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Get a Life 

Taking up residence inside a video game isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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I love video games, but so what. A lot of people love video games.


Some people play all the time, while some try to squeeze it into their spare time. As I grow older, I find I have less and less spare time. In fact, sometimes I feel like I don’t play enough.


But then there are those times. I have to play a little extra for this column; my wife’s out of town on business; the Saturday chores are finished and the rest of a lazy day is obligation-free. I cherish those times to indulge in my favorite hobbies; it’s special. For me, there aren’t many taboos in gaming. If it fits in my console or computer, I’m happy to give it a shot. My tastes are simple, but I’m always willing to expand those tastes.


That’s why I decided to check out some of the newest online multi-player games. I have played multi-player titles online before through Xbox live, etc. But I’ve never been excited about the newest kinds of multi-player games where you basically create an alter-ego and enter a virtual world.


The most popular of these new worlds is Second Life. You enter, create a character (or “avatar”) and roam this bold new world to create any life for yourself that you see fit. And a lot of people'close to 200,000'are not only creating virtual lives in places like Second Life and Project Entropia, they’re profiting from them. Each place has its own currency'called Linden dollars in Second Life'that can be exchanged at a rate of about $300 Linden to $1 U.S. The stories are endless of people making a lot of real money selling avatars, clothing for avatars and even land in cyberspace for development, homes, etc.


A cover story earlier this year in Business Week told of a Second Life citizen called “Anshe Chung” who has a land ownership enterprise worth $250,000 in U.S. currency'cold hard cash that she can withdraw at any time. Another Second Life resident makes about $1,900 a week in real money selling custom animations for couples. It’s absolutely mind-blowing that people are spending real money'more than $1 billion last year'to live a fake life.


I believe people should be able to do what they want with their money. But in a time when the government eliminates the right of people to play online poker or holds a hearing a week about violence in video games, it amazes me that spending hundreds of dollars on nonexistent land isn’t causing more of an uproar.


These kinds of places are, in my estimation, more dangerous to society than playing Grand Theft Auto for a couple of hours. If people are spending real money in these worlds, then they’re also spending something a lot more valuable: their time. For a lot of people, places like Second Life are becoming their first lives. You can’t be successful in these places if you don’t devote a whole lot of time and energy to them.


Video games are special to me because they are an escape from reality for a few hours every week. They should be a temporary escape to help clear one’s mind, not something that dominates every thought.


By no means am I suggesting there should be government regulation of virtual worlds like Second Life just because they aren’t for me. But it’s one thing to pay to play a game and another to create an economy based on pixels and fantasies of people who find virtual lives preferable to their real ones. At some point, these worlds stop becoming a game and start becoming reality. You have to ask yourself: Is a life based in a world you can’t touch, with friends you can’t actually talk to, the best place to spend the money you make in the real world?


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