February 3, 2011

Egypt’s “Virtual Twitter Reality” Game

virtual warfare

“Cairo looks like a ‘real life’ virtual reality game?”

Since January 25th, I have followed the unfolding crisis in Egypt almost continually.  The Mid-Eastern media network Al Jazeera has provided live streaming coverage of events (when allowed to do so, by the Mubarak regime).  USA cable networks shoot live video interspersed with commentary.  I have read many reports and assorted opinion.  The chaos in the cities and towns across Egypt has caught the attention of the whole world.  Besides the newsworthy quality of the events, the volume and speed of information exchange has had a lot to do with the widespread general awareness of the situation.  In particular, the streets of Cairo have become a focal point of much of the media.

But what has come to amaze me within these world-reaching events, has been my learning about, and the monitoring of the endless stream of information moving across the “Twitter Network”.  (Until very recently, I had only heard of this “tweet” thing.  I must have been the last hold-out on Earth.)

It has shown itself to be the perfect instant-communications tool for the relating of what what has been happening at street-level. This, especially within, and nearby to a public square in Cairo.  Appropriately, it is named Midan Tahrir, which translates in Arabic to: “Liberation Square”.  Tahrir has become a center point for the protesters to gather, as well as the symbolic base for the anti-government protests taking place in that city.

In a time when the internet and mobile phone service was almost totally cut-off by the Mubarak regime, “twitting” became the normal method of getting vital instant information out of, and into Egypt.  It had become the “chat-line” if you will, among the anti-government protesters.

Now, by using the term chat, I am not in any way intending to appear to take the situation in Egypt as less than very serious.  But rather, I use it to point out how very much twittering and chatting are similar. Chat lines are the way that the younger generations communicate in normal times today via the internet.  This chat-type thing in the form of twitters, has become the best or only way for them to evade Mubarak’s information crackdown.

To me, it occurs that there is another aspect of this twitter surge (especially as used among the younger protesters), that may not be realized or considered by many.  It calls to my mind, a striking similarity between the twitters and the way some virtual-reality games are “chatted” and played by countless younger people around the globe over the internet.

In the minds of a generation where growing up, firstly with video games,  then online fantasy games being quite the norm, how would they be expected to react when faced with a real life, and dangerous, situation?  Would they tend to use the tools they have learned, albeit of the virtual kind?  In effect, they may today, be recreating in “RL” (real life) the strategies and styles of the games they have learned to play-act so fluently online.

Often these games are “capture the flag” types of things.  Usually, there is an elaborate setting of backgrounds and scenarios, the gathering of causes, an equipment outfitting, weapon-wielding, aligning with allies,  and then – repetitive fighting. Occasionally a “PK” (player kill) happens – replete with winning side or player-character chest-thumping, and the losing side making threats of revenge.

Another integral part of the online gaming experience is the “RP” (role play) that is coincidental to the fighting.  There is usually a detailed description of the battle and/or death that took place, including the various arguments and reasoning leading up to it.  And, after the fact, there is the customary comforting by friends and supporters (similar to many twitters I have read). There are also threats of retaliation (also twitted), with new rounds of fighting being the inevitable outcome.

This gaming can be seen to be analogous to the current Cairo situation, where several protesters were killed (RL) recently.  This, sadly, during rock-throwing incidents.  The fighting took place on a small ramp leading onto a bridge that crosses the Nile River.  There have been back-and-forth battles there over the last several days.  One group charges at the other and hurls rocks.  The other group responds in kind.  It becomes a “capture the flag” type of senseless battle.

Some older-lived among us may remember and be reminded of the war in Vietnam where almost endless assaults took place on a mortar-ruined piece of slope dubbed “Hamburger Hill”.  It seems few knew of any logical reasoning for the senseless assaults, as US troops were repeatedly ordered upward and onward, to lay claim to this worthless hill.  But just as surely as it was taken, the Viet Cong would retake it.  This was “capture the flag” taken to a RL extreme.  That episode is well-remembered because it was an exception of an era, rather than the perceived norm that the virtual gaming experience connotes today.

For all intents (and this is only for topical generalization), some of the protesters in Cairo may be subconsciously playing “IC” (in-character) a virtual reality game in their minds,  with the only difference being that the setting, characters, equipment, and weapons are REAL!  I do not assume here to question or judge their motives, or the virtues of their cause.  That is for another subject.  However, whatever their reasoning, it is the methodologies which they have been employing so far, that are noteworthy.  Their actions are amazingly alike those actions that take place on the virtual reality games.  They may, or may not be able to differentiate between the virtual, which they perceive as a norm, or the crushingly real.

Of course, and praying otherwise, the hard facts of life may come thundering down upon them in the form of RL tank fire.  The protesters would do well to be “actually” prepared and to realize that they may “actually” be PK’d at the next moment……..and there will be no “play-over”.  Virtual reality can be made to seem very, very real – in some to greater degree than in others.  But virtual gaming can become addictive.  With enough exposure,  it could possibly affect the way that real situations are perceived by some, and how those situations are addressed.

(note: This piece is a discussion of societal trends as perceived by the writer and in no way is intended to demean any specific person or group.)

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