Even if you don’t play games, you have spent years of your life in one or more virtual worlds.
Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WeChat are lightweight versions of virtual worlds. They don’t offer terrain for avatars to explore, but they are neighborhoods within cyberspace where we store assets, develop relationships and, in some instances, might even choose to hide behind an alias.
The faces we present on these platforms are different from the ones we show our friends in person. While we usually use real names and photos, our presence on Twitter and Instagram is an avatar of sorts. What we do (and do not) post, how we say what we say, how we portray ourselves through selectively chosen (and often edited) photos — it’s an online persona. The aim — conscious and subconscious — is to build social capital within the particular cultural environment of these virtual spaces.
(This is part two of a seven-part series about virtual worlds.)
The social capital gained or lost within a virtual space can connect directly to social capital in the physical world. The worlds are separate but intertwined; what percent of news stories these days revolve around what someone posted on Twitter or Instagram?
Social media apps have virtual economies the same way as games like Fortnite do, they’re just smaller and involve fewer users thus far. There is constant trading of goods and services that exist only within the virtual world of a social app. For example, individuals and companies spend real money on trading Twitter handles, buying Instagram followers, purchasing special image filters and on Twitch memberships that put a badge next to their name to signify their status as a financial supporter of a specific streamer.
On this point, CCP Games CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson told me, “there’s not much reality in reality anymore,” given how much of our daily lives in “the real world” are about creating, consuming and interacting online, noting that many social media influencers earn more money in these virtual worlds than factory workers can make building physical items.