THE ALMOST-MAGIC CIRCLE
Following on the overview of synthetic worlds in part 1, the first task in part 2 is to explicitly discuss the relationship between synthetic worlds and our world. I suppose the easiest distinction to make would be that the synthetic world is not real, but our world is real, and there is no relationship between the two. If I felt that were the case, I could stop this chapter right here. Indeed, I could give up the whole manuscript and go do something more entertaining. Unfortunately, the reasoning laid out in the first part of the book has convinced me that the distinction is not as clear as all that. There is certainly a relationship between the synthetic world and the real one, and it is quite real on both sides.
In this chapter I use a metaphor that I’ve found quite helpful in thinking about synthetic worlds: the membrane.1 The synthetic world is an organism surrounded by a barrier. Within the barrier, life proceeds according to all kinds of fantasy rules involving space flight, fireballs, invisibility, and so on. Outside the barrier, life proceeds according to the ordinary rules. The membrane is the “magic circle” within which the rules are different (Huizinga 1938/1950). The membrane can be considered a shield of sorts, protecting the fantasy world from the outside world. The inner world needs defining and protecting because it is necessary that everyone who goes there adhere to the different set of rules. In the case of synthetic worlds, however, this membrane is actually quite porous. Indeed it cannot be sealed completely; people are crossing it all the time in both directions, carrying their behavioral assumptions and attitudes with them. As a result, the valuation of things in cyberspace becomes enmeshed in the valuation of things outside cyberspace.
In other words, we find human society on either side of the membrane, and since society is the ultimate locus of validation for all of our important shared notions—value, fact, emotion, meaning—we will find shared notions on either