Virtual space

There was this absolutely arresting quote in an article about online gaming the New York Times yesterday:

“Think about it: I’m a 33-year-old guy with a 9-to-5 job, a wife and a baby on the way,” Mr. Pinsky said. “I can’t be going out all the time. So what opportunities do I have to not only meet people and make new friends but actually spend time with them on a nightly basis? In WOW I’ve made, like, 50 new friends, some of whom I’ve hung out with in person, and they are of all ages and from all over the place. You don’t get that sitting on the couch watching TV every night like most people.”

The article, about Worlds of Warcraft, explains that WOW is a “massively-multiplayer online” type of game. In MMO, the article explains, thousands of players “simultaneously occupy one vast virtual 3-D world.” Simultaneously occupy one vast virtual 3-D world.

There are a bundle of oportunities for commentary here, but for the moment, what interests me are the implications of this evolving social mode on the design of the city. No, not that we have cities dying because everybody is in virtual rather than real space (although I remember reading that the National Park system blamed declining visits on computer games), but what is the model for the new city that might make physical space attractive–that is, effective, authentic and relevant– to people like Mr. Pinsky.

Is Baghdad the current physical place that represents what he seeks (is it the excitement of warfare that is the only attaction here)? Or can we be a bit more hopeful, and look into the implications of his inability to get out, but yet his yearning for making new friends and mixing with them without losing connection or surrendering responsibity to home and family? Does our current form of design and building restrict this potential? What is a form that might support his objectives?

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