If you make friends in the Matrix, does it make that friendship really real?

I'm sure that you probably don't count your interaction with CPU's in video games as "socialization," yet the truth of the matter is that many of us use video games to do things we can't do in real life.  While it is a stereotype that gamers are anti-social, the truth of the matter is that many people who love playing games also highly appreciate games where socialization with CPUs (and indeed, other players on the network) is a large part of the game.  Series like Mass Effect and Fallout are intensely popular due to the sheer amount of dialogue choices and semi-unpredictability of how future choices/story are impacted by past behaviors.

I've heard a lot of disparaging comments about playing games from my parents when I was younger, and even today, I hear a lot of people say things to me (perhaps this is because I am female and have a child of my own) about how "you shouldn't waste your time doing THAT!" or "that's such an anti-social activity!"

While I appreciate the "constructive concern" of others (NOT!), I can understand where they are coming from.  In our society, we are expected to exude some strange sort of social malleability and "networking" that will help us to be successful (with the implication of getting rich in the process).  People rag on about the "loser living in mom and dad's basement" because that is an example of a person who is not "productive"-who does not reach their so-called "full potential" by buying into the rat race and frantic fight to try and claw your way up to the top.

I suppose the question I really have to ask is why it really matters if you have a friend you have only met online who you likely won't meet in "real life"?  Isn't online an extension of real life, anyway?  I've seen a couple other bloggers on this site talk about "online conduct" and the process of letting yourself be known as a person online, and as far as my personal stance goes, I see it as an even larger extension of that drive to network, to meet like-minded individuals even if they don't live nearby, and to generally build on top of each others ideas in discussion and civil debate. 

Yeah...it's kind of like that.....

But back to the sophisticated NPC interaction phenomenon. With games like LA Noir bringing interactive gameplay and the facial capture bringing a somewhat "uncanny valley" experience into gaming, there is even a higher level of interacting-responding to body language, which is one of the main ways humans interact in the real world.  Folded arms, looking away, or grinning/showing one's teeth a lot are all ways that human beings emote their feelings without saying a word.  To some extent, I feel that if we keep going on in this manner, we will eventually get to the point where the CPU interaction will be so seamless that we might mistake them for real personalities.

And that brings me to another funny situation-bots.

"Oops, you caught me in the middle of dressing up in my human suit! T33 H33! <3"

I don't know if you've ever had this experience, but the other day, some random person messaged me on my instant message.  At first, they appeared to be talking somewhat coherently, but then suddenly "she" started talking about webcams and how sexy they were, and I basically replied, "WTF? I'm a female and not interested in anything like that."  Which then dissolved into "her" sending me spammy links about her stupid webcam site.  Obviously she got banished from my AIM but it makes me wonder, this is one of the first experiences I've ever had with a true bot.  Most of the other people I have on my friend list through AIM are either people I know personally or who I've actually had in-depth conversations with on Gaia or other forum websites.  In general, if someone is fairly literate, we have stuff in common, and they don't mention webcams, they're usually a fun person to add to my list.  So how the heck did "she" fool me in the beginning?  It's like they're starting to get creepily intelligent.  What's next, am I going to get a call on my cell phone from "her" calling to shoot the breeze?

Stupid bots.  When will they learn that I don't want to get all cuddly-wuddly?

Of course, playing a lot of games, sometimes I've had those moments, you know, where you're imagining what you'd do in a crowded downtown area if you had a big Katamari ball? 

Kind of like this.  Only with more annoying people flailing their arms and legs trying to escape the stickiness <3.

.....Well, maybe that's just me, but I've had a couple of weird moments where I'm, say, talking with a person, and I keep feeling like there are dialogue options popping up for me to choose from.  This is especially common when dealing with the "NPC"s of my life-tellers at the bank, grocery store clerks, etc.  While I suppose I could technically strike up a conversation about something completely random, I would probably just get an incredulous look.  However, asking the grocery guy where they moved the ketchup is probably going to illicit a more reasonable response.

So to some extent, even in the real world, we really DO live in a similar sort of situation to a video game where most of the dialogue options are actually kind of...well...predetermined. 

So, just as a fun little thing, why not try livening it up a bit?  Talk to your bank teller about something unexpected and funny.  Ask your pharmacist about their beliefs on philosophy.  Wonder aloud to your Game Stop customer representative about the nature of cat-and-buttered-toast anti-gravity research.

Come on, you know you want to.

I leave you with this thought.  When we get to a situation where the real world seems to intersect with all of the training we've had in games, is it really wrong to use it?

Just try not to sweat it too much.


Like this guy...

So, what do you think?  Are your interactions with others in "real life" really ALL that different from your forays into some of the cutting edge games that boast incredibly complex interaction with other characters? 

Is it really true that your "online friends" are less "real" than the ones you see face-to-face? 

And finally, I wonder, why does it really matter if an experience is "really real" or not?  Can't the pleasure of the game or the pleasure of talking with a person you enjoy verbal sparring with be worth it in and of itself?