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Once again, if this seems ridiculous and alien, remember how many societies had (hell, still have) arranged marriages, often where the groom didn't see the bride's face until their wedding night. Wasn't the change from that to the modern method of getting matched up with girls by Internet dating sites just as strange?
Aristotle said it best: "Society is a house, change is a tornado full of woodpeckers."
8. There will be a branch of government to rule the virtual world.
If we're going to make theft illegal in the metaverse (and hackers will always devise ways to steal, or at least vandalize, digital goods), someone has to make and enforce those laws. Obviously no team of IT guys or game moderators will get to decide how the everyday lives of billions are lived, arbitrarily giving and taking goods and abilities as they see fit. Would not a common punishment in the virtual world be to shave a foot off a person's height and add 150 pounds to their weight?
But, this raises an avalanche of questions. First, do you limit the amount of "gold" available in the game? You'd have to, once real-world goods can be purchased by metaverse gold (or whatever is used for currency in the virtual world). The exchange rate with real currency and the inflation rate of the virtual currency both become key as corporations depend on both for their profit.
If you don't understand the complication here, remember that in the metaverse if you want a 36-room mansion with a giant guitar-shaped pool, you can have it for free. No construction crew needs to be paid to build it, no materials have to be bought, no piece of real property had to be bought or paid for. It's just bits and bytes. So do you even have "gold" in the metaverse at all? How would it have any value if goods can be created from thin air, for free? What if I'm an interior decorator in the metaverse, going around and using my creativity to dress up their virtual homes for pay? How do they pay me for my effort and time? How do I, in turn, pay for porn?
If you say, fine, we'll just have to go back to using real money to pay for things, remember that real money means nothing to me because I don't spend any time in the real world. What am I going to do, buy a real metal-and-rubber car? For what? Where do I drive? It'd be like Monopoly money to me.
But wait, there's more. What about those who live in different countries in the real world--and under different laws--but who inhabit the same household in the metaverse? Which laws apply? Are metaverse laws universal? How could you get everyone from different cultures to agree to the same set of metaverse laws?
Would prostitution be legal? Especially if there is no real body-on-body contact with the real hooker? If not, what if the prostitute isn't even controlled by a real woman but is just a bot program meant to simulate one?
What about the customers who want to simulate sex with a bot who looks like a 6-year-old? Legal? Illegal? No real child is being harmed.
And just how do you punish a rape committed by one virtual character on another, if the real person's body is left untouched?
9. There will be a whole class of wealthy people without a dime to their name.
The trailer park guy I mentioned before--the one with a virtual world palace--brings us to yet a new plane of strangeness to consider. In the metaverse, unlike real life, everyone can be wealthy. It doesn't matter if you have actually invented anything or held a job of great responsibility or even came from a family of great wealth. Metaverse wealth has nothing to do with life achievement because there is no reason every man can't be a king there. As I said, it doesn't cost the metaverse servers any more effort or resources to render you a sprawling estate than it does to give you a one-bedroom efficiency apartment in the basement.
You get to live a king's lifestyle, without a king's responsibilities.
This is another reason the real world won't be able to keep up with the virtual world once it takes hold. Imagine an unskilled kid, doing a minimum-wage job like data entry from home. The job pays poverty-level money in the real world, but pays a fortune in virtual gold. For the guy, his smelly one-bedroom apartment is nothing but a storage area for food. It needs only three rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom, and then a little room with a comfy chair he uses to jack into the metaverse. The real apartment becomes only an unpleasant little commute on the way to his "real" life. Hell, you could even sleep in the metaverse, the interface tricking you into thinking you're lounging on a king-size bed with sheets of silk.
This works out wonderfully for society, as you now have entire classes of the population who live in what used to be considered abject poverty, and are thrilled with it. You can give them everything they want and need with 200 square feet of apartment and enough electricity to run the metaverse interface. Their food can be chewy protein bars that the interface will convince them is a five-course meal.
Most jobs will be online and can be done from within the metaverse (most manufacturing and farming and manual labor will be done with robots at this point, or, as I predict, genetically-engineered land dolphins). If you work the complaint counter at a government office, the office will exist only in the metaverse and thus neither the worker nor the complainer need leave their homes. And get this: If the complainer explodes in rage and tries to attack the guy behind the counter, no one is harmed. You can't really hurt anyone from within the metaverse.
10. The rise of the metaverse will go almost completely unopposed.
You won't have to trick people into jacking themselves into this one. It legitimately makes their lives better. Everything we've done a as a civilization from the caves until now has been about making a better world. Well, the metaverse will just be a shortcut, won't it? We'll have our Utopia of unlimited wealth and friction-free homogeny.
Population growth will be kept easily under control, since most sexual partners will live separately and won't be having meat sex at all (A guy can't get a girl pregnant from 100 miles away unless he's, you know, me.). To have an actual baby will take so much effort and planning that only those who really want one will get one. That would have to be a change for the better, right?
The people are ripe for it. You've heard stories about how ticket sales are plummeting at movie theaters, in favor of home DVD viewing. Why? Why do so many people want to work from home now? Because we're sick of having to sit with other people. We want that extra layer of control that meat interaction will never give us. We want a world without the unpredictability of real, unrestrained humanity.
This could not have been attempted say, 100 years ago, even if the technology had been around. Back then people believed in all sorts of unchangeable gods and spirits and philosophies that live beyond what a person can see and smell and taste in front of them. But the Age of Reason did away with all of that, taught everyone to believe in nothing but the real, physical world. And if the stream of sense data we call "the real, physical world" can be altered to display a superior world, then it's impossible to say with any conviction that anything has really been lost in the transition. The modern "I believe it when I see it" religion will be satisfied by simply giving them something new to see.
It was only a matter of time. Humans got fed up with this world, and so we invented a new one. I suspect some theologian will come forward in the future to suggest that, in fact, our world was created in the same way. The gods got sick of their boring spiritual realm and made a more exciting, physical one to replace it.
You shouldn't be disturbed by this. Jules Verne was wrong when he said, "the future is a jockstrap made of bees." Anything manufactured by machine is destined to be better and more free of defect than anything created with human hands. Why not extend this idea to reality itself? It's the end of evolution, and I welcome it.
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There is nothing to fear, and it will happen in your lifetime. Unless you're already old or have a terminal disease.
NOTE: This article was first published on Pointless Waste of Time in late 2005. Approximately 18 months later Sony unveiled PS3 Home, a virtual world with every PS3 console connected, where you live as a highly-detailed and completely customizable avatar.
David Wong is currently an Associate Editor for Cracked.com. He also wrote The Next 25 Years of Video Games.
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