vs. Things really not happening on film
In keeping with my habitual belatedness, I've stumbled across something truly bizarre only to realize that it had been noticed and dismissed by several of my friends ages ago.
But: Second Life, a "metaverse" (in choosing the term over "massively multiplayer online game" (MMOG), I side with The Economist, among others) in which virtual versions of the participants, called avatars, explore, interact, make "objects," and run businesses, has garnered some mainstream media attention recently (in addition to The Economist, a cover story in Business Week, a piece on governance in Discover, less surprisingly a story in Wired, etc.).
Second Life differs from most MMOGs, as far as I can gather, in a few major ways: 1) its lack of any predetermined goals; 2) its focus on participant-guided creation and development; and 3) its connection to the real-world economy (the participants retain proprietary rights over whatever they create within the game, and in-world money can be exchanged for dollars at one of several currency exchanges). Without the standard confines of gaming, goals and activities become similar to those in the real world: making money, making friends, making art.
The rub: some avatars have taken to making movies in Second Life. They've imported camera functions, enlisted actors, built sets. All the shorts I've seen have been pretty dismal, but the idea of machinima, or the making of movies in virtual worlds, is compelling. "Shot on location in Second Life." The world is already a metaverse, already at one level of remove, flat on a screen; there is no extra level of reproduction involved in making a movie; you are given the thing itself. The most successful machinima I've seen (all shot in games other than Second Life) have embraced the unreality (see the humorous Red vs. Blue, set in Halo) and made themselves movies of virtual worlds, not representations of the real world set in a virtual one. Attempts at the latter inevitably take a plunge into the "uncanny valley."
I already spend enough of my time in front of a computer screen in a basement, so, no, I haven't joined Second Life. The most basic level of membership is free, by the way, although you have to pay to own land.