I won’t delve into the sequence of thoughts that made me start thinking along these lines but I am astonished at how impoverished our society is in terms of experience. The interest in artificial experiences of all sorts whether reality shows or video games suggests to me that there’s a real hunger out there. I, personally, have no interest in being a car thief, a rock star, or a professional athelete but, clearly, there are lot of people who do. My tastes run more to being a wandering rascal who lives by his wits and saves kingdoms from wicked sorcerors and beautiful maidens from dragons. Heck, I am a wandering rascal who lives by his wits. The surroundings may not be quite as romantic but I have saved some companies from going belly-up and kept a few reasonably attractive young people from losing their jobs.
My point here is that I really wish our society were less geared towards having and much more oriented towards doing. Acting on stage, playing in a band, cooking in a restaurant, running a business are all fun, at least they’ve been fun to me even if I’m not Laurence Olivier, Louis Armstrong, Jacques Pepin, or Jack Welch. A handful of superstars who make phenomenal amounts of money is good; I have no problem with it except to the extent that they crowd out the thousands of potential actors, musicians, cooks, and business owners (and use their power and influence to limit access to future competitors as is all too often the case these days). We’ve preserved the product but lost the experience.
Much of the crowding out has been the result of technological change. Recording crowded out first musicians, then actors. Movies, radio, and television crowded out live performers of all sorts. Today you can watch and listen to the greatest actors, singers, instrumentalists, and performers of the last century but the opportunities to act, sing, play an instrument, or juggle are growing ever more limited.
Despite the potential capability for synthetic experience to fill the void from my vantage point it, too, is amazingly claustrophobic. You can get something of the experience of being a professional golfer or race car driver with a pretty fair degree of reality. Can you get the experience of being a surgeon, architect, lawyer, chemist, etc. with much verisimilitude?
I guess the response is that those are boring. Who would be interested in them? But they aren’t; they’re all fascinating. They’re fun. They’re experiences worth having, if only synthetically. As G. K. Chesterton put it, anything worth doing is worth doing badly. Somewhere in the world, even if its in the artificial worlds of video games, there should be a place for doing things badly.