I remember when I purchased this book through Amazon as an e-book. I was in my hotel room in Orlando relaxing after an invigorating but mentally draining day at Sleuthfest, Florida Mystery Writer of America’s annual writer’s conference. Going through several newspapers that I peruse regularly for events and other items that might be useful incorporating into my writing of thrillers, I ran up on a review for Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation written by B. Coleman.
The author’s premise that we live in a world impacted by forms of digital mediation such as Facebook, messaging systems, the Internet, and virtual reality games is nothing new to the generations of twenty somethings and younger. Explaining the development of this impact to those like myself who are not computer geeks (or professionals, whose life’s work revolves around poking around the inside of a computer’s brain) but used the IBM Selectric typewriter (and still knows how to use it) and grew up with DOS and the antiquated forms of Lotus 1-2-3 and Paradox database is what drew me to Coleman’s book. The author’s ability to explain how the revolution came about, albeit in a somewhat summary fashion, with minimal use of jargon, was comprehensible. (The glossary was helpful as was reading the book on the Kindle with its dictionary). The origins of digital computing would and have filled a Library of Congress’ worth of tomes.
Coleman’s book is not a dry treatise but an engaging look at real world applications and talks with legends in the field of digital mediation, virtual reality applications, and augmented games. That is one of the biggest selling points of the book; the others, the glossary and the endnotes.
Coleman gave me an inside look at worlds that mirror the physical board and dice game, Dungeons and Dragons. Without overtly judging those who she wrote about, Coleman explores how digital me impact effects change in users. This is a nice surprise, given that one of the studies involved BDSM and cannibalism.
It was the next topic that hooked me – augmented reality in the form of a supersized and more complex version of geocashing. Her writing about games involving players physically on the ground in various locales interacting with others through virtual reality using smartphones, tablets, and I suppose laptops, was the most interesting of chapters. Imagine a set of your friends in Geneva, Switzerland along with dozens of others in other locales playing an integrated virtual game based on traditional board games such as Life and Monopoly. The roll of the dice, spin of the wheel and taking of a card is done on a device while the moves required by the dice, wheel, and card are carried out in real time in the locale or wherever the game takes you simultaneously as others are doing the same.
While showcasing augmented reality games, Hello Avatar balances this with attention to applications for business and industry and moves on to crowdsourcing and her conclusion. (For an interesting take, see Ashley Southall’s article in the New York Times on using video games to treat pain.) By doing this, Coleman reinforces her premise that digital mediation is forever here to stay and must be dealt with if one is to be successful.