I keep coming back to An Atlas of Cyberspaces – MUDs and Virtual Worlds. I keep looking over the maps represented there and being amazed … and remind myself that in spite of how they look, these are not fictional worlds. They are places where people’s minds roamed (and in many cases still do) and interacted, where things important to their lives happened. You can argue that what happens in a virtual world isn’t important, or shouldn’t be…that it isn’t healthy. But that’s irrelevant… it happens whether we think it’s a good idea or not. People live in these places, some for many waking hours, and they love them so much that they devote such care and attention to mapping them. Does mapping them make them more real? Well, no moreso than mapping Disney World makes it real, or mapping Manhattan, for that matter. It is mapped only because it is real.
One really fascinating thing about these maps is that they don’t just map geography, but function, language, and other things that make virtual worlds different from meatspace.
Isn’t it strange how all this breathless fascination with virtual spaces came to a crashing halt around 1997-98, when the commercial web became the big story? It feels like a huge intellectual and philosophical human enterprise that just prematurely stopped before we really learned anything. I imagine people in Universities are still discussing some of it, but I don’t see it talked about in the mainstream anymore. One day we’re going to have to pick up the task again, or we won’t have any better handle on what we’ve wrought.