they receive points and titles for them. So there are proposals on how to reward students with experience points, or how bosses should hand out achievement titles and similar video game-like rewards. But I don't even think that will work. Because if you look at it closely, those rewards and titles already exist: Schools hand out grades, and companies reward us with salaries and bonuses. You'll say money isn't everything, but the money you receive for doing your job *is* a good indicator for the value your daily work created. If you did the same job for free, the created value would still be there, which is why voluntary work isn't any less valuable.
So I would encourage you to look at your real life, job and family, and try to realize the real achievements you made, how you advanced in your life from cradle to where you are now. Modern value creation is often extremely complex, so your job might look like just a tiny cog in a huge machine. But that machine is creating something of value, and you played your part in that value creation. And the things created in real life often *are* real. Most of the achievements in virtual worlds would cease to exist the moment the servers shut down. But the car or whatever your company makes will be around for quite a while, and if you succeed in the real world achievement of raising children, they will be around even after you die. That isn't to say that having fun in virtual world is a bad thing, but we all need to be careful to get our priorities right, and not end up neglecting the real world for some hollow achievement of a virtual one.