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December 15, 2002

This month marks the debut of the most anticipated online game ever, "the Sims Online". Ten bones a month will get you access to your own Sim community where you can walk around and interact with hundreds of other Internet denizens. Online gaming has become a booming business. Last year $6.35 billion was spent on software and $196 million was spent on subscription fees for online games. That figure is expected to grow to $1.4 billion over the next five years.

If you're unfamiliar with online gaming, "the Sims" or what's going on here, The Beefboy is here to help. Not only will I tell you about all of that, but I'm going to take a look in crystal ball and tell you where we're headed. So sit back, relax, enjoy, and let The Beefboy do, what The Beefboy does best… and that's break it right on down for you.

Back in 1997, Electronic Arts launched the first highly successful multiplayer online role-playing game, "Ultima Online". Players loved to log on and "live" in this fantasy world, where they were rewarded for spending more time online than their counterparts. Sony's "Everquest" and Microsoft's "Asheron's Call" soon followed and the war for the hearts and minds (and dollars) of online gamers ensued. The latest and greatest shot in that war happens this month as "the Sims Online" is rolled out for the masses.

"The Sims Online" game follows the same set-up as "the Sims" PC game which basically allows players to "live" in a neighborhood much like the one Mr. Rogers lives in. Players build houses and interact with other computer-run Sims that come to visit. You can develop a career, get married and have kids, just like in real life. "The Sims" is basically a game about time management and figuring out how to do all the things that you want to do, with limited time and resources. Again, just like real life. The difference between the PC Sims and the online version is that everyone you run into online has a real person behind the icon. So now, the interaction takes on another layer of reality. Or does it?

The Beefboy has heard stories about people who spend an inordinate amount of free time in these alternate realities. In one case, a married couple spent more time online, sitting in different rooms, playing characters in a fantasy world, than they did interacting with each other in the real world. Newsweek interviewed Christy Rogge, a 23-year-old mother of two, who plays the online game "Counter-Strike" six hours a day (where she is a counter-terrorist leader). Tamara Bryant, 30, spends five to six hours a day playing the test version of "the Sims Online" game from Monday to Friday and more on the weekends "because work gets in the way."

The question I have for you is, at what point does the escape from reality become someone's reality? We're a society that is obsessed with entertainment and flights of fancy. Let The Beefboy be clear here, if he's not knocking heads or knocking boots, then you can be certain that he's in front of either a TV or a monitor at any given time. I see no difference between watching movies, television, playing video games or even reading a book, to escape reality. However, these online games provide a more sophisticated form of entertainment, so sophisticated that they take on the veneer of reality and of course this is just the dawn of the medium.

Software and hardware developers are constantly working on even more enticing forms of entertainment. Porn peddlers already have teledildonics, where a person can use a prosthesis that is connected, via the Internet, to another person who can regulate your pleasure. Virtual Reality goggles were introduced a decade ago and they are already working on a full sensory suit. Within a decade it will be possible to entirely immerse yourself in a world of fantasy.

What is the cost to the individual, much less society, if everyone is so jacked in to fantasy that "work gets in the way?" When a 23-year-old mother of two can live a fantasy life as a counter-terrorist agent, why would she ever return to the grind of reality? What happens when a real counter-terrorist agent would rather live online as a 23-year-old mother of two in "the Sims?" The point is that while entertainment is more diverse, available and engaging than at any other time in history, we have to be aware of the long-term mortgage we are putting on our personal life by living too long in a world that doesn't exist.

Then again, the Star Wars Galaxies online game is coming out soon and The Beefboy has always wanted to be a Jedi…

Dig it!

-The Beefboy