Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Outer Limits (Or: Why Metafrontiers?)

Main Entry: fron·tier
Pronunciation: "fr&n-'tir, 'fr&n-", frän-', 'frän-"
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English fronter, from Anglo-French frountere, fronter, from front
1 a : a border between two countries b obsolete : a stronghold on a frontier
2 a : a region that forms the margin of settled or developed territory b : the farthermost limits of knowledge or achievement in a particular subject c : a line of division between different or opposed things frontiers separating science and the humanities -- R. W. Clark> d : a new field for exploitative or developmental activity


The new virtual realm is a series of ever-evolving universes; worlds are created, populated, grow and - in some cases - die out or evolve into a new iteration. Millions of people spend hours per day inhabiting these spaces, known alternately by one of several names: metaverse, synthetic world and virtual reality.

These spaces exist in some new borderland; a blend of imagined and factual, where real people do unreal things that often having implications in both realms. These actions frequently challenge the laws of physics, space, time; the order of things that we have come to know and the parameters by which we live in our quotidien existence. Alter egos are created, grow, prosper and die; people meet, interact, have relationships, fight, band together in complex social strata; entire economies are created and fostered on a massive scale, many of which have measurable impact in real-world currency and GDPs exceeding those of actual physical nations[1].

And yet, these same spaces, these metaverses, synthetic worlds, these virtual realities - growing from and owing their existence to the history of MUDs, MUSHes and MOOs and the graphical gaming culture of RPGs and world building - were created largely with one goal in mind: leisure.

For this reason, the general public has only just begin to take note and take seriously, hence the name for this blog: "metafrontiers." Those who are inhabiting the myriad metaverses, expanding them beyond the notion of a simple play space (and often expanding what it can mean to "play," in and of itself) are pioneers, blazing trails. They have created, within this new paradigm, the metaverse as learning space, the metaverse as economic model, the metaverse as a real-world money generator, the metaverse as great social experiment.

The outcomes of these pioneering endeavors are just now being realized, and so we remain, from Second Life to World of Warcraft to legacy text-based MUDs, on the vanguard, the fringe - colonists of the new virtual world.

When Neal Stephenson, in his seminal work of dystopian future, Snow Crash, first introduced his concept of the Metaverse in his 1992 novel, to many of us, the vision suggested in his fiction seemed fanciful and unlikely; it was, after all, just a pulpy, fun, yet smart, science-fiction story. But in the early days of the consumer/popular Internet, to those of us who had been along for the early ride, it seemed that anything could, in fact, be possible.

Now, finally, bandwith, development, graphics and access have all converged to make this once implausible vision so. If you are reading this entry, chances are you have some interest in the metaverse. In this blog, we shall endeavor to talk about many topics near and dear to our own participation in alternate realities of our choice; some of those topics include metaverse culture, computing history, virtual economies, the metaverse as learning space, developing a related bibliography, educational opportunities, relevant business and technology news and commentary on what the bigger picture may be, and what is at stake for those who are in - and those who reamin out.

What has become clear, in the face of so many unknowns, is this: we are all standing on the edge of a brave new frontier. It is time to move forward, stake our claims and explore the outer limits of our imaginations and ingenuity. Let's go.

[1] Julian Dibbell.
Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot (New York: Basic Books, 2006).
Click here to view above title

No comments: