We’re leaving behind a lot. Stuff that had… years.. of work put into it, but so what, it’s just virtual.
So speaks Vinesauce, a YouTuber prominent for his forays into abandoned virtual worlds — a Cyber Tour Guide of past civilizations with a streaming audience in tow. As has already been well documented in BGR and others interested in the medium, last week Vinesauce got a bit more than he bargained for when a seemingly extinct world (a mid-90s 3D world builder called Active Worlds) briefly came to life in the faux-NPC persona of Hitomi Fujiko.
Why are we so captivated by ruins; by the leavings of a dead community or civilization? Is it simply a stark reminder of our own ephemerality, our lack of permanence? A reminder that no matter how sturdy the construction of a metropolis that it can easily be digested by nature without the constant care and upkeep of its citizens?
Digital ruins, while a more modern construct, are no different. They still represent the lost labors of humans, things that were ideated, constructed, lived in, altered, improved, and ultimately abandoned. At some point, every single person leaves behind a mini-dead civilization — from inactive MySpace band pages to atrophied OkCupid profiles, to zombie Citi checking accounts, every life lived in the digital age is a life of constant digi-upkeep and maintenance. And there are, as of yet, no MySpace NPCs to facilitate the breakdown and decomposition of a rotting Geocities page. There are, to be sure, certain protocols for archiving or deletion of abandoned accounts — but I was thinking something more along the lines of Cyber Langoliers — some kind of virtual nanobots that could sweep through the bloodstream of an online community and clear out the plaque and cholesterol of old user detritus.
Short of these Cyber Langoliers, our virtual ruins will last as long as the hardware that they live on, providing a near-perfect time capsule of the trivialities of being a human in the Information Age — Yottabytes of Instagram selfies, GoPro RC hovercraft footage, Minecraft townhouses, Farmville plantations, Second Life brothels, EVE armadas, DAOC Guild Halls, WoW raid armor sets, Borderlands arsenals, and Vines that no one watched. All painstakingly crafted and built using hours upon hours of procrastination from tedious analog activities — built and played in and lived in and forgotten. An endless, infinite sea of spare time cataloged in binary. And without a Hitomi Fujiko, without a relic of each civilization to tell its story, future investigators will baffle at our Fruit Ninja high scores and our Star Wars Card Trader arrays and wonder what greater purpose it was all for.