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Monday, 27 August, 2001, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Games blur fantasy and reality
BBC Go Digital's Jon Wurtzel casts a wry eye over the developments in the world of technology

Video games really are taking on a life of their own, and none more so than Ultima Online, not so much a video game as a grand social universe.

Every day for the past four years, tens of thousands of players from around the globe have been spending hours together in Ultima Online's computer-generated 3 dimensional world.

Players inhabit character that have evolved through months of role-playing, such as knights and bandits, dancers, carpenters and magicians.

Ultima online graphic
People can be knights or bandits
In the guise of these alter egos, players can move around Ultima's vast world of 32,000 screens, 20 major cities, 9 shrines, 9 dungeons and vast uncharted frontiers.

Within this beautifully illustrated, tremendously interactive online universe, players band together to create tribes, professional guilds and armies. Over time, they build up cities and territories, each with its own moral code.

Murder most foul

And they also kill each other. Murdering other characters has become the central goal of so many players that there is literally war between the good guys - players who enjoy banding together to build online civlization - and the bad guys - barbarians who take pleasure in their murder and mayhem.

Ultima online graphic
Ultima Online: A matter of life or death?
But sometimes things can go too far. A few months back, a hacker broke into a spinoff from Ultima called Diablo II.

He entered the game's operating system and gave himself superpowers that allowed him to dominate whole areas, destroying and killing all who stood in his way.

Whether this kind of action breaks the rules of online gaming or is actually an advanced form of gamesmanship sparked intense controversy among the tens of thousands of Ultima players.

Interestingly, the massacre has also sprouted another internet phenomenon.

Traumatised by their virtual assassinations, many Diablo players banded together for group therapy sessions - online, of course.

It shows how seriously the players take their online existence, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality.

You can hear Jon every week on Go Digital, which is webcast on the BBC World Service site and BBC News Online every Monday at 1500 GMT.

It is broadcast on BBC World Service radio on:

  • Tuesday at 1905 GMT
  • Wednesday at 0105 and 1405 GMT
  • Thursday at 0905 GMT
See also:

03 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Hackers kill off heroes
19 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Buy yourself a hero
28 Jun 01 | New Media
Q&A: The man who made Lara
30 Jul 01 | dot life
Happy 40th, computer games
04 Jun 01 | New Media
Sales of computer games rising
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