Angry Robot

Multipresence Blues

To an absent-minded gentleman the feeling is familiar.

So I purchase an expansion pack for Oblivion. It’s 150 of Microsoft’s virtual currency, which works out as $2 or so. Once you load it up, you realize you have to spend in-game money on getting the tower working. To the tune of 2,000 septims per add-on… holy shit! I couldn’t care less about the real-life money, but the in-game money bothered the hell out of me.

The logical answer is that the amounts are in wild disparity, and that no matter how you slice it, earning 2,000 septims in Oblivion takes time, which is something of value no matter what world you find yourself in.

But the escapade inspired some contemplation of the concept of “multipresence” which is to say, being in more than one place at once. Which sounds exciting and exotic when considered as a condition of being in the metaverse, and given the growth in virtual worlds lately, could lead to a rash of articles in the near-future about its side effects: kids with alluring new ailments like multiple-avatar anxiety disorder, multipresence dissociative syndrome, acquired attention deficit disorder.

However, we’re already rather consistently multipresent. My working hours are spent almost entirely within a computer interface, to say nothing of what I do for fun. Hell, just being on the phone puts you in two different places at once. If you are watching a film, you are to some extent within the space constructed by the film.

As I mentioned off the top, when you’re thinking of one thing while doing something else, with “absent mind,” you are multipresent. So the experience is so much a part of daily life already that it is in fact banal. It’s quite the opposite than what you might at first think: the condition of being in only one place at once is the rare part.

Which, I suppose, explains how one can spend many hours in a simulated game world and have it feel natural. But it leads to some questions: outside of practical considerations (say, being able to communicate long-distance over the phone), what makes one virtual space more appealing than another? If there were criteria with which to judge that, would they apply to all virtual worlds? Computer UI, film, storytelling in general, games? Sports?

And where does this drive to inhabit new worlds come from? Is it the desire to dream, or to communicate? Are we reaching out, or reaching in? And why is it so hard to actually be here, right now?