I don’t know about you—because what am I, the NSA?—but I worry that blanket domestic surveillance will be a problem because the federal government could use it for evil. Recent developments suggest that I may have overlooked another possibility: blanket surveillance could be a problem because the government will use it to waste vast quantities of money and time. I refer, of course, to the news that intelligence agencies are monitoring Second Life and World of Warcraft. Props to Mose for the link. The NSA, FBI and CIA believe that terrorists and other international criminals could use online multiplayer games to secretly communicate with one another and exchange resources. In fact, terrorists are most likely to use World of Warcraft to get called fags by 14 year-olds in Ohio. It’s a real misunderstanding.
The copy of a screenshot of the virtual version of a person at right is Angie Mornington, host of a weekly fashion show on Treet TV, the television station of the avatar-driven social networking platform Second Life. I find that sentence confusing, too. If you want to depress yourself, think about how 15,000 people a week use their fantasy lives in a 3-D computer world to watch television—and the virtual television equivalent of The Home Shopping Network, at that. If you want to depress me, point out how that’s about 300 times the readership of my blog.
All this information—okay, not the last sentence—comes from a trend piece in today’s Times about luxury spending in virtual worlds like Second Life, There.com and IMVU. For those of you unfamiliar with the ever-narrowing canyon between geek and sexual fetish culture that is Second Life, it’s a free-form, virtual world in which players own land and consumer goods, run businesses, interact socially and live out lies of computer-modeled desperation through their avatars, which are invariably both disturbing and attractive in roughly the same way as Angelina Jolie. Membership in these sites is free, but the money you spend there—Lindens in Second Life, Therebucks in There—has to be purchased with actual United States or foreign currency. Which—especially after you hear that such virtual worlds enjoy economies whose “avatar-to-avatar transactions [are] estimated at between $1 billion and $2 billion a year in real dollars,”—begs a question: Why?