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Imagine a virtual world sort of the one outlined in the question Will sufficiently advanced societies ultimately embrace living in a simulated world?

We've advanced in technology to the point that

  • We're all connected during our lifetimes to this virtual world. The ultimate internet. We can feel, smell, taste, travel, etc. The virtual world is saved and distributed with multiple copies to different planets and moons, so there's no serious threat of its destruction.
  • Nanotechnology and robots have taken over all of the tasks on Earth required to sustain us, such as farming, feeding us, etc. We're able to call on them from the virtual world to carry out childbirth, from insemination to birth to hooking the child up to the virtual world.
  • We have all the resources we'll ever need for robots to make themselves and also take care of us, including carrying out disposing of our bodies when we die.
  • Basically, there are no flaws to be worried about outside the virtual world outside a neutron star hitting us or the sun in our solar system dying on us.
  • We have not advanced to a type-III civilisation on the Kardashev scale.

Description of the virtual world:

  • There's a main world. It's the central hub that's designed and maintained by a benevolent and unbiased government that's been freed by the robots from its outside responsibilities.
  • You can register your own world that only you and trusted people can modify.
  • It's been decided to keep an economy in order to abate uncontrolled growth and internal turmoil, and provide incentive to people to continue study and hobbies. However, this world's "poor people" will never be allowed to suffer poverty. They can get by.
  • Physics is modified internally so your body does not suffer damage or shock. For example, jumping off a virtual cliff will feel like jumping off two feet.
  • This simulated world is unhackable to the extent that our universe is.
  • There is still room for development. You can apply to work at the government and work on the virtual world (bad-wishing people are rooted out by code) and plan testing environments for different types of economies (or none at all) and get together to discuss the world's future.
  • You can use additional worlds as programs to benefit the virtual world or the real world, as the virtual world is extensible from within thanks to the Open-Closed Principle.

Question: What would life be like? What sorts of social groups would form and what hobbies would people have? Where would their interests lie? And where would we go from there?

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    $\begingroup$ Two questions which shape answers to virtual reality topics like these. The first is important: you say there's no flaws to worry about in the real world. Do we have any reason to go back? Is there any merriment to be had at acting in the real world? Any passion? The second question is how do we ensure we have the resources we need? Has something been put in place to prevent the needs of powering the virtual world from overstepping some artificial bounds? $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Dec 29 '15 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ To your first question: Yes. We still haven't advanced yet to new horizons, and achieving domination over other solar systems is still on the plate as well as its implications on the real world and the virtual world. To your second question: The government works to continue to improve life on the outside, and that includes working with the robots and making adjustments in the real world to keep us safe - i.e. we still have to launch weaponry to stop asteroids and stuff like that. $\endgroup$ – The Anathema Dec 29 '15 at 22:01
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There are multiple tropes and answers to this, but I'll draw from my favorite medias that concern this issue - The books Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and Rapture of the Nerds, and the short TV shows Caprica and Sword Art Online.

What would life be like? It would just be life. In a post-scarcity society, there is no direct need to work - only an innate desire to work, for either internal or external reasons. Terrible people would still be terrible, freeloaders will still freeload. While all people with mental deficiencies or disorders could be catered and supported individually, you may also see a rise of narcissism, sociopathy and psychopathy. There's still going to be schooling, although public, private, and home schooling would blur together, with a vast amount of variations on learning taking effect. Society would be a blend of socialism with capitalist frosting, with the only people lacking the basics would be of their own volition. As you mentioned, there would still be various things to do, from tech or social support, science & engineering, software & hardware, research and development, government & law enforcement. "Quests" would appear as a style of on-demand freelance work, an evolution of the 'gig economy' that's rising in 1st world countries currently.

The quest for meaning will have different effects on people, but with the benefit of any pursuit could be simulated. As we see in the virtual worlds in Caprica, through holobands, Raves that don't end, wars with no resolution, hundreds of miles of hunting or fishing, entire virtual cities to build, manage, and destroy if desired, wardrobes to match, virtual clothes to design, spiritual pilgrimages to complete, with room for everyone. Depending on the style of the virtual world, as seen in Sword Art Online and Ready Player One, there may be monsters to slay, puzzles to solve and treasure to find.

What sorts of social groups would form and what hobbies would people have? All of them. Once the world gets sync'd into that main virtual world, you'll have existing hobbies evolve and entirely new ones arise. You'll have suicidal skydiving groups who want that rush of jumping higher and higher to slam into the ground, knowing they'll respawn (or bounce). Fangirls and fanboys will tirelessly create and live in the objects of their desire - Enterprises, TARDISs, Death Star's, or, like in Down & Out in the Magic Kingdom, Disney World. You'll see people theorycrafting and min-maxing to empower their virtual characters in variations on video & tabletop games, and applying those in different manners - Maybe a group that gets together to rob virtual banks, over and over, so that bank security can be upgraded. You'll still have painters, crafty people, remixers, adrenaline junkies and the like - but they'll evolve with the medium.

Where would their interests lie? There are no interests that are unknown to man already, just those that have been suppressed for one reason or another. You'll have people that embrace the shift wholeheartedly, those who pine for ye olden days, and others that pair them together. The spiritual may think of the change as an abomination whilst others will see it as a form of afterlife or even eternal life (this is one of the themes in Caprica). You'll begin to see outliers with interests formally taboo converge together - people experimenting with virtual cannibalism, trying to set themselves up as prophets from unknown gods, people creating virtual worlds devoid of certain races, colors or creeds. On the other hand, those with more familiar interests will continue to evolve on multiple levels, whether that be environmentalism, fatalism, idealism, romanticism, antidisestablishmentarianism, et cetera. This is explored in Revenge of the Nerds.

Where would they go from there? Society would of course continue to evolve. If you're writing a story, you probably want a faction to break away from the status quo, rebelling from the lifespurned by of machines similar to the resistance in the Matrix, or the members of the Dread Reservation from the movie Surrogates (there's also a comic, but I don't have first hand knowledge of it). This could be a source of conflict, like the stories mentioned above, or a peaceful division, such as the existence of the Amish in our own world. Like you mentioned, the society in question hasn't dived towards the stars, so after a whole lot of playing of Kerbal Space Program and Elite Dangerous they may actually pull that trigger as well.

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From your description, the society is nearly post-scarcity. This means you can draw a great deal of content from other post-scarcity worlds made by other authors and expect the results to have applicability here.

A very important thing in this world would be the cultivation of meaning. When virtual worlds become easy to create, they lose a lot of their thrill. Yee average virtual world simply wont be all that interesting to a denizen of this world. What will be essential to making worlds exciting is the infusion of a sense of purpose to the worlds, so that people who visit then find meaning in the time they spend in the world. This is a decidedly artistic concept, so I would expect many hobbies that survive would be those that encourage an artistic flair. Likely many hobbies would be specific to classes of virtual worlds where the sense of meaning of the world is sufficient to make it worth spending time doing something for doing's sake. The actual something that becomes the hobby would depend on the rules and content of that world.

The society you created is not quite cast off from the physical world. There would be an entire class of activities centered around interaction with the government, because the government holds the keys to the physical world that contains the computational clusters needed to power our virtual realities. These interactions are essential: they are the only link between our actions in the virtual world and consequences in the physical world such as power utilization.

Your last question, "where would we go from here?" is better off left unanswered. After all, what's the fun in imagining a vibrant virtual world full of art and meaning if you pigeonhole them into going places that step beyond our wildest dreams?

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Well...

We are kinda seeing it already, are not we?

Apart from the robots and real-life necessities taken care of, there are already a multitude of virtual worlds that people flee from real life to. Those worlds are normally created by someone, of course, but all of them are made to give the only thing that your reality really needs for your inhabitants: entertainment.

So, what it would be like?

The central hub would be a giant second-life environment, where people would interact more-or-less in free form, using avatars of their design. There is no need for your avatar to reflect your real body.

Some people, probably the most studied ones - let's call then the Engineers - would be tasked with the creation of new, special worlds. Those worlds have only one purpose, and that would be to make the people that choose to live in them entertained.

Think of a civilization that has a multitude of MMO's to choose from, with thousands of possible genres, varying degrees of complexity, and always full of fresh content.

People would be able to literally live in Azeroth, Elysea, Asmodae, Rune-Midgard, Faerûn, Eberron... you name it. The activities we do today to escape real life would be the bread and butter of your people, and they would live their lives playing what they want to play. People would keep studying and doing whatever they like, but inside the world they love the most. And, if they are tired of the Medieval fantasy of Greyhawk, they can simply move on and become something else in another world, created by another engineer.

What you would have is basically the biggest RPG community ever created!

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