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Gary Gygax, World Dictator?

As you probably know if you read this weblog regularly, I'm working on a novel set about 12 years in the future, at a time when existing technological trends (pervasive wireless networking, ubiquitous location services, and the uptake of virtual reality technologies derived from today's gaming scene) coalesce into a new medium. "Halting State" attempts to tackle the significance of the impact of widespread augmented reality tools (and of interaction in ludic environments) on society.

Looking for a handle on this topic is difficult; how do you get your head around something nobody's yet experienced? One approach is to use a metaphor -- a close historical parallel that you can track.

The metaphor I picked (for reasons which I hope will be obvious) was the development of the world wide web, and the way (pace Lawrence Lessig) in which coders are the unacknowledged legislators of the technosphere. And it led me into some interesting speculative territory. So let me start with some history ...

In the beginning of the world wide web, there was Tim Berners-Lee. And he invented the web as a collaboration and information-sharing medium for academia. Interestingly, it wasn't the first such tool by a long way -- gopherspace, Hyper-G, WAIS (aka Z39.50) and a whole host of other technologies got on the internet first. But for a variety of reasons that are only obvious with 20/20 hind-sight, the web was the one that took off.

A couple of years after Sir Tim began working on the web protocols at CERN, a handful of programmers at NCSA got funding to write (a) a web server, and (b) a web browser. The server became NCSA httpd, which rapidly became the main UNIX-hosted server tool, then gave rise indirectly to the Apache project circa 1995 (when a group of folks who were impatient with the lack of progress on NCSA's httpd got together to write an improved version).

Meanwhile, the NCSA team wrote a web browser called Mosaic. (Actually there were three web browsers called Mosaic -- a Windows version, the Mac version, and the X11/UNIX version -- and they were developed by different people; but from the outside it looked like a single project.) I first began using it in, um, early 1993? Late 1992? It was back when you could still reasonably subscribe to the NCSA "what's new on the web" digest and visit every single new website on the planet, every day. (Which I did, a couple of times, before I got bored.) Mosaic was something of a revelation, because in addition to the original HTML specifications TBL had drafted, they threw some extra hacks in -- notably the IMG SRC tag, which suddenly turned it from a hypertext engine into a graphical display platform. Originally the CERN web team had actually wanted to avoid putting graphics in web pages -- it defeated the idea of semantic markup! -- but the Mosaic developers were pragmatists; graphics were what they wanted, and graphics were what they would have.

Hit the fast-forward button. Mosaic caught on like wildfire. NCSA realized they had a startling runaway hit on their hands and started selling commercial usage licenses for the source code. The developers left, acquired funding, and form Netscape Communications Corporation. They didn't take the original browser code -- NCSA owned it -- but they set out to write a better one. Meanwhile, NCSA licensed the Mosaic code base to Spry and a few other companies.

Some time in late 1994/early 1995. Microsoft woke up, smelled the smoke in the air, and paniced. For some years Bill Gates had been ignoring or belittling the annoyingly non-Microsoft-owned TCP/IP network protocols that were creeping out of academia and the UNIX industry. If people wanted network services, Microsoft could provide everything they wanted, surely? Well, no. And by the time Microsoft did a 180-degree policy turn, they were badly behind the curve and in danger of losing a huge new market. They went to one of the Mosaic licensees and say, "sub-license Mosaic to us, and we'll pay you a royalty on every copy we sell." Then they rebadged it as Internet Explorer and gave it away for free, thus firing the opening salvo in the browser wars. (More or less.)

The browser wars were under way in earnest by mid-1995, with Netscape making most of the running for the first year or so, but succumbing eventually to Microsoft's marketing advantage. The weapon of choice was browser functionality: "our browser does more neat stuff than theirs". And in fighting this way, both sides introduced lots of spurious crap that nobody could understand or use (and which later proved to be full of hideous security holes fit to gladden the hearts of spammers and advertising executives everywhere).

Now, here's a key point: the developers of Mosaic at NCSA didn't know it, but the introduction of the IMG SRC tag in 1992 was going to do more to change the shape of 21st century politics than anyone could imagine. Because it opened up the possibility of using the web for graphical content, including magazine publications and porn. As we all know -- it's a cliche -- new communication technologies catch on for the first time when they are used for the distribution of pornography. This in turn demands mechanisms for payment and for billing users, which ends up creating spin-off industries like the payment service providers, and in turn brings in mechanisms that can be used by other types of business. That one variant tag catalysed, ultimately, the commercialization of the web.

(OK, I exaggerate for effect. Bear with me.)

Those initial design decisions, presumably made by a bunch of postgrads with a shiny new piece of code, sitting around in a university common room, shaped a medium which today mediates a good proportion of all retail sales in the developed world, and which governments propose to use to mediate their interactions with their citizens. And the headaches arising from the browser-war induced featuritis (example: studies show that something like 25% of users pay no attention to their web browser's security and location indicators, and many can't actually read a URL -- they do everything by typing in a google search bar or following links -- this is why phishing scams work and part of why we're seeing such a huge rise in identity theft on the net) define the shape of our current social landscape.

Now. About virtual reality.

Sad to say, the political landscape of the early to mid 21st century has already been designed -- by Gary Gygax, inventor of Dungeons and Dragons.

Gary didn't realize it (D&D predates personal computing) but his somewhat addictive game transferred onto computers quite early (see also: Nethack). And then gamers demanded -- and got, as graphics horsepower arrived -- graphical versions of same. And then multi-user graphical versions of same. And then the likes of World of Warcraft, with over a million users, auction houses, the whole spectrum of social interaction, and so on.

Which leads me to the key insight that: our first commercially viable multi-user virtual reality environments have been designed (and implicitly legislated) to emulate pencil-and-paper high fantasy role playing games.

Sure, Second Life shows a pattern for Ludic environments that is non-RPG based, more user-directed -- after the pattern of LambdaMOO and similar -- but again, the LambdaMOO experiment fell out of dissatisfaction with the fantasy RPG limits that the earlier MUDs imposed on social interaction, and the MUDs were basically networked multiuser implementations of the Colossal Cave Adventure and friends, which all came back to Gary Gygax.

There's no bloody escaping it. The gamers have given rise to a monster that is ultimately going to embrace and extend the web, to the same extent that TV subsumed and replaced motion pictures. (The web will still be there -- some things are intrinsically easier to do using a two dimensional user interface and a page-based metaphor -- but the VR/AR systems will be more visible.)

I'm not sure we've reached the equivalent of Netscape's 1.0 release. New interaction mechanisms are going to come along, especially once the VR experience moves away from the desktop computer paradigm and goes mobile, using PDAs or smartphones, head-up displays, and ubiquitous location services (and speaking of the latter, it is reported that the Galileo PRN codes have been cracked). But VR will be the first medium where the primary path to commercialization will be through game-play.

We're already immersed in a neotenous society, where social adolescence is artificially extended and a lot of people never "grow up' -- that is, never accept the designated "adult" roles and social behaviours. Gaming is a pervasive recreational behaviour; the games industry is probably close to surpassing the traditional motion picture industry in turnover. Play -- historically associated more with childhood behaviour than with adultood -- is a behaviour that is increasingly continued into adulthood. And it has long-term psychological implications. Play is learning tool; young mammals play in order to explore their environment and develop strategies for coping.

An environment developed implicitly for gaming/playing, then re-purposed for acting/doing in real life, offers all sorts of interesting possibilities for behavioural traps equivalent to not understanding that location bar at the top of the browser window. The two general failure modes will be: (a) thinking that something is a game, when in actual fact it isn't, and (b) thinking something is real when it's just a simulation. These will also interact with a population who take longer to reach "traditional" adulthood (if they ever do so), and who therefore may engage in game-play or learning oriented behaviour inappropriately.

The biggest problem facing panopticon surveillance societies will be telling game-play from actual subversion. (How does a game of Killer played in a hotel go down if nobody's told the security guards watching the CCTV cameras?) Whoops, lots of ugly new social failure modes here (especially as our society's rules tend to assume that people are going to slot into traditional adult roles as soon as their age passes 6,574 days and twelve hours).


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Extremely interesting. Couple of thoughts:

I've always been suspicious of the statement that new technologies are pioneered by pornography, simply because it's widely quoted common wisdom, nobody ever puts forward any evidence and (to paraphrase Steven Colbert), it's got a lot of truthiness.

Gaming into adulthood certainly is not new. Here in the U.S., games like golf, bowling, softball, and the friendly neighborhood poker match have always been extremely popular among adults.

Do you do much gaming? MOOs, MUDs, WoW, etc.?


You answered my last question on the other thread. Thanks.

Here's a question for you, Charlie: how will authority gained in a virtual world translate into the real world?

I think you see where I'm going. In a world where people take longer to reach adulthood, or never do (an interesting working hypothesis, at least) the room for a real virtual coup (sorry) will go up significantly.

Mitch: if you go the Economist archive


Oh, no! Somebody murdered Noel in mid-sentence!

Hmmm.... I'm the kind of pain in the neck who questions the common wisdom all the time.

So now I'm questioning the idea that people are taking longer to reach adulthood.

My response: Compared with what? And what are the signs of this extended childhood?

Compared with medieval times, certainly, we take longer to reach adulthood. Children were considered adults in back then as soon as they hit puberty.

Now, people aren't considered adults until 18-22, in the middle and upper classes in America. Generally the time they get out of school and get a job. And that's the period that's often considered the start of the extended childhood.

I think it's not so much that people are remaining children, so much as that we in America and Britain (and certainly elsewhere too) have created a new stage of life, in the 20s and into the 30s, when adults become responsible for themselves--and only themselves. 20-somethings have jobs, but, for many in the middle and upper classes, they don't have kids, they don't have parents who need caring-for (their parents are not much older than--why, they're not much older than I am now! Yikes!), they don't even own significant property. They're free to try on new roles, change careers, and move to new cities or countries, without having to pay much of a price for failure.

A decade or two ago, in this context, I saw the expression "starter marriage."

I'm really looking forward to this novel.


The normative definition of "adult" is open to challenge, I think.

But I need to think a lot harder on that question (and right now I'm just about to go to bed after a 4 hour Neverwinter Nights binge, so that's all for today ...)


"The two general failure modes will be: (a) thinking that something is a game, when in actual fact it isn't, and (b) thinking something is real when it's just a simulation."

This leads into the study of game theory itself. If a game cannot be distinguished from reality, is it still a game or has it now become a new form of reality?

The larger issue you are raising seems to be similar to Stanlaw Lem's demon of a second kind (I think it was the second one...) At any rate, Lem has his heroes construct a special cabinet for the leader of the planet (who loves games and is in all other respects not a nice person).

When the leader plugs into the cabinet (all these characters are robots), he finds himself in the same room standing beside the same cabinet. So, he plugs himself in again and once again finds himself in the same room, standing beside the same cabinet. This repeats until no-one knows how many levels of recursion has occured.

The result is that the leader now does not know how to distinguish the simulation of the cabinet from reality and is, therefore, rendered harmless with respect to a) our heroes and b) his subjects. The game has become his reality.

You pick one path from pre-web to web to future based upon D&D. I could argue equally that a parallel path exists for the space adventure game. From paper and pencil, through early computers (see David Ahl's space games on a DEC 10, or the original StarTrek, for example) to demanding more graphics (the whole StarWars set) to MMOG (EVE Online) to ...

I think the dividing line between game and reality is that succesful games must offer both entertainment and diversion (escapism) whereas reality does not have these constraints.


Actually, the "demon of the second kind" extracts information out of randomness; he's a variation on Maxwell's demon. You're thinking of the dreaming cabinets, which are part of a story told by Trurl for another's edification, rather than something he made himself.

Another, still more relevant, part of the Cyberiad is the "Seventh Sally", in which Trurl builds for an exiled tyrant a perfect simulacrum of a kingdom to tyrannize over; after which his friend points out, that a truly perfect imitation is no longer an imitation, and thus the mock-kingdom contains real thinking and suffering subjects, who ought not to be abandoned as Trurl had done.


An eye-opening read, and an even more thought-provoking discussion.

For an interesting working example of how authority gained in the virtual, game-play world translates into the 'real' physical world (to effectivly creat a revolution) read Stephenson's 'Diamond Age'. Granted, the concept 'works' within its (very) science fiction context and the even more specific setting and plotline. However, without spoiling too much - No, scratch that, without spoiling at all - I think that the idea encapsulated in that story offers a viable option for a virtual, role-played authority to affect actual (physical) reality.


Please be very, very careful extrapolating from Neverwinter Nights to World of Warcraft.

Speaking as an aficionado of the World of Warcraft games -- from their pre-graphical MUDs all the way through to the big boy himself -- there is a very big difference between NWN and WoW. They may look similar to someone who's only played one of the two, and they are both Gygaxish games, but the difference between a company that makes games whose primary revenue streams are boxes on shelves (NWN) and a company that makes its money of subscription revenues (WoW) is huge; the latter has a much greater incentive to produce gameplay that is by its nature addictive, and to cater to a segment of their community that responds most strongly to that addictive gameplay.

Even if you're playing in a persistent world in NWN, it's still not the same game and it's compelling for different reasons.


One of my favorite kinds of mainstream reading -- not science fiction, not fantasy -- is the delayed coming-of-age story. These are usually comic novels about men who accept the responsibilities of adulthood relatively late in life.

Probably my very favorite one of this little genre is Nobody's Fool, by Richard Russo. It's the story of a ne'er-do-well handyman living in a small town in upstate New York. The protagonist is 60--and just becoming an adult.

I think the key demarcation between the extended childhood we're describing here and true adulthood is taking responsibility for one's self, and for other people. The other people can be a spouse, children, aging and sick parents, or even just a friend.



Have you tried Inform 7? It's a new version of the interactive fiction game-creation language, which wraps the c-like language of Inform 6 in something that approaches natural language, and provides a sophisticated GUI IDE for game development.

The IDE is available for OS X and Windows, though OS X seems to be the 'home' platform.

I'm curious to see what an author of 'regular' fiction would think of it.


Mitch: I fought him off, but I suppose someone really doesn't want me making the Economist reference.

K: I read "Diamond Age" a long time ago. It didn't make much of an impression --- all I can remember is a Shanghai judge with a Brooklyn accent, someplace named "Heartland," and magic nanotech gobbledygook. (I think my disbelief bar may be set higher than most of the readers of this blog; if that's a bad thing, I'll happily go away.) Is there any way that you can be more specific about how the book shows virtual authority becomes real-world authority without giving away the plot for those who haven't read it?

"El delirio de Turing," by Edmundo Paz Soldán plays around with the "virtual coup" idea, without saying so, but doesn't really move up and take it head on. I believe a translation has just come out in English, and I heartily recommend it.


Noel : I tried going back to the book so I could just tell you to read this or that page, but I then figured it wouldn't be such a great idea. So I've come up with a much better way to go about it, and wrote about it on my live journal. Hope that answers your question, or even provokes further discussion! "El delirio de Turing" sounds like it should mean, Turing's Day-Dream? or perhaps, Turing's hallucination ? I'll keep an eye out for it!


K: I read the blog. Thanks! That's definitely a scenario for a virtual coup. You gain authority in a virtual world; then launch your golpe in the real one.

Another one, I suppose, would be for a society to become so dependent on virtual interactions that it --- or at least the armed forces of the state --- can't function when it breaks down. That's a different scenario from the Wag the Dog scenarios discussed above. (Charlie? Am I misrepresenting them?)

"El delirio de Turing" translates as "Turing's hallucination," but I think the English title is "Turing's Delirium." Soldan doesn't translate his own stuff, but he reads the translation, so I suspect that it will be pretty good. What might get lost is the Spanglish --- frex, "the Playground" (in English) really stood out in a work written in Spanish, but it might not jump out so much in an English-language. Ditto for phrases like TodoHackers, which I hope are left alone, and several of the characters' turns-of-phrase.

But it won't be a big loss; Paz Soldán's sensibility is very modern. McOndo and all that.


As an long time player of MMO's this one certainly struck a chord. BTW Charlie your numbers are a little off, WoW has sold over 6 million accounts and has a concurrency of 2 million plus worldwide (best guesstimate). Actually concurrency is pretty hard to nail down due to the different ways people subscribe across the world. In the US and Europe, us fierce individualists all tend to have our own account (or 2, or 3 ..) but in Asia the MMO companies sell accounts to internet cafes who then sell on access to players. Just another example of the the differences between the cultures.

The secondary market is another facet of things (selling in-game currency and property for real cash). The actual garnering of the in-game stuff tends to be done in South East Asian 'sweatshops' but most of the buying is done by US/Euro players. Due to the need to 'maintain' your character in WoW (and other games) this has led many an MMO'r I know to 'outsource' this maintenance to Asia :)


Dan DB - I don't think Mr S was comapring NWN to WoW; it's just that he's addicted to it, and it's the only thing that can stop him bloody writing for any length of time.

I plan to buy him some expansions just to slow him down and give us amateurs a chance.

Also (excuse me for not 'picking' on folk, there have been a lot of comments and I'm reduced to work PC only atm), but what I think Charlie is saying is quite interesting.

The fact the IMG tag kick started the browser wars, and that its devlopment provided impetus for the RPG community to push for devlopment of their chosen toys, which then opened the path for other applications to use these GUIs.

Remember that - as far as history is concerned - Gary Gygax invented the RPG. Pen and Paper style, which gave the foundation for sets of controls followed by a reason to have a more 'virtual' representation of your avatar and it's interaction with the world around it.

DnD set the standard of 'stat blocks' that every other game since (with the notable exception of the Amber game) has followed. Which in turn dictated how our games were made - how the system needed to interact - this is also true for games like WoW and EQ.

And these games, in turn have set the milestone of control, view and interaction in the newest generation of virtual systems that include avatars.

Maybe we should tell Gary?


CoughDave Arnesoncough


This isn't going to degenerate into one of those Ken Thompson/Dennis Ritchie arguments, is it? (With the Richard Stallman/Bill Joy/Linus Torvalds/Andy Tannenbaum fan chorus in the background ...)


Serraphin, you're absolutely right. I guess -- to our illustrious host's point -- that the differences between the various gygaxian flavours are as important as the differences between unix and/or C variants. (Not very.)

I hereby retract my previous post!


The strong distinction between adult and childhood games is not an immutable feature -- more a product of the past couple of centuries.


I'll not argue the Dave Arneson thing. I wasn't in the room or even in the gene pool when those two were together, so cannot deign to add anything that could be construed as constructive (or true).

Perhaps what I should say is "The recognised creator of...". Whether there are other names that should be in there are moot - few folk, infortunately, know of Mr Arneson - and Gary Gygax has been in futurama...


The question is vastly complex, and a lot of it makes this bear's head ache. However, 'adulthood' is something that interests me - largely because I try to follow the Dylan dictum, 'I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now'.

Most of us don't have careers and never did. We have work that occupies much more of our time than we like. What motivates us is how we occupy our leisuretime, and the expansion of available leisuretime can be regarded as coinciding with a seeming increasing abdication of 'adult' responsibilities by sections of the population, together with a clinging to the ways of youth (said he who has just booked Iron Maiden tickets for the entire family)

Leisuretime activities can be more than mere displacement - and when you combine addictive behaviours with flashy, attractive graphics (which are thankfully absent from this site) you can see an ever increasing erosion of commitment to 'adult' behaviour - ie, contributing towards others' prosperity, etc.

Where it is going to get really 'interesting' is in those areas of the world where 'adult' activities are expected to take all the waking hours. You can understand why, for instance, the Chinese authorities shit themselves about an uncontrolled internet.

And who says THAT is a bad thing?


Vernor Vinge's most recent novel, Rainbows End, makes quite a lot of the idea of fantasy game environments expressing their hierarchies and powers in the real world.

  • Sam C

I blogged this discussion on Monkeys In My Pants:

Mitch Wagner


Appropos of the definition of adulthood, interestingly, the onset of puberty is getting younger.


There's another relevent part of Diamond Age: a MMOG that takes place within an encrypted network. The gamers claim their passtime to have only nine levels, but the authorities suspect that there are in fact cough thirty-one. Basically it's a darknet using a game as its social protection layer; a scifi riff on the Masons.



I was just talking to Gary, and in his words "If you're talking to him, tell Charlie I am perfectly pleased to be used as a straw example in his philosophical excercises".

He was most amused, and sent the link out to a bunch of folks yesterday.


Charlie, what the hell is "inappropriate learning oriented behaviour"?


I think the development that made the Web so pervasive wasn't just the IMG SRC tag (which existed in HTML 1.0), but discarding the core principle that the browser should have control over what the page looks like. That's why HTML 1.0 had tags like "Header 1" and didn't have the tags we have now that let you specify typeface (it had bold and italics, but good style was supposedly to avoid using them in favor of "strong" and "em"). From what I remember, this was a key design principle, and you would get scolded if you ignored it. And it had to go before the Web could become pervasive, because people really want to control what their documents look like.


I worked for several years with testing and developing a MMORPG -- and because of this experience, I tend to regard MMORPGs and VR with a degree of cynicism.

Inasmuch as I still enjoy computer gaming, something about MMORPGs leave me cold. And if VR is going to be like MMORPGs, count me out.

Charlie is definitely on to something here -- how old precedents cast a long shadow over future developments -- and it disturbs me. I keep thinking: "If people are going to try and live their lives as if it were a MMORPG, even to the extent that they intrude on Real Life, they are in for a rude awakening."

Some thoughts:

  • "How can I crash this thing?" (nye heh heh)
  • If VR players interact with both Real Life and Simulated Life, anyone who isn't "plugged in" -- for instance, the poor, the low-caste and the terminally disgruntled -- is going to look on and become resentful. And the non-players will find ways to sabotage the simulation.

  • "Follow the money."
  • The primary aim of MMORPG design -- and, I assume, of VR design -- is not to amuse people, but to make them continue playing the game (and paying the fee for doing so). Sooner or later, design focus converges on fostering and nurturing obsessive-compulsive behavior. Players will say "I can't live without this," and the Owner Of The Game will say "Your first level is free..."

  • "Do the players realize they are actually serfs inside the simulation?" Old-fashioned, non-commercial ludic activity, owned by nobody, produces social cohesion -- "social capital".
  • But commercial MMORPGs create only the semblance of social activity and productivity -- semblance because someone OWNS the environment, completely controls it, and you PAY him to be "social".

    This is the equivalent of paying land taxes to a feudal landlord -- you literally pay a fee to be allowed to "exist" in the virtual world -- it produces nothing except debt and serfdom.

    "But you can have skills in a MMORPG, and produce services," you say. (Ask a "skilled" person who plays STAR WARS GALAXIES, "Isn't it great how the game allows you to be creative?" Then duck the blow.)

    No. As long as the feudal lord determines what can or can't be done in his "world", you CAN'T be productive.

    The lord("god"?) of the VR environment rules absolutely, and is therefore controlling all means of production. As long as you are inside the commercial VR, your avatar is a serf. If nobody owned it, on the other hand...



    I think this is your best post thus far that I've seen. Yowsers!

    We're talking about fantasy vs reality. I like to take on another persona but for entertainment purposes or short term only. I would think that would be a lamer gamer self-esteem self-image issue. There are allot of self-image issues that can crop up with the trans-humanism movement that the Immortality Institute are trying to moralize too. Gygax has been responsible with these issues in the past. He can be considered the top mind in entertainment but not in the tech scene. Because of customer lock-in through MS products running 90 percent of your games, it's easy to idolize him in that way because the market wanting to simplify and maximize their profits. I think that's why Gygax got out of the online business a few years ago as he probably didn't like the addictive and closed element in it, Microsoft would eventually be dictating the limits of his game, unlike what pen and paper brings with his Legendary Adventures line, sort of. Sounds like that article you sent me a while back too. Pigs in Cyberspace:

    When they're controlling the game and making it addictive they A: Want to keep you a child as it's more money B: People never grow up but kill each other off in wars because the game becomes boring so they kill each other in real life.

    So I do agree it's better your playing NWN because of more client control. It can become more Web 2.0ish because of the recycled element.

    Currently I am playing and modifying as it seems more mod friendly and less addictive I think because of it. .

    I am wanting to pick up your Glasshouse and Halting State soon.

    Yes I can see Joe Saul's argument but also when Netscape open sourced their browser, as well as ICANN being formed, in the late 90s it perpetuated the MS anti-trust ruling eventually forming Firefox. Otherwise I think they would have just paid Netscape off. You had an open standard in a closed browser. Am I off? I think Netscape won in a capitalist society because they offered the lowest price and today that's zippo, or at leat SOA. So HTML 1.0, the

    I think free standards creates the best competition as well as market buyouts as people can still buyout people with little or no money sort of the idea put forth in Accelerando. It's a big thing especially here in the midwest but the people with the most standards are the people with the most power. Power doesn't necessarily mean most money but now more market share. IBM is coming with some very nice SOA consulting techniques that are cheap.

    Also I was discussing a WW4 topic lately and I think WW3 was boring. Hidden enemies and too much wimpy complaining. WW4 will be completely online. It's safe, clean, and better then all previous wars. New and improved. i really like using the mobile device as a medium because it gets people outside more. So really tech can solve our problems.


    Hey, Charlie,

    Being here on your comments thread is an introduction to a world that I left at age 14. It's not the same world, of course: it's evolved and aged. But it's still one that I abandoned around the time I realized three truths about junior high school: (1) getting laid is good, (2) avoiding fights is hard, and (3) really driving a vehicle (skateboard or illegal car, doesn't matter) irresponsibly is much more fun than playing Pole Position. I also read Borges for the first time. In my head, all these things are linked.

    I am realizing why science fiction is drawing ever-smaller audiences. After all, most people, even in the developed nations, live lives that are entirely recognizable to someone from 1950, or even 1900. This includes --- in fact, I'd venture to say it is more likely to include --- the most wealthy and successful people in society.

    Interesting speculation that sheds light on the possible changes around us seems to be lost in a haze of personal obsessions and desire for affect.

    The real change is the increasing ease of communication with people who you have not met personally. The rest is an epiphenomenon ... or, as Matt mentioned, addictive behavior. (BTW, Matt, you're still an adult if you buy Iron Maiden tickets. It's about as rebellious these days as going to the opera in 1900. The substance of adulthood is unchanged; incomes are simply higher and tastes are different.)

    But I'm lost in the haze of bizarre acronyms and references to games played by in total by far fewer people than kick around a ball in a Thursday-afternoon soccer game. And I really have no point, other than that this conversation became utterly impenetrable right after Matt Schultz.


    Back to the basics for Noel ;-)

    I refute one of Charlie's previous Blogs about how his book was just fiction, and it really couldn't serve that award he got for TransHumanism.

    Entertainers have a responsibility to society like everyone else. We don't get a special card. Entertaining is a job that gets people to loosen up and act more responsibility. To stop fighting and work together. It's also a good promotion tool as we put wind in th sails of the Tech minded and sometimes add a little of our own code too if were smarter then the average bear.

    “This is the equivalent of paying land taxes to a feudal landlord -- you literally pay a fee to be allowed to "exist" in the virtual world -- it produces nothing except debt and serfdom.��?

    In a larger scarcity based environment (I think we will always have scarcity but less drastic) that can work to an advantage walling a 'Die with a smile on my face' philosophy. Today we demand more because we're living longer and either have grown up and then live a much longer, more healthy life, or never grow up and eventually die off in sub continental war. At that time it was a responsibility of the more generalized government and mystical church (the church wasn't so mystical in the early days though, and government didn't exist, where God put in more physical appearances) to instill social mores into the society. Today people want more and more free stuff and they want less and less government and more direct control. Almost like the old magic has returned from the old times like in GRRM's SoIaF books.

    In a sense broader societal activities have become a one way 'Dispenser' as they are too large or cumbersome creating a schizophrenic society.. A large corporation or government dispenser.

    Gary Gygaz never really evolved DnD into a complete virtual world . He was a trailblazer in that he started with a generic ruleset that's still great and will always be but it doesn't really get into dialog and manufacturing of traps puzzles and quests. I think games have fallen too much into the original concept and haven't evolved properly. They continue to stay too close to the initial design by Gary and others. The basic rulesets and refuse to evolve into a legitimate entertainment device. (In Japan that is different as they had made large attempts to do this but maybe have not totally succeeded). I still don't think RPG s have been legitimized period. And they should be or we'll continue to have these problems (Kids firing off guns in schools). They need to become more malleable so people can walk away with a stronger more connected experience after only a few minutes. There needs to be more rulsets for building puzzled and complex traps and the repercussions thereof.

    Charlie Stross:

    In NWN they have Construct Trap but maybe they should add in Construct Complex Trap and Construct Puzzle during in game play of course. Also, I'll stick with my fully free games as I can mod them better too but I do own a copy NWN or rent it as the EULA says.


    Gygax didn't start the genre with which you identify him; he was the first to make enough money that he appeared first to the naive press. The breakthrough in intellectual property that made that money possible was Ken St.Andre: pioneering writer of fantasy role-playing games, including "Tunnels and Trolls" (1974) the 2nd ever fantasy role-playing game (only Dungeons & Dragons came earlier, but Tunnels and Trolls is easier to learn, and Ken St.Andre was the first to copyright a gamemaster's guide).

    Still, your point is well taken. Something has to break the chicken and egg stasis. "Why should I buy or even download free a VR browser, when there's no compelling content" + "Why should I invest time and money in building content for VR when there's no sufficiently popular browser?" Telephones and faxes had to go through this barrier. Arguably spreadsheets were the breakthrough for PCs, annoyingly to folks such as I who were programming homebrew personal computers circa 1975, who wanted to jump straight to hypermedia. The killer app for VR is killing monsters?


    A couple of thoughts, perhaps more along the line of a couple of questions to consider:

    Would there be physical movement over time of people of similar ilk migrating to the same physical location when their only point of similarity is in cyberspace by game and/or server?

    Alternatively, someone born in that area by default has those specific electronic "colours". Would the overmatching of one group by another in cyberspace lead to block wars akin to that in the comic 200O AD? Yes, showing my age here.

    Perhaps there might even be the matching of commercial power as an extension of a personal attack - i.e my credit is bigger than your credit....

    Then there is ID theft, VR manipulation of sensory input to predispose someone towards making a specific decision or series of decisions, remote hanky panky by someone taking over the fully automated (real world) surroundings countered by automatic security protocols of an individual.... what happens when you sleep? Guardian AIs? Safe houses for you physically? What happens to your e-persona? Who watches the watchmen given the possibility of an open source (willingly or not) backbone supporting the entire system?

    Going to stop now before I start scaring myself too much.



    Another thought: web/gamemaster manipulates people into enacting a bank robbery, then absconding with the physical goods while leaving his pawns to take the fall.

    "Honest Guv, we wuz just playing dungeon crawl/hack/slash.."

    Alternatively, set the physical parameters of a building and/or series of intellectual challenges in cyberspace and let the collective brain power of the players crack a solution. Seen that one before in gaming (eh, Soon?).

    Another thing: parallels with submarine warfare, i.e someone running silent to gain surprise at the cost of being unable to tap into the local surveillance web or receiving information tags from surrounding buildings Passive vs active I guess. Leaving a smaller "footprint" in cspace?



    Note how pragmatic we are about confused realities/simulacra... we're way past the philosophy stage. ;-)

    Stuling suggested: "Alternatively, set the physical parameters of a building and/or series of intellectual challenges in cyberspace and let the collective brain power of the players crack a solution. Seen that one before in gaming (eh, Soon?)"

    Intriguing. But I'm sure a judge and jury would learn to take a hard-line stance in such cases: if your actions in cyberspace have physical consequences, you can be charged in court. (But what if the players are minors? Who takes the blame in court? The ISP? Their parents? Both?)

    And speaking of parents: Will these advanced VRs come with strict age limits -- also upward? (The simulations may be too taxing for an old geezer with a weak ticker.)

    Suppose someone converts a VR into a kind of day-care center: the tots are plugged into a simulation exactly like TELETUBBIES, and stay there while the parents are off to work... (The horror, the horror!)


    JVP - You lost me on the Gygax comment. They (I'll use that from now on :)) first commercially published an RPG, never mind made any money out of it.

    Tunnels and Trolls (Easier to learn doesn't mean better kids) came later, and ergo was later.

    But either way the point it moot; Gygax and Co are attributed with the RPG genre and a great deal of games follow the 'stat block' system. These games are now in-turn influencing the GUI of other interfaces - which could eventually in turn become our access to the global village.

    Even now the MMOr(on)pgs allow for some customisation on how you interact, give easy to reference visual aids and options for more in depth examination of 'stats', simple two button and a few key methods of interacting with the world around you (in the game).

    When games such as this become so invasive through society, they influence more of our actions. How long before we require truly complex interactions in our working day? I don't think we'll ever hit the now defunct vision of 'walking' around the cybersphere, but as a great many of the Mmorpgs virtual currency/items start gaining real world value - how long until everyone dips into the virt-real world? If you can make �30 for a few hours work (by selling that vorpal longsword +5 on e-bay), why not do it even if you don't enjoy it? And if you're doing that, may as well do some shares and stocks in the same GUI...

    BTW I think some distinction needs to be made between VR and gaming. The two are by no means mutually exclusive. Without getting anyone fired (I hope) the US Air Force use a VR system they had specially made to allow their techs' to practive fixing the F(whatevers). Not a game, very VR. VR is just an interface :)

    And Noel - There is no way the lives we lead are recognisable to someone from the 1900 (no, not at all). You're even stretching it for the 1950s. Seriously - can you imagine explaining to some coal mining lower class Welsh man exactly how you and I are having this conversation?

    The all invasive processing chip (and yes they are everywhere, think on that RFiD tag you've got in the shirt you just bought) wasn't even a philosophers dream at that point. In the late 40's I think someone made the comment that "One day a computer may be small enough to fit into a house, though an entire room would be needed".

    I'll leave now - I'm just taking up whitespace :P


    Hey A.R,

    The comment I made was under the assumption that e crime is a darn sight harder to prove than the hard, physical component of one. I suspect the reality is that the data corroborating a crime is basically hiding somewhere on someone's hard drive and they've been unable to wipe it completely.

    God only knows how the e-scape will look in another 10 years time and god only knows how e crime could be proven with its increasing complexity.

    Very interesting points about VR child care. Who would the children look up to as parental figures, and what would that do to media manipulation and advertising? Product placement takes on a whole new meaning too....

    Lala for president, anyone?

    BTW can I put a vote in for Mr Tolkien here. While he drew from many historical sources, myths and legends, without the LOTR and especially the Hobbit sinking into our childhood consciousness, I don't think D&D would have been quite so popular in the first place.


    Please note that I'm wholly against the idea of Virtual Reality day-care for kids: it would damage their minds for life, if they grew up thinking of the VR as equal to physical life, or never learned to tell the difference...

    I see a story subject in the idea of bringing up kids partly inside a simulation... oh yes, someone already has written about it, here:


    Stuling - no you can't. This isn't a goddamn democrac...oh wait.


    I agree with your fantasy brain setting comment - but it's more the 'gaming' using stats we're pinning on the DnD folks. Which in turn made this kind of thing ideal for computers (they use maths to play games...and some visial jiggery :))


    Very true re stats Serraphin :) I also remember a great deal of the appeal was in the artwork in the monster manual/FF when they first came out.

    Back to Mr Stross' comment about VR vs non-VR and the behavoural oopses that can occur. I know this next bit is slightly out of context, but I wondered about the possible social implications.

    For instance, in Diablo II (which I've played far too much of in my time), a player can be tagged and it's not necessarily visible to them. It's a relatively short step from something derogatory floating above your head to having real data about the person available in the VR environment to others.

    It could be dependant on as something as simple as the data being available in the public domain and someone including a link to follow, you might end up with a new class of pariah i.e someone that looks OK but that anyone walking around linked to VR avoids like the plague.

    From there, it's not too much of a stretch to imagine economic, medical, psychological data, or even a genetic assay being available to those with VR access (though that sort of information would be of such interest to corporations and governments, I couldn't see it deregulated for any length of time)

    It might even have a benefit on the social scene for we geeks not quite as blessed in the looks department. And perhaps the ladies won't be quite as keen to chase after the bad boy after they see that hint of level 3 social dysfunction...? We can but hope... :)


    Jon Hendry raises a good point. I think interactive fiction, more than MOGs, applies to the kind of augmented reality gaming you suggest. Perhaps a good place to start is here:

    Enjoy yourself down-under, and watch out for sabre-toothed kangaroos! (I know they're only fossils, but what a creature!)


    The only difference between adults playing poker or chess vs. playing videogames is the perceived cultural difference. It is acceptable for a 40 year-old man to play golf for six hours on a Saturday, riding around in a cart and drinking beer, but it is socially unacceptable for that man to play videogames against online competitors for a similar period of time. There is only a small margin of difference in the physical activity, granted you do have to swing a golf club - but the public's perception of the two activities is very different.

    A poster above pointed out that adults have merely different versions of games than children, and yet no one hints that the degenerate gambler has maturity issues. There is no hard data to indicate that people who enjoy virtual activities are somehow less advanced than those who eschew digital competition. In fact, I would assert that the intricacies of many of the videogames that adults enjoy are far more complex and require a more facile mind than contests that rely solely on chance and an ability to lie effectively.


    And Noel - There is no way the lives we lead are recognisable to someone from the 1900 (no, not at all). You're even stretching it for the 1950s.

    Indeed. Go read Bruce Sterling's short story "Code" and then read the introduction to it in "Visionary in Residence".


    Interestingly, it wasn't the first such tool by a long way -- gopherspace, Hyper-G, WAIS (aka Z39.50) and a whole host of other technologies got on the internet first. But for a variety of reasons that are only obvious with 20/20 hind-sight, the web was the one that took off.

    Nitpick: Gopher, yes. Hyper-G, no, not even a contender. The "Hypertext" community made itself irrelevant by their economic model. WAIS was a different animal, complimentary, eventually displaced by the ISINDEX tag. (And Z39.50 was utterly horrible).

    only obvious with 20/20 hind-sight

    Not nitpick: No. It was quite clear at the time, long before NCSA Mosaic. The only lack of clarity was the gopher folks not understanding their protocol was lousy, and the hypertext folks not getting that in "pathetic free irrelevant simple toy which ignores our own wonderful research", the key words were "free" and "simple".

    Which suggests there are people who even now have the position and skill to see which way VR is going to go. Whether one could find and recognize them...?

    Now, here's a key point: the developers of Mosaic at NCSA didn't know it, but the introduction of the IMG SRC tag in 1992 was going to do more to change the shape of 21st century politics than anyone could imagine.

    Again, I believe you are overstating the... fog of forecast. The need for, and future role of, IMG/IMAGE (pictures), ISINDEX (crude interactivity), and FORM (forms;), were known before implementation.

    But the point that early decisions shape the world is well taken. Some folks put up a CGI spec web page with the bad idea that GET urls had a size limit, whereas its dual PUT did not. But it never got changed, and people implemented it, thus you couldn't count on long GETs working, so the mistake hardened. Then also, X-Windows didn't have a good edit widget, and editing is hard to code, so mosaic, unlike Tim's NeXT browser, didn't support editing webpages. It was read-only. Which resonated with stunted GETs, and the web itself became read-only, which it originally was not. Collaboration support has even now only partially recovered, more than a decade later, with wikis and such.

    behavioural traps

    Also, simulation has the concept of "negative training". Sim doesn't quite match reality, so the person develops suboptimal behaviors. Which can be worse than having no training. Hmm, an immunological analogue: exposed to a bug, generate antibodies, remember pair to speed future response, but when exposed later to similar but distinct bug, misrecognize, generate old but suboptimal antibodies.

    Since the young get to redefine culture, perhaps some mistraining on interacting with society with become the new norm. ;)


    Very good reading. Peace until next time. WaltDe


    I have a question about dungeons and dragons. I have heard about the game and I have an idea how it is played. But my younger cousin has been playing it and he use to be a clean well manored person. Since he has been playing he has been lieing sneeking out the house to meet with friends to play disrespecting his parents not taking showers and just doing the opposite of everything he use to do. I am concerned that maybe he is taking it to seriously. And its becoming more reality than fiction.Do you have any advice on what to do or other signs that he might be getting to deep into the game. Any comments would help. Thank you


    Jessa, I suspect your younger cousin's behavioural problems may have more to do with being a teenager than with his choice of board games.

    D&D, contrary to rumour, does not lead to drug addiction, human sacrifice, satanism, or debauchery. (There is a correlation with acne, but that's another matter.)



    This has just came about when he started playing the game He never done it before. Maybe the kids hes playing it is taking it to seriously, because he only does it for this game he sneeks out to play he gets upset when something interfers with the game.

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