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Columnists

Surfers' paradise

Dixe Wills

Angela reclined in that louche manner she always affects on a Thursday evening in an attempt to counteract the deep sense of thalanasea that sweeps over her at the loss of Top of the Pops, fixed me with a gaze she imagined was suffused with ennui, and breathed, 'What is veal?'

Now, as a vegan I'm used to being peppered with all kinds of arcane and/or vacuous questions by flesh-chewers ('Can you eat potatoes?' being a particular low point), but I'm rarely quizzed about the corpses of our fellow scentient beings, so Angela's enquiry caught me somewhat on the hop. Rallying quickly, I had no sooner launched into an explanation of how the calves are hung upside down to have their throats slit when Angela cut me short.

'No, no, not veal - real - what is real?'

'Ah,' I replied, 'real.' And being the inveterate sage that I am, I began to tell her a story.

'Long long ago, way back in the early days of May 2015, an incident occurred in the online rĂ´le-playing adventure Guild Wars 2. (No, stay with me.) One player had used a cheat programme in order to enable his character - appropriately named DarkSide - to kill off powerful rivals and generally pillage the fantasy world. Other players recorded video of certain of these crimes and sent them to the security chief at Guild Wars' developer ArenaNet. He duly took control of DarkSide and, after stripping him of his stolen armour, caused him to plunge to his death from a high platform. This execution (bit.ly/1RwgISs) has been watched by over a million people.

'So, video was taken of "crimes" that in fact only amounted to the illicit reordering of pixels. No one was actually killed and nothing was actually stolen. DarkSide had no inkling that he was alive and so no possible way of feeling sad, afraid or anything else before his execution. Nothing real happened here at all.

'However, to other players in the game, the illicit reordering of a series of digital pixels had very real implications for them - so much so that they almost certainly moaned about it down the pub. Really, really moaned. And, lest we forget, over a million real people watched the death of someone who was never, in any meaningful sense, alive.'

In other news, this discussion with Angela never really occurred and, indeed, Angela herself never existed. The only thing real about the exchange is that you have read it and looked up the word thalanasea only to discover that it too is not real.

So where do you draw the line? Is the illfated DarkSide less real than the people who watched his demise? If you've just screamed, 'Yes! Yes! Of course he's less real!' at a magazine then you might want to consider faith - how real is that? If it's merely the way you've ordered the neurons in your brain to fire, it's really only as real DarkSide. In fact, perhaps even less so - would over a million people be able to testify that your faith actually exists?