November 21st, 2006


Are Wii all becoming Marie Antoinette?

In my new Wired News piece, Reality's for losers: Give me Wii, after feeding an air guitar t-shirt and two new gaming systems through a moral grid featuring "the 4 Es" (ethics, etiquette, environment, embodiment), I conclude that you can't really accuse these technologies -- which all use motion detection to make our gestures productive in a virtual world -- of leading people away from "reality", since so much of what we do now happens in virtual, electronic space anyway.

But I do end on a slightly sinister note, addressing a somewhat qualified banzai to the electronic shepherdesses we see in these Wii promo clips, then comparing them to Marie Antoinette (and no, I do not plan to see Sofia Coppola's film) and reminding the world of her fate.

In this metaphor, the virtual world maps to the Ancien Regime of pre-revolutionary French aristocrats, with their ultra-privileged pastimes and their high-Gini decadence. Could there be some Information Age version of the French Revolution coming, some kind of uprising on the other side of the "digital divide"? We're so deep in our "second lives" that it would undoubtedly impinge on our consciousness suddenly, catching us by surprise then leading us to a guillotine which isn't virtual in the least.

Revolutionary scenarios like these may just be projections of liberal guilt, though. Virtual worlds are much more liable, as things stand now, to be attacked by their own users. Virtual world Second Life was hit, this weekend, by a malicious attack "which caused self-replicating golden rings to appear in the virtual world, and significantly slowed down the servers". It wasn't the first time. In 2004, one user created self-replicating zombie objects which swarmed avatars. Another punished an ex by creating robo-zombie touts who handed out virtual photos of him masturbating. "This is for revenge," read the accompanying note. "Please pass it on. Shouldn't piss off someone who has nude pics of you."

Another parallel with Marie Antoinette; the "shepherdess queen" was also humiliated by being forced to show herself naked to the crowd before being led up the steps to the guillotine.