Tuesday, January 22, 2013

When Will Virtual Reality Take Over?

I was sitting here at the reference desk today, and a thought popped into my head: "Second Life." Does everybody remember Second Life? It was all the rage a few years ago. An online virtual world where people could buy property, create merchandise--live their lives. Virtually. In library circles, it was THE THING for a while. Libraries were all heading on to Second Life in droves, creating virtual libraries for their patrons. It was supposed to be this new age of wonder, ushering in exciting new directions for librarians.

You don't hear about it much these days.

In fact, it seems to have fallen on some hard times, at least from a cursory glance through their home page. I mean, when the big feature on the home page is a girl dressed in a "Mrs. Claus with Loose Morals" outfit, you have to wonder just how seriously the product expects to be taken.

Part of me really wonders why Second Life didn't take off. Sci fi novels are filled with people living in virtual reality worlds, after all. And those worlds look pretty darn appealing. You can meet up with people anywhere in the world, you can hang out, play games, chat, go anywhere. There are a ton of perks, right?

Then again, part of me knows why it's fizzled. It wasn't much fun, to tell the truth. I tried it some, and the controls were frustrating, the people were less than social, and there wasn't much to do. Yes, I could theoretically live a Second Life, but the life I already was living took a ton of attention. I had no time to be living two lives at the same time.

Which leads me to think that for virtual reality to really take off, it's going to need to be based around some sort of a game first. Something that makes people want to go in and play. Steps are being made in that direction. You've got World of Warcraft, and more recently Minecraft. You've got the social structure emerging through Facebook. The games Facebook has you play right now are irritating and pretty rinky dink, but I could easily see this social structure blossoming when matched with the right sort of game.

I personally believe there will come a game that will hit critical mass. Where there are enough  people playing it, that it starts to make sense to join up, just so that you're not left behind. I think this game would be free to play, with addons costing money. People would sign up for the social aspect of it alone. Instead of walls, you could have entire houses people could visit, filled with whatever you want to put there. Second Life has the structure for this, but it never had the gaming side down--which is what I think you need in place to attract that critical mass first.

I could see something like this happening in the next decade. I could be wrong, but that's where my money would be.

Any of you have any thoughts or predictions?

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