Global Ethics Corner: How Real Is Virtual?

Jan 30, 2009

Virtual worlds are online environments in which users interact via self-designed persona called avatars. Virtual reality can be entertaining and educational, but at what point does too much virtual become a vice?

Virtual worlds are online environments in which users interact via self-designed persona called avatars. Many online communities are born in blogs, wikis, or chat rooms, but virtual worlds mimic reality with their own visual spaces, structures, vocations, rules, et cetera.

The largest of these virtual worlds is "Second Life." Here, participants find the like-minded, share information, grow with new experiences, or indulge a passion.

Older simulations proved effective in education, business training, and even national defense planning.

In newer virtual worlds the disabled can experience the sensation of leaving their disabilities behind.

Some users, however, develop a second personality to match their mythical avatars. At what point does creativity flow into deception? Perhaps when the purpose becomes manipulation?

Also, people abusing virtual worlds live life at the keyboard, developing few social skills and making little real contribution.

What do you think? Will you interact ethically in a virtual world even when the consequences are also virtual? Are you diminishing your capacities and those of your community by retreating, even as you expand your virtual horizons?

Virtual reality can be entertaining and educational, but at what point does too much virtual become a vice?

By William Vocke

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