In 1982, Tron posited the wild idea of humans zapping their psyches into a digital realm, which allowed them to roam inside a virtual world, ride around on sweet motorcycles, and “de-rez” (read: kill) each other with DayGlo frisbees. A bit ahead of its time, this romantic, Atari 2600-inspired dream’s lasting appeal only really tickled the fancy of a relatively small cult of sci-fi fans and proverbial basement-dwelling computer hackers.
Fast-forward to today and massive multi-player online (MMO) titles like World of Warcraft (10 million registered accounts) and Second Life (20 million registered accounts) have thrust this once fantastical idea of personalized characters running roughshod over digital environments not only into the lives of hardcore gamers, but also those of soccer moms, priests, and CEOs.
Despite few MMO games appearing on consoles, the wide appeal–and more importantly, money–that these virtual communities garner is not lost on console manufacturers, least of all Sony–this spring the electronics giant prepares PlayStation Home for the PlayStation 3. Combining stylistic elements of successful online works like The Sims and Second Life with those of community-based websites like MySpace or Facebook (with a dash of Xbox Live), PlayStation Home has managed to create its own online vibe like nothing else on home consoles to date.
A free download, Home allows PS3 owners the opportunity to create their own “space” in a 3-D utopia that’s buzzing with all manner of consumer-based activity. After creating your own customizable avatar, users can begin exploring and interacting with the world around them. You can voice- or text-chat with other users, get low in the local dance club, hustle fools at an ersatz pool hall, watch movie trailers in a virtual theater, visit a trophy room that trumpets the in-game achievements of Home users, or simply soak in the idyllic vistas that surround you and your new friends.
One notable feature of Home is that it allows users to continually personalize their own little (or big, depending on how things go for you) online residence with any number of items, such as art or furniture that can be bought or otherwise obtained within the world; Sony will eventually provide users the tools to create their own items (which can then be sold for real money using an auction system). Once in your apartment, other users can pay you a visit and trade media–from music to images to game data–with you, should you choose to do so.
As the service is free to users, advertising will, for better or worse, be a part of Home, with Sony encouraging retailers to create their own areas within the world as well as enabling them to stream dynamic ads targeted to particular users based on their gaming habits. While this may seem suspect on the surface, it allows for potentially interesting promotional events such as contests, sponsored concerts, or first-look video premiers exclusively for Home users.
With most of the major movie studios, retailers, and even Netflix committing to Sony’s proprietary Blu-ray format (the PS3 is still the cheapest Blu-ray player on the market), the advent of Home, which will constantly be augmented and tweaked, could finally launch the PS3 closer to the level of virtual awesomeness Tron predicted 26 years ago–without the “de-rezzing,” of course.
Best of the Rest
Three other virtual places to put your feet up–amongst other things.
For those not content with actually living, visiting, or puking within the confines of New York’s real Lower East Side, MTV and VICEMagazine bring would-be hipsters a chance to try before they buy–or more likely rent–with Virtual Lower East Side. With representations of many (not all) seedy LES establishments, you too can be a part of NYC’s best-kept secret! Oh wait…
Okay, this one doesn’t actually exist anymore, but it’s worth a mention as it is widely considered to be the first online game, and the one whose technology spurred the entire movement. Developed by LucasFilm (now LucasArts) in 1986 for the Commodore 64, Habitatallowed users to barter for materials, and even murder for them, which prompted the community to create their own laws before shutting down in 1988.
Red Light Center
Modeled after Amsterdam’s Red Light District, Red Light Center encourages you to “live your fantasy” (or “bang,” as it’s also known) in a bevy of nightclubs, hotels, and bars. With over 700,000 users currently, all RLC avatars are anatomically correct and can smoke weed. What else do you need to know?