Pastimes of the Digital Age

Pastimes of the Digital Age

(Published in: Now! Jakarta January 2012)

It is impossible to deny the phenomenon of Finnish bird-throwing video game, Angry Birds. The game that was initially developed for Apple’s iPhone has now been downloaded over 350 million times through various platforms worldwide. There are thousands of other games developed for smart phones, but by far nothing has been able to compete with the popularity of Angry Birds. This touch screen-based game is now officially the most popular game in the world. Just look at all the plush toys and merchandises – even cupcakes and cookies – sold everywhere. Angry Birds even has its own Hollywood movie coming soon. The birds are, definitely, everywhere!

It is not an overstatement to say that Angry Birds or some other smart phone game might be one reason your child wants an iPad or other fancy gadget – or it could be the only reason. The game is addictive, even for adults. It is the perfect game to keep your thumbs and mind occupied while sitting in Jakarta traffic, the long queue for your movie ticket, or just basically anything that allows you an idle 2 to 5 minutes. The goal is to blast all the pigs on the map using the limited provided birds. The rewards are high scores and advancement to the next level. Every Angry Bird addict knows how it feels to see each level on the map marked with three yellow stars – it is the thrill of achievement.

Angry Birds Pizza!

Angry Birds seems able to revive the ‘child’ in each one of us. However, addiction to Angry Birds is unlikely to cause malnourishment, which is the case with more intense multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft, or Halo or games on Xbox or PS3. These kinds of addictive games have garnered negative reputations, perhaps because spending too much time with online friends can make you a social outcast.

Virtual Reality Games
Another type of gaming addiction, though, can come from multiplayer online games like Second Life or Utopia. These games are gaining popularity, especially as fast computers become more affordable and accessible. Because thousands of people can play at once, these games are fundamentally different from traditional computer games in which one or two people play on one PC. Think of social networking sites where you can meet people, interact with them, or even do business through an avatar of yourself which you create. To play, participants launch Second Life’s software on their personal computers, log in, and then use their mouse and keyboard to roam endless landscapes and cityscapes, chat with friends, create virtual homes on plots of imaginary land, and conduct real business with real money. There is no joining fee and the software is also free, but additional necessities like customized clothes, a place to live, and others all come with a price to pay.

At first, you might think, what’s the point? There’s not much of a goal, there’s no plot. For a complete beginner or outsider, Second Life, or any other virtual platform game out there, might seem like just another gaming fad. But wait until you hear the amount of actual money being transacted in this game. In 2009, the company said that Second Life Residents had transacted the equivalent of more than USD 1 billion with each other, with nearly USD 50 million each month in user-to-user transaction, making it the largest virtual economy in the industry. It seems that many people view this game as a clean slate for them to start another life, a “second life”, as whomever they want.

A Tank Top sold for 120 Linden Dollars at the SL Marketplace

The population growth of Second Life and the real money involved has lured big real-life corporations to set up stores, or even an island, in Second Life. American Apparel has a virtual shop selling jumpers and t-shirts to comfort “residents”, as the Second Life players prefer to be called. Toyota built an in-world dealership and driving track to let residents test drive their latest cars. Second Life, is in fact, a second universe, where people from the real world actually live, build houses, buy clothes, watch concerts (held by real artists); and use real money exchanged to the Second Life currency, Linden Dollars.

There is no slowing down this “digital playground”. Its growth is exponentially exploding in line with how fast the technology is getting, and how much time and money people are willing to spend on it, which is a lot. It’s a bountiful world to be discovered, but just be very careful not to get carried away and find yourself caught in a new breed of addiction, or worse, social or bodily malnourishment!

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