THE SYNTHETIC WORLD:
IF YOU ARE NOT AN AVID PLAYER OF VIDEO GAMES AND YOU DO not spend very much time online, your first questions about these places will not be about implications but about basic features. What phenomena are being considered when someone uses the term synthetic worlds (or the more popular synonym, virtual worlds)? The chapters in part 1 attempt to describe common features of all the synthetic worlds now in existence and likely to come online in the next decade or so. Chapters 2–5 talk about the users, the technology, the behavioral pattern, and the market structures that most synthetic worlds seem to share. To begin, however, the first chapter takes the reader on a walk-through of a typical synthetic world. How is it that you “go” there? Why does it feel any different from, say, opening an email program or a game of computer solitaire? Once you are there, who else will you find and what will you do with them?
If you’re already quite familiar with synthetic worlds, you could skip the walkthrough and go on to chapter 2. On the other hand, even the most experienced gamer might find it interesting to see the level at which I’ve chosen to describe a typical day in a MMORPG. Much that seems second nature to the experienced gamer is, in fact, a thoroughly befuddling recoding of expectations for the rest of us. It’s in the interests of everyone—those who know the technology and culture inside and out as well as those who’ve never heard of these things before—to realize how much experiential distance separates them.