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Crossing the boundary: analogue universe, digital worlds
Crossing the boundary: analogue universe, digital worlds

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6.5.2 AlphaWorld

AlphaWorld does not exist in space. It is a purely digital world, existing in the memory of a powerful computer, or group of computers, somewhere in the physical world. In the jargon of computer science, it is a virtual world, where Virtual’ is a term used to describe any entity that does not really exist, but is simulated by the action of a computer.

AlphaWorld is one of a set of many such worlds, known as Active Worlds, developed originally by Worlds Incorporated, but now hosted by Circle of Fire Studios and a consortium of users. Other companies and consortia also offer many such ‘worlds’.

AlphaWorld provides a virtual world to visit, move around in, and even live in to an extent. Entrance is through a gate to a 'place' known as Ground Zero, and use of the arrow keys on a keyboard moves individuals around from there.

Of course, individuals are not really moving. AlphaWorld is a digital model and movement among the objects is an illusion created by very clever programs, showing what a 3D landscape would look like from a certain position. And because it is all an illusion, an individual is not constrained by physical laws in AlphaWorld. It is possible to hover above the ground and fly hundreds of feet above the surface, looking down on the activity below.

The inhabitants of AlphaWorld both are, and are not, an illusion too. They are not an illusion because they are real people like you and me, with ordinary lives, homes, friends, pets in the physical world. But how is it possible fora physical person to be an inhabitant of a digital ‘place’? We live outside the boundary in the analogue universe. How can I get inside a purely digital world that lies entirely inside the boundary?

Of course, as my virtual point of view moves around AlphaWorld, with the illusion of a changing scene being created for me by programs, in a sense one could say I was there. But we can go further. I can select or create a digital representative of myself, called an avatar, (‘avatar’ is a Hindu word meaning, roughly, ‘an embodiment of the spirit in the flesh’) a word now used to refer to all sorts of digital being or agent, and send that into AlphaWorld. That is the illusion.

Every avatar you see in AlphaWorld represents a real person, who is living an independent life somewhere. Avatars can meet and interact with one another in AlphaWorld. AlphaWorld is an enormous meeting place and community. And because so many people meet there, many of the same things happen as when people meet in real cities. There is crime in AlphaWorld and there is even a police force to combat it, composed of avatars belonging to ‘citizens’. There is romance (and marriage, believe it or not). There are even natural disasters like fires and meteor strikes.

And AlphaWorld is enormous. (Notice how I am already dropping into realistic language. AlphaWorld has no real extension in space, only the appearance of it.) This is partly because it is not static. It started as a small collection of buildings’ around Ground Zero. Many individuals and groups have claimed ‘land’ and built ‘buildings’ over the years, leading to an enormous sprawl of development. AlphaWorld became now so large that it required teleport stations to move between distant areas.