Let’s assume we are NOT living inside The Matrix. We experience the world around us through our senses and we know it is real. Many of us also enjoy playing computer games which display a virtual world. Most of those games take place in fantasy realms, which no one would confuse with reality, even as the technology improves upon the levels of immersion they can create.
Some of those games are very impressive visually. The details they render astound me (when I can see a demonstration on a computer more powerful than what I currently own). I don’t play those games, because personally I don’t enjoy the fantasy role-playing aspect of their stories. I prefer to immerse myself — my real self — into virtual worlds.
It seems to me that the less removed from our reality these computer games go, the less effort is invested in making that virtual world render as realistically as possible. I’m thinking about the obvious platforms like Second Life and There which have been around for a relatively long time. They allow fantasy elements like flying but your avatar is based on human specifications. I admit that I have not investigated these worlds in years, but I remember the feeling of being inside a projection of reality rather than the illusion of reality. I was never going to be mistaking anything I saw there for a photograph of a real object. Compare that to the jaw-dropping detail of the Skyrim installment of the Elder Scrolls game. Where are they hiding those dragons between video takes?
My taste in games does include some fantasy immersion, but always by imagining myself as me. I’ve played the Harry Potter video games just so I could walk around the grounds of Hogwart’s and go inside the buildings. I have played all of the puzzles in the MYST series of games several times over, but I still return to Uru (Cyan’s multi-user server) to wander the cavern. When I feel the need for exploration, I load Free Realms and climb the mountains. I don’t go to these places to pretend I am someone else, but to imagine I am somewhere else.
In digging around for links, I am now learning about other virtual environments. It will take me some time to look into services like OSGrid to see how far people have come in replicating our world. I know it is unfair to compare commercial video games to virtual worlds with user-generated content. Maybe that’s where this line of thought was taking me. The market for fantasy games is more lucrative than it is for simulations of realty, so that’s why I can walk my avatar more naturally through a Star Trek ship in more realistic detail than the Taj Mahal. (And of course just as I do a search for it, I find a virtual Taj Mahal site, but it is not an immersive world.)
Now let’s assume we ARE living inside The Matrix. How would we spot the evidence? Doesn’t the pattern on your bathroom floor repeat so regularly as to be a texture map? Doesn’t my microwave oven look identical to the one in my neighbor’s house? Doesn’t that bird song sound like it is on a repeating loop? The makers of computer-generated worlds add randomness into functions that render trees and mountains, and add scuff marks and dirt to the textures of buildings. Landscapers in our world work hard at creating symmetry and regularity in flower beds and gardens. The artificial strives to look real while the natural is tamed to look artificial.
Then again, how do you know I’m not a simulated human writing this?