Pandora: Keeping Hope Alive Since Ancient Times

Let me start off by saying that in the process of deciding in which virtual world I would most like to live, I’ve realized that I’m probably a pretty good example of an escapist. Whether that’s a good or bad thing I haven’t decided, but there you go.

You see, I could have picked the gorgeous natural landscapes of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, with elves and trolls and plenty of heroic battles. I could have chosen Rowling’s Hogwarts, where I could fly on a broom, apparate from place to place, and wield unimaginable power with the flick of a wand. However, despite the hundreds of gorgeous, exciting fantasy worlds out there, the one which appealed to me most is completely beyond the scope of the human race. Because honestly, if I could live in any virtual world, I would choose the lush paradise of James Cameron’s Avatar.

You can laugh all you’d like, but after seeing that movie, the sheer beauty and wonder of the Na’vi’s planet, Pandora, was all I could think about. The flora and fauna were astounding, the natural landscape awe-inspiring. The world seemed leagues above our own, free from all of the evils perpetuated by the human race. There was no greed, no lust for power, no desire to rip down nature’s beauty and build up cities of steel. Maybe it’s a bit “anti-society” to say it, but what I loved most about Pandora’s world was that WE had no place in it.

To be honest, I wanted to live in that world so badly that, in the hours after I left the theater, the realization that our world would never be so beautiful was actually painful. Like the Pandora of Greek mythology, all the movie could give me was hope, ridiculous yet indispensable. I longed to literally become one of the Na’vi, for their world presented the perfect form of escape. Life there was simple, yet somehow filled with meaning. There was no future to worry over, for there were no colleges, no loans, no imaginary currencies. Life boiled down to the relationships between you and the people you cared about, without the distractions of failing economies, corrupt governments, or any of the other flawed systems we’ve created to make life “easier”.

To use the words from an escapist viewer like myself: “One can say my depression was twofold: I was depressed because I really wanted to live in Pandora, which seemed like such a perfect place, but I was also depressed and disgusted with the sight of our world, what we have done to Earth. I so much wanted to escape reality.” (see link below for source)

So yes, while I could be defeating dark wizards at Hogwarts or destroying rings in the fires of Mt. Doom, all I truly desire is the chance to be a 10-foot tall, blue skinned alien on a planet light-years away from here. Because when all is said and done, I’d rather spend my life surrounded by the natural beauty of the Na’vi’s world than materialistic happiness of this one.

“All the best stories are but one story in reality– the story of escape. It is the only thing which interests us all and at all times, how to escape.” –A.C. Benson

 

–The Humblebug

(Link to CNN article: http://articles.cnn.com/2010-01-11/entertainment/avatar.movie.blues_1_pandora-depressed-posts?_s=PM:SHOWBIZ)

LOTRO: Not Quite There Yet

by Theo Dentchev

Video games today are the closest thing we have to a commercially available virtual reality like that in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Lord of the Rings Online is in many ways quite similar to the Metaverse. You have an avatar, you can interact with other avatars of real people in real time, and you can even have houses in various neighborhoods. Of course, all of this is much more limited that in is in the Metaverse; your avatar is only customizable within the confines of the pre-made models and features (you can’t code your own), interactions with other players are much more limited in terms of facial expression and body language (sure you can type “lol” and your avatar will laugh, but your avatar can’t be made to mimic your real life body and face movements), and while you can change the furniture in your house you can’t do much about the structure of it.

And you can also fight. The true core of any game is the gameplay, with everything else, no matter how detailed or flushed out, being simply shiny accessories. In LOTRO, whatever else it may have in its vast universe, is at it’s core a PvE (player vs environment) game where the player fights all sorts of monsters in his various quests. The core of the Multiverse gameplay is to mimic real life, but without the limitations, but you can still have sword fights in it, thanks to some nifty code by Hiro Protagonist. In LOTRO you have a great deal of control over your avatar when fighting. I happen to be a champion, so I know a thing or two about virtual sword fighting. I can decide what kind of attacks my character will use and when. If I time it right I can fit in special attacks in between auto attacks, or I can have two special attacks in a row. I can heal, and I can run away (sort of).

But after reading Snow Crash I realize just how limited the gameplay really is. In the Metaverse skill is in part determined by how closely you can get your avatar to move the way you would in real life. In many ways it is like a fight in real life; you actually have to pay attention to how the other player is moving, and react accordingly by dodging, blocking, counter attacking. All of those are automated in LOTRO, determined by mathematical formulas and probability. In LOTRO you don’t even pay attention to the actions of your avatar or the enemy you are fighting. If you asked me to describe how a spider in LOTRO attacks I couldn’t do it. That’s because in LOTRO you’re just standing still face to face with your enemy, hacking away, and you’re paying much more attention to the health/power bars in the upper left, and the skill icons in you skill bar (whether they are available yet, or how much cool down time is left) than you are to the actual movements going on. Not to mention the fact that your movements don’t really have much of an effect anyway. I may have just used a special move that slashed my enemy four times, but the enemy will look just the same as it did before. In the Metaverse slashes actually have visible effects, such as severing the arm of an avatar from its body.

Reading Snow Crash makes me realize just how far off games like LOTRO are from achieving virtual reality, despite all the cosmetic similarities. And yet, there are similarities. If you compare LOTRO to early arcade games the difference is huge. We’re making strides, and who knows, maybe another twenty or thirty years from now we’ll have a Metaverse in Reality. In the meantime I’m going to go kill some spiders, and maybe I’ll pay a little more attention to the animations this time.

  • TD