I am and am not Keef Vango

Video gaming has come a long way during my life and there's times now where gaming and real life seem to be intersecting and criss-crossing in odd ways. If you're not catching my meaning, check out the Sims, where you can build yourself as a virtual person and run their virtual life. I once programmed in my entire family and had the out-of-body experience of watching my family's life from above. It was quite unnerving. When you sit at your computer and play a game where your virtual you sits at his computer playing a video game it's like putting yourself in between two mirrors.

For a long time I played Star Wars Galaxies. This is an MMORPG, or massive multi-player online role playing game. You build a character and they live in the Star Wars universe where thousands of other actual people are playing and interacting at the same time. You can get together, socialize, explore several different planets (each over 15 km square) or even build a starship and explore outer space. Your character can build a home, join a town, be an artisan, hunter, soldier, politician, entertainer, etc. There is an actual in-game economy that has been studied on various sites. For me this was a childhood dream come true.

So I created a character named Keef Vango. He was very unlike me: tall, blond and blue eyed, a great shot and good at building things with his hands. His continually running mouth always got him in jams though. I played casually, usually a couple of hours a week for over two years. Keef did pretty well, amassed over 7 million credits, joined the Rebel Alliance, bought a house, arbitraged commodities in the economy and built a pretty cool X-wing fighter. He didn't master any expert level professions or top out in skills because I just didn't have the time.

I gave up playing though. I wasn't in the game often enough to form relationships with other players and a lot of the game seemed like a grind (tediously repeating tasks to gain experience and skills). After all that time and despite being an expert in blaster use, Keef still couldn't take on a single stormtrooper, the point of minimal credibility for anyone in the Star Wars universe. He did well at lots of life's metrics, but it was a very hollow experience. I didn't have a series of memorable adventures with other players. I wasn't involved in any major battles or cross any intergalactic gangsters. I knew others were more deeply immersed: the hard-core gamers, the ones who devote their lives to the game and chew up the content (missions, advancement, etc.) and organize the community.

So I let the $13/month subscription expire. Keef retired to his furnished little house on Corellia, kneeled in a meditative trance and I logged off for the last time. No one noticed.

The thought occurred to me - am I a real life Keef Vango? Am I plodding through life, virtually unnoticed, doing well by the standard metrics but leading an otherwise hollow existence? I have a few friends, but not a bevy of them. The number of friends from high school, college and grad school that I regularly keep in touch with I could count on one hand. Extended relatives like cousins are barely communicated with. My social life never has been a whirlwhind. I've lived on my street for almost five years and other than the immediate neighbors, no one has more than a vague idea of who I am. And that's much better than the last two places I lived where almost no one had any idea who their immediate neighbors were. At work, I rarely interact with people who work just down the hall. Acquaintances from training classes and former co-workers are soon out of sight, out of mind.

But I know I am not unique in this respect. Block parties on my street are an exercise in people reintroducing themselves to one another and getting wrong how long each other has lived here. Since my work phone isn't ringing off the hook, the same seems to have happened to past acquaintances. Are Galaxies and the other MMORPGs just a microcosm of modern life, where most of us are unnoticed characters exploring our own world, rarely connecting with others and connecting only for the most superficial of reasons? Have they inadvertently recast real life, stripped to its essence of a mostly atomistic human community with a couple of social overachievers?

Then I'll run across the social overacheivers who are frustrated that all of us Keefs are running around past each other without pausing to hang out together. They're the ones who organize the PTA events, the block parties, the interoffice lunch outings and the family reunions. There's about one social overacheiver for every 9 Keefs.

So in a way, you and I are Keef Vango and there's not much that's wrong with that. The solitary existence that is life won't change for me or most everyone else, I bet. You're either hard-core about these things, or you're a ghost in the machine of life. It's a matter of point of view, though, because we're too busy being hard-core about other things, like our own families, careers or internal lives to be nothing more than a Keef to the outside world.


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