Evolution of Virtual World and Virtual Characters

Khilansha MukhijaLaw

Evolution of Virtual World and Virtual Characters

The emergence of the virtual world is one of the miracles of technological developments. Unlike the real world, the virtual world is an artificial manifestation of human imagination. It replicates the real-world experience in an alternate, virtual form. This virtual world contains a virtually-generated environment inhabited by virtual inhibitors or characters known as avatars. These avatars have the agency to take action. They can interact, learn, and behave in the virtual world like humans do in the real world. Those activities may include walking, buying property, making friends, partying, etc. This article looks at many technologically sophisticated changes the virtual world has seen since its evolution.

We could go anywhere without going anywhere at all. (Ready Player One (2018))


The Early Days

The virtual world began in the late 1970s through text-based online games called MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons). One example is LambdaMOO, where players could take on different roles, such as priests or thieves, and interact with each other through command-driven interfaces.

Consequently, the emergence of 2D/3D graphics in the 1990s significantly enhanced user experience. Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) gained significant popularity during this phase. The game granted virtual characters the autonomy to create objects and virtual rooms. It also allowed them to socially interact in the virtual world with a visually appealing and immersive experience. Hence, the virtual world has become more like a computerised version of the real world, with social interactions and activities.

Although the term Habitat was famously used, MMORPG became famous later. Ultima was one of the most popular 3D virtual worlds back then, garnering success through features such as including all the users in a single world and 24-hour availability of its virtual worlds.

The Advent of the Internet and Social Media

In the 2000s, technological advancements hit another milestone with the launch of games like Second Life. Games like this featured the most authentic close-resemblance replicas of the real world. It allowed users to have perceptions of a real-world-like feeling in the virtual world, with a successful attempt to dissolve the boundaries between the two worlds. However, just like the real world, virtual worlds like Second Life are not devoid of rules and principles. For example, Second Life requires a user to be a minimum of 18 years of age to form an account and become a part of it.

Real-life players control their avatars, who engage in experiences akin to the real world, such as commerce, purchasing virtual property and clothes for avatars, and social interaction. These developments led to the emergence of a popular term known as fantasy games, which later became one of the most dominant genres of MMORPGs.

What about Metaverse?

Metaverse has been the most recent and sophisticated development in virtual space. It allows its users to experience the maximum immersive internet through their avatars. It combines features of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality with the help of various innovative tools, such as haptic feedback. Such tools engage users’ physical sensations of an experience in the virtual world through VR headsets, allowing audio and visual effects.

Neal Stephenson first used the term metaverse in his novel Snow Crash. The novel portrayed the dissolved boundaries of the two worlds and enabled users to escape from the real world. Facebook, a prominent tech giant, acknowledged the immense potential of such technology in its name transition to Meta in 2021.

The Puppets of the Virtual World: Avatars

Behind every avatar is a real person.

Virtual characters, commonly known as avatars, play a pivotal role in the virtual world. They serve as digital embodiments of real-life users. These avatars possess agency, allowing users to interact, learn, and engage in activities in the virtual environment. More often than not, avatars mirror the actions and behaviours of individuals in the physical world. Just as humans navigate their daily lives, avatars within the virtual space take similar roles, blurring the lines between reality and virtuality.

The evolution of avatars and their capabilities reflect the increasing sophistication of digital experiences. We have come a long way from text-based MUDs to 2D/3D graphics, allowing visual representation autonomy. The emergence of MMORPGs further expanded the capabilities of virtual characters. It provides users with a vast, interconnected virtual environment. Platforms like Second Life pushed the boundaries of virtual interaction.

Avatars can be assigned any gender or non-human designation. The extent of actions an avatar can take has evolved over time, with credit to technological advancements. For example, Second Life enables users, through their avatars, to engage in activities that people do in the real world. It includes activities such as having a job, practising a religion, buying land, having sex, etc. In short, the virtual world is a computerised replica of humans doing all the things they may or may not do in the real world in a fantasy world.

What’s next? Should you worry?

Given the constantly increasing level of sophistication, it becomes imperative to consider ethical considerations concerning the use of virtual characters. One serious concern that the virtual world brings is its potential for addiction. Some individuals become so immersed that they neglect their real-world responsibilities and relationships. Avatars can also manipulate individuals, spread misinformation, or perpetuate gender stereotypes. There is no denying that the evolution of virtual worlds has been nothing short of remarkable. As the tech community continues to develop and refine these technologies, we must ensure they are used responsibly. Understanding the role of avatars in shaping virtual interactions is complicated yet imperative.

With further advancements, virtual characters will come even closer to efficiently replicating the real world. Creating an exact replica of the real world can be daunting, and I firmly believe there is a need for a balance between reality and a fantasy world. Where do we draw the line between escapism and the dissolution of reality? Would this evolution eventually end up devouring humans of their fundamental essence of living? These questions challenge us to consider the ethical implications of virtual technologies and the boundaries we must establish to ensure the well-being of users and the integrity of the real world.

Featured Image Credits: Image by freepik