GAMESTOP SAYS IT’S AN ESSENTIAL BUSINESS THAT SHOULD STAY OPEN IN CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC [MIAMI HERALD] ❂ EMBOLDENED WILD ANIMALS VENTURE INTO LOCKED-DOWN CITIES WORLDWIDE [THE GUARDIAN] ❂ DUBLIN SEES AN OVERNIGHT 61% INCREASE IN RENTAL PROPERTIES AS AIRBNB OCCUPANCIES CRASH [DAFT MEDIA]
In late January, the Berlin-based New Models hosted SIMSOCIETY: WORLD-BUILDING & POLITICAL IDENTITY FORMATION ON MMORPG EARTH at Trauma Bar and Kino in Berlin. Less than a month later, SIMSOCIETY turned out to be an eerily predictive event and its framing moved from metaphorical to literal – we now grapple with the immediate reality of a socially distanced life behind closed doors becoming the norm for many (but, frustratingly, not all). As the spread of COVID-19 gains momentum through a globally connected physical network of aeroplanes and handshakes, our lived experience has crashed into the digital space. 2020 may well become the year where – nursing a collective whiplash – we don’t simply conduct work from home, but also our friendships, our communities, our grief and our individual or collective identities. An uncharted technocratic society.
But let’s be clear. This is not a cypherpunk utopia, nor is it the world of libertarian potential championed by early online advocates and Californian ideologists. This is the next logical step for disaster capitalism. Today, global crisis has forced the online space on an unwilling and nervous population.
In spite of its problematic ideology, online space remains profound. At SIMSOCIETY, we presented a new work, Our Artificial Wilderness: Virtual Beauty and Ecological Decay. arguing for the importance of virtual spaces through comparisons to open world simulation systems. In the 2010s, open world video games emerged as one of the most popular forms of global entertainment, and this happened as environmental destruction began to accelerate. Digital space is deeply meaningful, and Our Artificial Wilderness weaves three concurrent historical narratives to serve as examples for just how true this is:
- The archeological efforts of /r/MinecraftDataMining serve to uncover the secret diaries and expressions of love and loss left behind by Minecraft players on abandoned servers. These are at once both moments of play and collaboration, and powerful exhibits of fragile yet formative digital friendships.
- Bombastic open world games are tools for profit-driven societies to hold a mirror to their realities. Games like Red Dead Redemption II, Far Cry and Abzu offer breathtaking opulence and detail, but unwittingly serve as a method for digitizing collapsed ecologies. Death Stranding, conversely, offers startlingly relevant post-ecology dystopic predictions using similar mechanics.
- The renaissance of Virtual Reality reveals the desire for new, malleable spaces that offer profound lived experiences for their participants. Tools like VR Chat offer a glimpse into the future, and as the potential of deceleration and degrowth looms, these tools will become more refined. We ignore their class and gender politics at our peril.
Open world and massive multiplayer games have always been conduits for participants to express ever-mutable forms of identity, community and cooperation. In the coming weeks and months, it may extend beyond this to become a central mechanic for cohabitation and social health at a time when the physical health of millions depends on us remaining alone. And with the expanding availability of VR and the current course of world events, we believe that we remain collectively ignorant of the flawed yet deep potential of online space. Never trust someone who says the Internet is boring. We are all bunkered recipients of Sam Bridges’ packages.
SPENDING TIME WITH OTHERS BY YOURSELF:
- TwoSeven is a browser plugin that allows you to watch videos with each other online.
- Discord offers a directory of vibrant online communities to join.
- Netflix Party is a Google Chrome extension that synchronizes Netflix playback for multiple users, allowing for socially distanced movie viewings.
- Don’t surrender your privacy. The Data Detox Kit can help you reject surveillance capitalism during this moment of sudden online dependency.