Aha! Moments

Sunset on Horseshoe Falls, Yosemite National Park

There is an Aha! Moment television ad in which a guy plays music at a Ronald McDonald house and a young girl comes up who has just had cochlear implants. It is the first music she ever heard. It reminded me of a story from the two years when I was a demi-god in a virtual world. Yes, a real job with Fujitsu of America, down in Silicon Valley. This was one of the early graphic virtual attempts (WorldsAway for the internet addicted) I was there in '97 & '98 before the dot.com crash.

We had volunteer helpers in the world, members who were experienced and given special powers to help new members, mediate problems and general keep an eye on things when the paid staff were not "in world." We called those helpers acolytes, this is a story one of them told and we retold when the business side of the company wanted to know what we were doing over there in our dark cave.

You get an avatar when you first entered the world and part of the identity process was making your avatar unique and recognizable to others. You could buy clothes, change your hair style and color, carry a cane or a pinwheel, have a pet puppy or a parrot on your shoulder. But the real defining change was the head. You could buy heads out of a vending machine and create yourself anew. Rare heads made for a thriving trade in noggins.

So one fine day, one of our acolytes gets a page from a member, the 'acolyte page' was an option for anyone inworld but was used most often by newbies who were just acquainting themselves with the virtual world. The acolyte responded with a standard - "How may I help you?"

Acolytes are usually busy with several citizens, so it was not unusual not to get an immediate reply. After three or four minutes, a reply came back - "I want to buy a new head."

Clearly a request from a new member and since heads are the most expensive items inworld and since you earn tokens by being inworld, it was likely the new member had not accumulated enough credits for the big purchase. The acolyte knew this, so she walked over to find the newbie and assist them. She messaged - "I will come over to you."

It took the acolyte a couple of minutes to reach the citizen, just as she got there the newbie responded - "Thank You."

Two responses each with a lead time of several minutes. Conversational lags are significant in virtual reality worlds, it could mean any number of things but being aware of them is part of virtual maturity.

The acolyte said - "Shall we go over to the store and look at some new heads?"

Again, a long lag before - "Yes, thank you."

[I am omitting a lot of the dialog here but let me just say that each move from locale to locale inworld takes two mouse clicks and each speech communication obviously takes both mouse work and key strokes. The summary is that it took the acolyte about 45 minutes to walk the citizen to the store and have them look at each of the heads on display. There were long pauses on each and every communication even though the acolyte took the initiative to accelerate the interaction by operating the head vending machines and commenting on each item for sale.]

Finally the member had selected a head and the acolyte being a good helper offered to buy the new head for the member. - "No, I would like to do it myself" was the reply.

The acolyte stepped away from the vending machine and over about five minutes the citizen was able to purchase the new head and try it on for the first time. After several more minutes the member wrote - "Thank you very much, I will write more later."

Our acolyte moved on to other requests she had been putting off while helping the member with the new head. But she was absolutely sure there would be more to the story. About an hour later, she got this message:

"My name is John. I am the person you helped buy my new head. Thank you again. I was born without the use of my arms or legs, I operate my computer with a blow straw. Until I found this world I had never ever earned any wages and today for the very first time in my life, I bought something for myself. Thank you again."