Computers are going to get a lot faster over the next thirty years; overall, they'll about double in speed every 18 months. Start with even the very slow and small computers today, and double speed and storage enough times, and you have something serious to work with. The average $500 PC in the year 2007 can do many things that would be impossible for today's mainframes.
So what do people do with all that power? Among other things, play games. 2007 computers have amazing graphics. Games are usually rendered in 3D. Super expensive machines can actually fool your eye into thinking you're seeing something real, but home computers aren't quite that good yet.
Even though it's not quite real, it's still pretty darn realistic, and running around in 3D is fun, particularly when you're shooting things. It's so much fun, in fact, that it spawned a whole industry for this kind of game. We've been doing that for about the last 10 or 12 years.
People also connect their computers together; this is called networking. This has gone worldwide, so that any two computers plugged into the global Net can talk to each other almost instantly. This is used for all sorts of things, like instantaneous communication of video, sound, and text messages, but it's also used for games. People organize into medium to large groups and do things together, either against each other or against computerized enemies, usually in 3D. What you do on your computer is represented on everyone else's, and vice versa; it's like you're all exploring or fighting in the same virtual world.
The single most successful example of that kind of game is World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online game; it supports hundreds of thousands of people at a time, and has millions of subscribers. You have a persistent character or characters that you play. When you stop playing each day, your character is stored. When you come back, you'll continue from the exact place you left off.
When you start, your character is very weak. Working your way up to the best and most interesting adventures takes hundreds of hours of play. You buy equipment for your character with in-game currency, which you take from monsters you kill and treasures you loot. Rare items sometimes drop, which give your character an extra advantage, and these items can command exorbitant prices. That currency can take a lot of time to generate; getting enough money for the really high-end items can cost your entire profit for a couple of months of gameplay.
People get bored and impatient with that, so a new breed of entrepeneur has arisen; Chinese people make very little in comparison with Americans, so it's quite easy to employ dozens or hundreds of them to all play the game at once and gather currency. (the Internet is in many countries worldwide; despite the low Chinese wages, they still have good Net access.) The bosses then sell the virtual currency for real money, pay their workers, and keep the profit.
People in this business are called 'gold farmers'. They are both loved and hated. The people who don't want to spend their time gathering gold, and would rather trade real money, love them. The developers and people who think you should have to put in the play time to get the gold... well, they're just not too fond of the farmers.
So, as you can imagine, there's some tension there. The maker of the company forbids all gold trading for real money, and has many automated tools to prevent the gold farmers from advertising in-system, including looking for specific keywords and disallowing them.
To get around this, the farmers have gotten very clever, and gotten themselves a bunch of gnome player characters, and killed them in a specific pattern. Corpses last a week or so if the player doesn't choose to resurrect them, so by using corpses to spell out a message, the farmers can advertise without the developers being able to detect or stop it.
Yet. Who knows what they'll come up with next week.
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