Re-Skilling in a Virtual Reality …
I’ve never been a gamer. Aside from Mahjong Solitaire and the occasional click through Minesweeper I’ve never been tempted. Perhaps it’s because I already spend the majority of my day staring down a computer screen, so when I earn a free evening or weekend I prefer to debate philosophy with my sweetie (e.g. “is there objective truth?”) or sip a crantini while reading Can-lit.
A casual conversation with my friend Kate introduced me to Glitch.com, a multi-player virtual world created by Tiny Speck where players “learn” skills that allow them to interact in progressively more interesting ways with the pigs, trees, barnacles, fireflies, etc. that populate the game. (Note: I’m justifying this blog post with the “skills” bit.)
An innocent foray into this alternate universe one evening led to Glitch becoming my new favourite past-time. (Along with Twin Peaks, courtesy of Netflix.) Within a week I’d logged 11 hours as a glitchling and found a new passion: bootlegging, courtesy of a virtual still and backyard patch of potatoes and corn. Now, three weeks later, I’m at level 19 and am mastering Teleportation III, which will make it even easier to move from my homestead in Groddle Forest to the Community Herb Gardens and the caverns of Ilmenski Deeps where I can collect the guano I need to make Raw Bio-Organic Carob-ish Treats.
Here’s why I think I have fallen in love with a computer game:
- Intellectually stimulating down-time.
- Community & Eco-ness.
- No pixels wasted on cleavage or muscles.
Intellectually stimulating down-time
Glitch offers interactive escape. Unlike TV, which is passive, Glitch requires that you interact with its virtual world (at your own pace and schedule). Every time I play, I do something new. I’ve gone on a vision quest, hunted down eight ghosts, attended a farmers’ market and crashed a party for miners. (I’ve also re-learned a whole lotta polysyllabic words that I haven’t heard since UVic. Glitch is a logophile’s dream.)
As you explore the world of Ur, learn more skills, finish more quests, and interact with its various inhabitants, you earn “experience points.” So true to life. So true.
Because of little touches like that, I often get the feeling that there’s some intellectual in the backroom, giggling. Why else do I have to stomp grapes to redeem myself when I “die” in the game? What’s up with that? Glitch’s founder, Stewart Butterfield, has a Master in Philosophy from Cambridge. I can smell his brain when I walk the desert streets of Xalanga and am almost overwhelmed with Ancestral Nostalgia.
One last point under this bold heading … I have yet to find a typo in Glitch.
Community & Eco-ness
Yes, I said it: there’s a farmers’ market in Glitch. It’s organized by an everyday glitching, not Tiny Speck’s programmers. There’s also a grassroots-founded community kitchen and a welcome wagon. Community gardens and communal Machine Rooms are part of the landscape.
Another cool community-building strategy: the quests in Glitch encourage and reward cooperation. You can give gifts and “bestow random kindness” on your fellow players. And if you’re a newcomer to the game, watch out: you will be inundated with presents from the veterans.
The Glitch “community” extends to its flora and fauna: trees must be “pet” and watered to stay alive. A “save the wood trees” (this is not redundant in Glitch) movement began because some plank-greedy players were clear-cutting.
There is a bizarre, logical-if-you-don’t-think-too-much interconnectedness in this virtual world. For example: to make cheese you first massage a butterfly, then milk it, then shake the milk and compress the resulting butter. Note that you have to massage a butterfly first: you must give before you can receive. You can also get meat from pigs without having to kill them, as long as you pet them nicely first.
Most computer and video games I’ve seen feature practically bare-breasted women with DD-cups, and men whom I doubt read novels. Why would I want to play a game like that, where I get points for killing people? As you’ll note from my portrait above, glitchlings look more like kids playing dress-up. And there are some very cool clothes to dress up in.
Come to think of it, Glitch is a lot like the golden days of kindergarten. You can dress up, explore amazing new worlds, make friends, and do pretty much anything you can imagine, from teleporting to making potions to starting a business. You can also bootleg hootch and mix martinis … it’s no wonder I’m hooked.