Monday, November 26, 2007

Wocket in your Pocket?

Despite the initial covetous reaction that swelled up when I read the announcements, I came through Black Friday without purchasing a Kindle. I did, however, upgrade my old Nintendo Gameboy to the DS Lite [Zelda edition, of course, which is a fancy way of saying it's gold and pretty]. Within a few days of the purchase it's been fully incorporated into the swarm of electronic devices that are integrated to my life. I am only a bit embarrassed to confess that this assimilation includes a newfound addiction to this generation of Pokemon and the understanding that an extra few minutes waiting at the accupuncturist's office can be spent catching a Zubat.

There's nothing particularly useful about a device of this kind. The interface allows for the nifty use of the touchpad, which can be taken advantage of in ways like shaking trees to make apples fall in Animal Crossing or in using the battle management system of Pokemon. This is nothing on the scale of the revolution Nintendo created with their other interface design for this generation of console wars, namely, the motion responsive controller for the Wii. But it's still a fun toy, and it's worth losing some room in pockets or purses to displace the mediocre interface of the cell phone as a method for playing games in waiting rooms and the like.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Trick or Treat

Every year, I've seen less trick or treaters come to my door: it seems like fear of terrorists and other such "boogeymen" has driven this holiday to nearly a halt. I spent too much of my evening while awaiting children [I was dressed up as Jack Sparrow myself...] online, and saw a dismaying number of people engaged in facebook Mafia and Scrabble. Rather than join them I grabbed a friend and we went trick or treating ourselves. We saw perhaps 20 or 30 other people out during our wanderings through the neighborhood and encountered the rare outpourring of Halloween spirit in the form of a costumed man waiting to chase children out of his yard or a nicely decorated house with moving ghosts in the windows. But mostly these were blips in a generally dismissive scene.

The virtual world holds its counterpart to the more traditional Halloween. It's possible to go "trick or treat" within World of Warcraft: visiting the innkeepers in any town and passing the virtual pumpkins and apple bob my character can possibly get candy or be transformed into a costume for a while representing another race [or even a ghost!]. Sometimes the virtual innkeepers are feeling mischievous, and then my character might end up hopping around helplessly as a frog for a while. The spirit of Halloween even continues in the form of quests, from taking orphan children around the smaller villages to a very high level quest to defeat the Headless Horsemen. I can trick or treat within Facebook, too, visiting friends for Bloodtinis and other such goodies.

Second Life doesn't feel like a place for trick or treating: it's a costume party year round, and I didn't get the sense of much different in the world for Halloween. Perhaps somewhere more was happening, but mostly it felt to me like Halloween is too generic a metaphor for daily Second Life existence to be of much particular interest to the Second Life denizens. The trappings of Halloween, however, seem to be everywhere. I see people dressed as beasts or bunnies or strippers or pimps. In many ways the more wild outfits in Second Life wouldn't be at all out of place in a costume shop. There's even some of the same focuses I've seen in the transformation from children's costumes to "adult" costumes as sex replaces both cute and evil as the defining characteristic and everything from pilot to french maid is recast in objectified extremes.

What is it that's killed Halloween? Is it fear of neighbors as pedophiles and candy as poison? Or is it that we spend so much more time now in virtual masquerade that the real thing has lost its magic?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Dance Clubs, Indians and Porn Stars

For me, first logging into Second Life today was akin to stepping back a few years to visit an old neighborhood and finding it mostly unchanged but somehow even smaller and seedier than I remembered. I've kept accounts in Second Life during my final year of college as I was working on my undergraduate thesis on the Avatar and revisited it for various classes at Georgetown, but I've never been very interested in the world for my own pleasure. I've been an inhabitant of virtual worlds most my life, from the chat room and message boards of Mummies Alive role-playing that I lived in during middle school, to the fantasy world of Asheron's Call, to the space-sim of Anarchy Online, and now to the plains of Azeroth in World of Warcraft.

But those worlds satisfied many needs for me, often dependent on the era. My middle school role-playing group used the simplest of text-based communication systems, but they were the closest to virtual friends that I've ever made--I connected to this small community through email, message boards, chat rooms, and the exchange of stories and images generated among ourselves: this was our own virtual world. Since then, I've mostly entered virtual worlds as a participant in someone else's story rather than as a creator of stories--Asheron's Call and World of Warcraft use the model of telling the player the story rather than having the player tell them. Second Life, on the other hand, is a world without story.

New Beginnings and Snobby Indians

Unfortunately, Rathera Quasimodo, my old Second Life alter ego, has wasted away with the past year's neglect and I can't pull up the email account to get her back. Undetered, I decided to start a new avatar, this time tied to the Dreamlands world instead of beginning in the dreary commercial environs of the Second Life mainland. My new character is Wistfully Iwish, a pale red-head with unnatural coloring. After picking up a few boxes of free clothing, I ran into my first Second Life native, a man fully decked out in a Hollywood style Indian outfit. His presence inspires me to put together something besides the basic shirt and jeans combo, and in a few seconds I'm working my way towards looking out of someone out of a Forever 21 catalog with a barely-there top and pants that would only stay on in animation. I at least surrender the urge to try for a Jessica Rabbit look. Strangely enough, the Indian still declines to speak with me. Clearly it's time to fly to more welcoming places.

I pass over one area that looks lusciously decorated only to be ejected immediately after I started taking advantage of their pool--apparently it's not a public one, though what harm a virtual swimmer can do I still don't know. But the Dreamlands is filled with opportunities, and so soon I found myself at a seedy looking hotel, Club Tropics. There were a few people there, but they seemed to be engaged in the type of activities that don't invite interruption, so I left them undisturbed. Walking around the exterior of Club Tropics I get a message from a nearby object: Wistfully Iwish feels a sudden urge to go dumpstering. Well, I can't say that I've ever felt a great need to go dumpstering in my life [antiquing, maybe, but I'd like to think that's a bit higher on the scale of desperation.] Nonetheless, I went over to the dumpster past the Sesame Street lookalike and picked the ever-so-attractive menu option of "dumpstering."

A few minutes later I had myself a genuine "Rolexxx." Just the thing to add some spice to my outfit put together from the free clothing castaways in the newbie area. Clearly, I need to get a job: I can't spend the rest of my life--even my Second Life--living off other people's castaways. Still, I decided to dig a bit more in the dumpster, and came up with a chair and a bar stool, both of which I'm still carrying in my inventory--though where my avatar finds the space I have no idea.

Moving further around the virtual world reveals that everyone here is involved in the spending of money. I'm confronted with one storefront for what seems to be virtual sex toys. The owner of the shop is dressed only in a batman mask and cape and wields a virtual phallus--custom made, no doubt--as he plays virtual pool and awaits customers or companions. I'd like to ask him about his profit margins and customer base and the realities of life as an online virtual merchant, but he seems more interested in the prospect of animated cybersex, and I move on with a quick teleport.

It's All About the Money

Unfortunately, getting a job is easier said than done. I went over to the Second Life Newspaper Office, but the application on the desk informed me that they wouldn't take anyone who was under 30 days old. Clearly, this new character was underqualified; a shame, since I've always wanted to write for their Red Light section. They did point me to the SL classifieds, but I can't afford the body I'd need for dancing in this universe, and that seems to be where the major market is. Nowhere is there a listing designed for sarcastic wallflowers. So much for that.

But I do know of a much less lucrative way to make money off of dancing with far lower entry requirements, so I headed to the Black Pearl Mall. The Black Pearl Mall is an imposing structure filled to the brim with new body parts, slutty outfits, and skin lightening and tanning agents of all kinds. The mall is not like one of the commercial areas one reads about in the economics journals and newspapers covering Second Life: this is definitely part of the less talked about adult section, with everything dedicated to making your avatar more attractive.

Already there were a number of avatars gathered, most absorbed in the constant task of putting together outfits and updating their image. A few other poor souls were already taking advantage of the various low level money earners, dancing on the paid dancer circles or sitting on one of the pay out benches. I found myself a spot on a dancer circle that pays out at $3 for twenty minutes of dancing, and went at it. The strangely hypnotic dancing of an animated being wears thin after a while, though, so I only made it up to a meager fortune of $3 before I left in search of more interesting diversions. A fan took pity on me and bestowed a folder of more appropriate clothing, so I too took on the task of avatar editing, making myself a new outfit from the scraps I'd been handed.

Dancing Through [Second] Life

I've left the realm of Forever 21 and moved to something that's more of a crossover between Hot Topic and Victoria's Secret. I've matched my clothing to my hair and created an image that's perfectly Not Me, which is something I've always thought is important around here--unlike the Real Me, my avatar is definitely set to hit the club scene. But it's been too long since I've traveled these worlds and I don't know where the action will be. Thankfully, the map search engine will point one anywhere [and I do mean anywhere--do a search on Sensual Stoneworks and say hello to the gargoyle if you don't believe me, but don't say you weren't warned.] A search for "club" gives me a long list of options, and I'm not sure where my pseudo goth newbie avatar is going to blend.

I picked one at random, Club Jenna, and ended up at pornstar Jenna Jameson's virtual dance club. There was a large concentration of people gathered to enjoy the DJ, who seemed to be live and was continually reminded the audience that he worked for tips. After crossing DJ off my list of possible Second Life occupations to pursue, I headed in to enjoy the dancing. For a while all I did was bump into walls, as the server struggled to load the fancy club environment around me. Flying made the problem even more noticable, as I hit obstacles that for all I could tell didn't actually exist. But after a long struggle, I was on the floor with a crowd of people gradually resolving into unique forms and wrapped up in their dance.

That is, if you could even call it dancing. I suppose it's a vague approximation of what goes on at a club: I wouldn't know, I've only been at a Salsa club the once, and after that lead to one of the worst heartbreaks of my real life I have no desire to repeat the experience in virtual. But here, no one dances together, and the beat of the music doesn't seem to have much effect, so it doesn't seem like anyone's at much risk of falling for someone's virtual flair and smooth moves. It's like watching a bunch of generic hip hop background dancers move in vague paralell on a dark and unimpressive floor. Virtual dance doesn't strike me as much of a contest to the real thing, and yet there are dozens of people in this one club alone--not to mention on the nearby Dance Island, which I visited and left quickly.

I think I'd rather not spend any more time in *this* life dancing by myself, so I leave the club and its world behind for today. I don't think I have many of the motives that might drive one to spend time in Second Life. Companionship? I don't have enough time to spend with everyone I'd like to in the real world as it is. Love? Sex? I'll stick with reality on those, thanks.

And as for dance? Well, I'd rather dance with a partner, with hands and body providing a connection I can touch without feeling the plastic keys of a keyboard.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Textual Memory

I've spent the last two days exploring an new Facebook application, Visual Bookshelf, that's been surprisingly apt at triggering my memories: all it is at heart is a database for storing all the books I've read, but it's given me a different way to think about my reading. I have an easier time remembering those books that I devoured in youth than the books I've read over the last few years. Of the hundreds of titles I've uncovered just wandering about and trying to remember my past favorites, most are picture books or children's fantasy novels.

Perhaps the most disturbing part has been trying to recognize the covers that I remember so clearly in the modernized rereleases of most of the "classic" children's books--though that's at least more heartening than seeing other books I grew up loving, like The Last Elegant Bear and Amy's Eyes, that have fallen so from the world that even Amazon can't bring up an image of their covers anymore. Some of the titles leap to mind as I delve further into the virtual bookshelf, like Dragonsong or The Power of the Rellard. I remember little stories... like trying to find my own copy of The Power of the Rellard after checking it out of the library almost constantly for years to read the story of a crippled girl who comes into tune with a strange natural force. I finally asked one summer at a used book store in California if they could hunt it down, but before I talked my parents into forking out the fees for the search I happened across the book in a remainder bin at a Books a Million of all places. [This was before the days of point and click used book internet surpluses, which have sadly made great quests for a remembered book obsolete].

There are books just beneath the surface of my memory that I still can't find, like a series of science fiction novels involving a girl and psychic struggles that I could have sworn was by Anne McCaffrey or a story of a rat living in the sewers with a matchbox for a bed...

Then there are the books long forgotten that suddenly emerge full-thrust into my brain at the sight of the cover unwittingly pulled up through the library's recommendation feature, like Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and Mr. Popper's Penguins. How could I have forgotten those? I must have read them each more times than any book I've picked up as an "adult." Or what about The Cricket in Times Square? When I saw the picture of the cover of that story--a cover that was so perfect it's been spared the changes of time--the big city adventures of Chester the Cricket and Tucker the Mouse seem like they were part of my life only yesterday.

There's some memories that are so old I didn't know I still could call them up: like my old school addiction to John Bellairs's children's horror novels, long forgotten. I stopped reading them years and years ago when I read one called "The Eyes of the Killer Robot" and couldn't get the memory of the robot out of my head. I hid the novel under the sink downstairs so I wouldn't have to keep it in my room, and I never read them again. With a click of a mouse I can have another copy sent to me...I might cave to that particular impulse. I'd like to know why it left such a mark on my psyche.

The pictures come to my mind and disappear faster than the search engine works. I find myself wishing for a search engine that would let me type queries like "that book with two women, one a mage, one a warrior, sworn to the same bloodoath quest in a strangely dark universe that bears no resemblance to Xena, Warrior Princess, I swear." I'd love to put my own memories on a data network in searchable form, and figure out more of the patterns of the memory. I'd like to see the day of reading books hidden in my texts through class after class that links a glimpse of a familiar pattern of equations with Raistlin Magere's haunting golden hourglass eyes. [I went back to visit one of my science teachers from middle school and to judge their science fair a few years back. She still remembered me as the girl she constantly caught reading books during the lecture. Eventually she'd given up on stopping me.]

I found the Anne McCaffrey science fiction novels only because the cover--The Rowan--hasn't changed. I still can't remember what happened within them, even though I must have read them all a dozen times and even checked out the books on tape over and over again. The covers tell me absolutely nothing, just beautiful women sitting alone in graceful poses on each sequel, looking defiant and inscrutable. Another remembered story I may have to visit as an adult.

When old stories come through my dreams each night I never know where they come *from*, but I sometimes feel the threads of old stories--of mice come to life and organized for battle, of children hiding in libraries, of closet doors that contain whole worlds. I know there was a book where a boy ordered mail order wings. He painstakingly assembled them and flew across the world only to learn that the price of wings was gradual transformation away from humanity. [This book I still can't find, much to my dismay. When armed with neither title nor author, I can't even expect the "Visual Bookshelf" to be of much use.] There was another book about a girl captured by another Indian--I suppose the PC term is Native American, back when I learned it we still said Indian--tribe who runs back across the country to her own people. That book I found--Naya Nuki, Girl Who Ran. I don't think I have it anymore, though I remember where I got it, in the small children's section of the UCSD bookstore. These stories, of escape and flight and transformation, these still shape my dreams.

I recognize the fragments even though I've long forgotten the whole.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Where Everyone Can Be A Hero

When I started out playing my first Massive Multiplayer Online Game, Asheron's Call, my immediate family bought three copies: I was in high school at the time, and my parents and I decided to move from Diablo-esque games to the big time. We weren't alone: my cousin, uncle, and aunt all joined up too. We occasionally teamed up with other players, people who weren't members of the Salter clan, but mostly these games became our family past-time. They live far away in Florida, so actually seeing them often would have been quite a feat while a weekly (or more) night of Asheron's Call--and later Asheron's Call 2, Anarchy Online, and now World of Warcraft--is much easier to arrange. We’d started as single-player gamers exploring dungeons alone, and now, with the rise of virtual worlds, we could suddenly be heroes together. The Salter clan could be a team ala The Incredibles.

Watching the media discovering the virtual worlds of Warcraft and Second Life, it’s easy to think there’s something very new going on in this world of massively multiplayer gaming. Actually, these ideas are as old as the Internet itself (which is to say, not very old at all). The predecessors to these fully three-dimensional environments opened the door to more unassuming worlds, first constructed only from text and ideas. These games, Multi-User Dungeons or “MUDs”, still exist today: you can log in and join a social world building stories of fantasy and conquest. But these worlds, and the object-oriented dungeons—MOOs—that followed them never gained popularity outside of small niche markets. Those were games for geeks and nerds, the sort of person who builds his own computer and goes to sci-fi and fantasy conventions. It wasn’t until the descendents of those games, now with flashy graphics and fully realized elf-babes, that the idea of playing in a virtual world became “cool.”

My Virtual Worlds article continues here on CinCity2000. We just wrapped up our video gaming week on CinCity. Current virtual world speculation includes some concern about the bottom line: following on the trend of Web 2.0 the Financial Times proposes "Economics 2.0. Of course, sex and gambling are the foundation of this new economics--which emphasizes if anything how far we haven't come. However, Noam follows the common trend of looking at Second Life first and foremost just when many investors are starting to come to terms with Second Life's flaws as the forerunner of a digital age--The Boston Globe writes about the rats jumping the virtual world ship in the article "Second Life's allure fading". This comes at a time when even narrative media is attacking the dark side of virtual space, as with Law & Order taking on real world crimes stemming from a Second-Life style universe

Monday, September 24, 2007

Digital Stories

On the website I write for, CinCity2000, we're making the move to having a Video Game Week starting today. Normally, we're a cinema website run by a small cult of film geeks, so taking on video games is branching out for us: my first piece for the week is up, Fighting Purple Tentacles: A Wasted Youth Playing Adventure Games.

The fundamental difference between film and video games is in the interaction. When we talk about film, we're talking about a story that exists the same in static form no matter who is viewing it: while viewers bring different knowledge into a film and a different interpretation out of it, the film itself is unaffected. Video games change to the player: the order of events and even the outcome can change depending on the player's approach and skill. Talking about the experience of a video game, then, becomes more personal: a player might remember spending hours trying to "beyond the pail" in Companions of Xanth [the final solution involves a catapult] or finally consulting a hint book to find out where a hidden key is concealed.

I remember all the games I grew up with in context of the time: when I go back to play these games now, it's far from the same experience. I'm not living with the parents who used to be my companions in adventure. I feel like I'm slower with the puzzles than I used to be, as if the logic that I used to rely upon for those types of journeys went rusty when I started higher education and started taking in too much literary theory. Still, there's the same sense of accomplishment in figuring out a puzzle to get butter from a butterfly or save the world from a rampaging purple tentacle.

Meanwhile, the face of games is changing, and the adventure game's almost disappeared into obscurity while games like the latest iteration of Halo [reviewed by my colleague Big Ross] transform gaming from a hobby for geeks in their basement to one for frat boys and normal folk, kindof like film itself.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mirages of Cuisine

I've got an article up on CinCity today: The Culinary Arts: A Gourmet's Appreciation For Film. Writing that piece, I've been doing a lot of thinking on how food is presented to us in media: the Internet's even made it so online ordering from restaurants and the grocery store ala PeaPod can allow for the coveting of food through a virtual image right through delivery. Seems to me there's something lost from the experience of going to a grocery store--or better yet, a farmer's market--and selecting the perfect parts from which to craft a meal. I won't be surrendering my food purchases to a clickable shopping system anytime soon.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tribal Warfare + MMOs

There's a great article over at Gamasutra, "The Academics Speak: Is There Life After World of Warcraft", with some interesting folks discussing the question of how players end up in different virtual world. World of Warcraft is clear king of the MMO jungle right now, but many players choose to spend their time on far less populated worlds. Some choose games like Guild Wars that offer the lure of a one time investment, others stick with the community of Second Life, and a stubborn few continue to play MMOs or even MUDs that put graphics on the back burner in favor of other qualities. One of my own friends recently migrated to World of Warcraft after sticking with Asheron's Call for over seven years [the game launched in 1999!]. The move was traumatic for him: it's abandoning a world that had become a second home. I was a long time resident of Asheron's Call myself, and I could return to that game today and still comfortably manuver the land of Dereth.

When I migrated gaming worlds, as I've done repeatedly, I took a core of fellow gamers with me--my extended family. I only stayed in contact with a few other players who'd switched worlds in a deliberate sense, but I did find commonality in running into other players discussing the worlds left behind. But if my family didn't play Warcraft, would I have stayed with the hard core tribe of Asheron's Call or migrated on with the rest of the coolseekers to newer and graphically improved realms? Probably the former. Once comfortable within a virtual world, I don't feel the same pull to move to a new environment--the same reasoning, perhaps, that makes old school adventure games still feel more appealing to me with their relaxed and cartoonished environs than their "realistic 3-D" counterparts.

So what will be the next big game? I've read the previews and heard the hype for the next generation of MMOs. Star Wars Galaxies was supposed to move the world away from fantasy games, but couldn't get over the problem of too many heroes in a world that needed ordinary folk. Lord of the Rings seems fit to suffer from the same problems--not everyone, after all, can be wizard or ringbearer. World of Warcraft is particularly suited to networks of social tribes as the entire world is at war, and a concept for heroes and allegiences exists in every faction. Players can build their groups within sets of avatars that share a language, race, and appearance and advertise their loyalties with proudly worn tabards. Even my students in my Cyberspace class had their own guild--they dubbed it the "Fluffy Wuffy Friends," as I recall, much to my dismay. These common ties and rituals can migrate to another game--but I think it will take more than slightly better graphics and a license tie in to draw the hordes.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Did you know that the building we're taking this class in used to house a brothel? I came across this interesting little fact today, from some of my other classmates. I was considering the implications, and it got me to thinking. There's some strange artifacts on the apartment door where I live--what's that all about? Then there's a house in my parents' neighborhood that was raided for a big drug operation, or so "they" say. I wonder if the people who live there now know about the night the helicopters showed up. This leads me to my concept for an online service.

If you look into figuring out a building history right now, there are a few resources for you online. On "WikiHow" they point you to a few basic steps: inspecting building materials, going to the local library and deed office, things of that nature. Search on building history in general, and you'll find a lot of local listings for places that expect you to drive out and engage in physical research. Clearly, it's time for some consolidation.

There's a website called "Where's George?" that's based on the US serial numbers of dollar bills--someone registers them, and lists the site on the bill before spending it. The next curious person who picks up the bill might go online and list the location and new facts about the bill--a tear, in what shop it was received as change, that sort of thing. What I envision is a similar service from houses that draws on the power of the web to track features of addresses: relevant news reports, building information, change of residence, anything that can be listed. Then, take it one step further and allow specific reporting, perhaps with a verification of address step to keep total chaos from ruling but generally relying on a Wikipedia style of information buildup. Eventually, this could become the Facebook for houses: profile pictures, a list of murders, arrests, and bad breakups that happened right here on this spot, strange rumors and unsolved mysteries--and that leaky faucet on the third floor that no one's been able to fix. Perhaps a crossover with GoogleMaps satellite imaging features could link these profiles to the current state of events. Local legends and ghost sightings would be right next to the information someone looking into house ownership, or even apartment rental, is most curious to know.

And, of course, life changing information like the fact our classroom was once a house of ill repute. I checked, by the way, that URL isn't even taken.

Readings in Digital

I’ve gathered the resources I intend to return to first in the writing of my paper on Virtual Worlds and Virtual Romance this semester. This is a very brief annotated bibliography of the first books I’m looking at with this topic in mind; many of them are particularly useful works in virtual worlds studies. I hope this might be helpful to others as a resource for looking offline for respectable sources for virtual world studies; I've found that when reading articles online on topics like the virtual economy or interactive narrative much of the same surface impression appears repeatedly, and these are some works that get beneath that surface.

Digital Texts / Digital Worlds

Castronova, Edward. Synthetic Worlds.
Edward Castronova approaches the new concerns of virtual worlds not from a social perspective but from an economic one. With the monopolies and mercenaries of Second Life and the still thriving trade in virtual gold and avatars virtual worlds must be considered as places where people go not only to play but to profit. Castronova considers the implications of the various economic factors affecting virtual worlds, including the use of cheap labor for “goldfarming” and the profitability and contract inherent within the subscription model still in use by most MMOs today.

Crawford, Chris. On Interactive Storytelling.
In On Interactive Storytelling, Chris Crawford begins by determining what makes a story, particularly for the purposes of storytelling in games. There is an expectation on the part of gamers that Crawford notes allows games to escape the actual confines of storytelling: “Games have never paid much attention to the many structural requirements imposed on stories…players don’t complain when games jerk them through wild dramatic gyrations because they don’t expect games to follow the protocols of storytelling” (14). However, this doesn’t mean that games should be limited by this historical trend, and Crawford goes on to address how the future of games might address the diametrically opposed demands of interaction and narrative.

Juul, Jesper. Half-real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds.
Jesper Juul writes particularly compellingly when he is discussing the relationship between computer systems themselves and the playing of games; essentially he points out that there is no more appropriate use for both to be put towards. At the heart of game design is the creation of the rules that will govern someone’s play; without rules, a game cannot exist.

King, Brad and John Borland. Dungeons and Dreamers: The Rise of Computer Game Culture.
In Dungeons and Dreamers, Brad King and John Borland offer a history of developments in the last thirty plus years of computer gaming. They begin their account before the first computer games emerged, as they pinpoint two origin concepts and discuss the rest of the history of gaming in those terms. Both occurred in 1972: the first is the creation of the paper based gaming system Dungeons & Dragons, the second the craze surrounding arcade video games. This offers a familiar duality of storytelling based gaming, where almost everything was left to the imagination of the players, and the electronic based action and reflex gaming of the arcade. In surveying the developments in computer gaming, Borland and King begin with these earlier forms, noting the origin roots that would have a strong influence on the computer games of today. If you’ve ever read a comic in Penny Arcade and not gotten the joke, then it’s likely you weren’t as thoroughly immersed in computer game geek culture as a few of us were in the late 80s and early 90s—Borland and King can catch you up on what you missed while seeing the outdoors or going on dates.

McLuhan, Marshall. The Medium is the Massage.
Marshall McLuhan has been heralded as a prophet, named the patron saint of Wired Magazine, and even made a cameo in a Woody Allen film--all this from a man who didn’t want his own grandchildren watching television. McLuhan looked at media with a brilliant nonlinearity that has made him infinitely quotable, so I’ll let him explain himself: “All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, pyschological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered. The medium is the massage. Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as environments. All media are extensions of some human faculty--psychic or physical.”

Meadows, Mark Stephen. Pause & Effect: The Art of Interactive Narrative.
Everything from CYOA books to MMOs fall under what Meadows refers to in his work Pause & Effect as interactive narrative: “An ‘interactive narrative’ is a form of narrative that allows someone other than the author to affect, choose, or change the events of the plot” (238). While a narrative is being offered, it is always secondary to the demands of interactivity, as the user is confronted not with a written linear text but with a screen, an interface, a host of characters and a perspective that differs from game to game. Most importantly, a game must be playable. Often the criticism is leveled at computer games that the stories are not “literary.” However, this misses the point: these stories must be designed to work as part of a whole subject to interactions of the user, not as a master story to be “read.” Balance varies across the genre: greater openness comes at expense of the planned story, while a planned story requires the limiting of user freedom.

Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages.
In Nick Montfort’s Twisty Little Passages, Montfort explains the literary connection between interactive fiction and the riddle: “the most direct counterpart to interactive fiction in oral and written literature is seen in the riddle…by presenting a metaphorical system that the listener or reader must inhabit and figure out in order to fully experience, and in order to answer correctly, the riddle offers its way of thinking and engages its audience as no other work of literature does” (4). This metaphor of the riddle offers Montfort the opportunity to draw a comparison that declared that riddles and interactive fiction “both have a systematic world, are something to be solved, present challenge and appropriate difficulty, and join the literary and the puzzling” (43). The ability of a riddle such as one by Swift to remain literature while existing as a challenge for the reader reveals that “the literary and puzzling aspects of the form are hardly inherently antagonistic, but rather must work together for the effect of certain IF works to be achieved” (63).

Murray, Janet H. Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. MIT Press: Boston, 1998.
In Janet Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck, the holodeck mentioned in the title remains now a construction of a media fiction, in particular the Star Trek universe. The Star Trek vision of the holodeck is of a space where anything can be projected and interacted with on the same level as reality—people, food, and scenery. Janet Murray describes the seduction of the holodeck: “The Star Trek holodeck is a universal fantasy machine, open to individual programming: a vision of the computer as a kind of storytelling genie in the lamp” (15). However, like the genie that fulfills wishes in sometimes disastrous ways, there may be a dark side to the holodeck story world—“If we could someday make holographic adventures as compelling as Lucy Davenport, would the power of such a vividly realized fantasy world destroy our grip on the actual world? Will the increasingly alluring narratives spun out for us by the new digital technologies be as benign and responsible as a nineteenth-century novel or as dangerous and debilitating as a hallucinogenic drug?” (17).

Poole, Steven. Trigger Happy: Videogames and the Entertainment Revolution. Arcade Publishing: New York, 2000.
In Trigger Happy, Steven Poole does not set out to tell of a videogame revolution to come in the future: he is instead a chronicler, exposing the revolution that he has already seen happening around him. It is not a matter of whether the videogame will become an art form; instead, it is a matter of how the videogame already is an art form and what the next steps of its evolution will be: “…when videogames are at their best, what you’re doing is something vastly more creatively challenging than watching a docusoap or a quiz show…that hunk of molded plastic, that PlayStation or Dreamcast, is a magic box that allows you to play with fire. A Prometheus engine” (206). The examples Poole offers, the PlayStation and Dreamcast, are two previously popular gaming platforms allowing for the playing of games on the television set that have now been superseded by newer systems. Poole gives these systems and by extension their more recent counterparts a mythical significance, fire being the gift of Prometheus from gods to man, a life saving tool and potential destructive force.

Ryan, Marie-Laure. Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media. Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, 2001.
In Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Electronic Media, Marie-Laure Ryan takes the concept of Virtual Reality as a technical construct and uses it to create a framework for discussing different experiences of text. She first defines “Virtual Reality” as “a computer-generated three-dimensional landscape in which we would experience an expansion of our physical and sensory powers; leave our bodies and see ourselves from the outside; adopt new identities; apprehend immaterial objects through many senses, including touch; become able to modify the environment through either verbal commands or physical gestures; and see creative thoughts instantly realized without going through the process of having them physically materialized” (1). At the time Ryan is writing, 2001, this virtual reality remains mostly a construct in progress; five years later this remains the case.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Teddy Ruxpin

When I was little, I grew up on stories of Teddy Ruxpin. He was a teddy bear with his own world and stories of quests for crystals and fights against evil. Thanks to YouTube, you can see him again [or for the first time, if you weren't a child of the late 80s].

Teddy wasn't just a show. He's not a distant animated character on a TV screen. Teddy was a robotic bear. His lips moved when he told me stories. His eyes opened and closed. It doesn't sound like much now, but to me it was as good as him being alive. I cycled through story tape after story tape, reading along in the little picture books and imagining rainbow waterfalls and magical airships across fantastical lands.

But one day, Teddy stopped talking to me. It wasn't just his battery: he was dead. My parents couldn't afford to replace him. I cried over a teddy bear that wouldn't talk to me anymore. For years he sat up on the shelf, looking down with open, still eyes. He wasn't even very huggable now that his life had drained: the bulky plastic cassette mechanism stuck out of his back and the padded clothing over it couldn't disguise the harsh edges.

Teddy Ruxpin is back for the current generation: his newest incarnation is hopefully more durable. Doesn't look likely--he only comes with a 90 day warranty. I'm tempted to bring him home and see if a talking bear can still bring to life a peaceful world--but I suppose it's too late for me. When I was growing up, a talking bear was a revelation. Now Furby has brought to life the "emo-tronic" friend who learns its name and thrives on attention. Giga pets forced school children to interrupt their class schedule to remember to feed and care for their tiny on screen friends. Catz and Dogz inhabit the desktop.

In A.I, a robotic child is the new generation of the emo-tronic pet: he carries around the old style, a teddy who can only walk about stiffly and speak in a halting voice. Each older generation of animatronic companion is discarded as we ask for more features, more responsiveness, more love. I'd settle for my old Teddy Ruxpin back, and perhaps a bit of that childish joy that allowed him to be, for me, real.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Comic Relief

There's a charming bit of generational web humor in Doonesbury this weekend. I read it in print through that archaic method of home delivery, but of course now it's one click away online. Second Life enterprenuership is apparently alive and well, and Jeff Redfern is doing well for himself. Everything I need to learn about American political and social history of the last few decades I learned reading my mother's Doonesbury collection. I've followed the iconic representations of presidents and watched Zonker convince a gullible reporter that the next generation is following a national trend of casual drug use.

I still love my daily dose of Doonesbury, but now it's accompanied on my reading list by dozens of other comics, none of which are found in the appalling selection of the local paper. The newsprint comics have remained stagnant and inoffensive: even when some well meaning editor trys to get rid of Peanuts reruns or Family Circus, there's a protest among the older set who don't want they're comfortable status quo challenged. Thus to find socially intriguing comics today I look beyond print and end up squarely on the web.

There are many great moments of twisted social commentary going on around the web today. My personal favorite is Something Positive, Randy Milholland's dysfunctional twenty-something strip. There are also fabulous niche strips, like PhD Comics for all of us grad students and PvP and Penny Arcade for the gaming geeks.

There's a new exhibit opening up in New York at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art that'll have several of these webcomic artists featured. The exhibit is called Infinite Canvas. The name Infinite Canvas is a reference to a concept of the web as providing an unending space for a comic to fill: with paper, comics are always limited to the presentable surface, but online a comic can transcend these boundaries. The last course I designed over at the Corcoran was in Sequential Art, and we ended with looking at Scott McCloud's Reinventing Comics, his graphic work exploring the potential future for comics within this infinite canvas world.

Scott McCloud envisions possibilities for graphic novels online that break the traditional frames of the page. One of these, "The Right Number", uses a framework of continually embedded images to create a different order for a story: the panels are linear in their construction, but they are within eachother, not next to eachother. McCloud also created the idea of linear panels that don't take into account the monitor size: instead, you scroll down the document to follow the images further and further, as in his further essays on comics, "I Can't Stop Thinking!"

McCloud's ideas offer the notion of a place for webcomics that transcends the traditional boundaries of the page. However, the comics I mentioned previously and those that will be featured at this upcoming exhibit don't have any of the excitement of design that McCloud envisioned. These traditional web comics work just as well printed onto paper as they do on the screen: they follow the same general format of what you'd see in a graphic novel or the newspaper.

Thus, we have a form with all this amazing potential--and a few experimental works trying to take advantage of that potential--but even in the artistic world of the museum, all that's being recognized is the same traditional style of encapsulated panels...

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Warcrafting for the Whole Family?

When I started out playing my first Massive Multiplayer Online Game, Asheron's Call, my immediate family bought three copies: I was in high school at the time, and my parents and I decided to move from Diabloesque games where only the three of us or visiting friends played to a larger scale. We weren't alone: my cousin, uncle, and aunt all joined up too. We occasionally joined up with other players, people who weren't members of the Salter clan, but mostly these games became our family pasttime. They live in Florida, so actually seeing them often would have been quite a feat while a weekly or more night of Asheron's Call--and later Asheron's Call 2, Anarchy Online, and now World of Warcraft--is much easier to arrange.

I was reading Laura's blog about some of the fears for isolating effects of virtual worlds: the lack of refined manners and conversation out in the real world, the tendency to substitute virtual contact for "real" ones, the problems that can arise from spending too much time interfacing with the world through a screen rather than through physical closeness. There are so many ways too meet people in virtual space, and all of them filled with that looming risk a person might not be who they claim to be. I've met many people in my life that way, and several have stayed important to me, and many of whom--such as my fellow writers on CinCity2k--provide me with communities of knowledge and interest I would not otherwise have.

This virtual connections can be meaningful, but mostly the Internet is indispensable to me for keeping me in touch with people who are geographically distant. When I was younger I lost my connections with the friends I grew up with in California when I moved back to Maryland, and the plans to be "pen-pals" seemed doomed to fall through. Now I've found some of them again on Facebook. I don't live near my extended family, but I can play Warcraft with them or send out a quick email whenever the thought crosses my mind. This seems to me to be the essence of the new structure: not that it makes new connections possible, but that it makes sustaining connections easier.

This brings me, in a roundabout fashion, to the virtual world sexcapades I'd like to address this semester. Consider again the question of virtual adultery. Say a married man enters a world, Second Life for simplicity's sake, and meets a lady there. There's conversation, drinks in a fully equipped bar, and fully animated connection. Nothing real has happened in such an encounter that can be documented. It's an affair with an on-screen set of pixels and words. Is that an affair at all? Is it any different from playing a game--Monkey Island, say--where the player leads the avatar of Guybrush Threepwood on his continual attempts to win the heart of Governor Marley? It's all just text and pixels after all.

Change one detail: say the man meets a lady at a real bar. They exchange avatar names finding they share a passion for Second Life. Now the encounter is entirely in-game, but there's a face and a remembered connection behind the pixels. Is this more real? Would any wife be satisfied with the explanation "It's just a game?"

Here, the line seems clear to draw: no one's going to be happy with any flirting with girls met in bars, even if it does all go to the Internet. But it's not a long step from the first fully online lady to this level. Would an emailed exchange of photos [even if the lady's image is probably pulled from someone else's myspace page...] make the lady real enough to be a threat? How about a switch from text-only chat to voice over IP?

When, in short, is a connection "real"?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Second Life: The New Economy

Graziella pointed me to this tidbit of Second Life industry, answering the immortal question, "Where do baby unicorns come from?" The author of this particular article is somewhat appalled; for a [slightly] less one-sided view, the Second Life Herald has an article on the new trend that mentions a few more of the creations going on these days. Apparently, virtual statues can be a bit more threatening than they first appear.

So while CNet may be informing us that business in virtual worlds is going bust, there's a thriving market for services IBM and co aren't accounting for...

Friday, September 7, 2007

Garage Gaming

Booting up Rise of the Dragon for the first time my parents and I huddled around our tiny new computer and spent hours just trying to get out of the first screen: a static, comic book style image of an apartment room where our avatar “Blade Hunter” was preparing himself for his task of saving the world from horrible death by mutation. Most of all I remember the death scenes – comic sequences where we took a drink from the water fountain and ended up mutated and dead, or shot in an alley, or otherwise eliminated, over and over again.

Now I log on to World of Warcraft – still cartoon graphics, but now 3D, beautifully realized, huge worlds where my avatar is no longer alone and thanks to the web we have whole communities of elves and trolls and gnomes running around killing each other. The progress the industry and the Web have made in just over ten years is absolutely breathtaking, as now games with the same quality of Rise of the Dragon can be produced by a teenager working on their computer in the basement, and developing tools that were once for the elite of design teams and companies are now accessible to the general web user. With the constant improvements in creation technology allowing for literally the “garage Kubrik” and digital media being, at least for the moment, just as much in the hands of the individual as the commercial studios, the future of digital works is yet to be determined.

My own interest in independent digital creation is focused on the adventure game genre, which in itself is now a fairly antiquated genre--adventure games are driven by story and puzzles, and generally contain no major violence, so naturally most publishers have abandoned them as unprofitable when presented to a general audience of attention span lacking teenage males. The number of adventure titles released by computer gaming companies has dwindled and even when projects are announced they are quickly cancelled with a few impressive exceptions such as the recent Sam and Max revival. However, the form is being kept alive in a fan maintained world of independently created computer games. Using fan created software tools that allow for the mimicking of classic game interfaces, fans are creating both sequels to classic games and their own orignal works. These intensive processes of creation are embarked upon not with the hope of financial reward, but for personal satisfaction and the opportunity to make something a popular success within a discriminating niche market.

In theory, people entering the realm of independent game design in this nature are limited in their storytelling only by their own imagination. On the website for one popular 2D adventure game design program, AGS or Adventure Game Studio, there are games listed that don't generally live up to that hope. Many are parodies, some clever, others are simply exercises in escaping a puzzle house [or castle, or island...]. But the occasional moments of brillance make up for the general lack of innovation. A fantasy story, A Tale of Two Kingdoms, bring's back the King's Quest era with an original, if slightly Tolkeinesque, fairy tale. Cirque du Zale starts with a story of a young man brought to save a fantasy princess--who starts a circus instead.

These are not the games you'll find reviewed in the latest Computer Games magazine. They owe their existence to digital distribution: the ability to freely make available large files of creative efforts without vying for shelf space. The closest parallel to these endeavors in pre-Internet society was the zine movement, when the photocopier allowed for the home "publication" and mailed distribution of fan writing and news to groups of subscribers. The digital distribution of these games seven suffers from some of the same limitations: they are unlikely to reach the attention of anyone who doesn't know where to look.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

If a tree falls...

The internet is a vast world of opportunity where anyone can put out their voice and reach out to the world. Did you know that? I think I heard it somewhere once or twice. I think I believed it when I was younger: I started a blog once before, in the 90s, then retreated to the comfort of LiveJournal where pretensions of granduer could be abandoned in favor of quiet talk among friends.

What I find most amazing about the Internet isn't those moments where one voice gets through and reaches multitudes, whether it's through a frightful video on YouTube or the rising fame of a webcomic or a well-timed political sex scandal blog.

No, what amazes me is the number of voices that ring out on the Internet and reach...silence. Every second people post to Livejournal or blogs or forums or fanfiction websites with work that will go virtually, if you'll pardon the pun, unnoticed. This post, for instance, can hope for at best the casual gaze of a few class members in a small graduate course. Anyone else reading it might have stumbled in and can just as quickly stumble out. The voices that get heard remaind the loudest: those powered by the money to create good site design, advertising, and presence. Everything else is an exception, not the rule. Yet people continue to make all this content, devoting hours of their time to everything from Mummies Alive fansites to passionate political tirades, all with the knowledge that only a few people will read it and even fewer will care.

It's not particularly meaningful that younger folks can no longer name the big 4 TV networks, as they once might have been able to with ease. It simply means there are other outlets competing for their attention--and quite often, those outlets are just part of the same old picture, with most of secondary television and many major sites on the 'net following under the control of one or another big media powers.

The Internet is not yet the promised land of any to many communication. It offers the potential for great things, but not the follow through. And let's face it, in an unedited world, there are a million things on any topic not worth reading waiting for Google to find. With so much noise, it's a wonder any of the great ones break through at all. But it's even more a wonder that so many voices continue to reach out when there is so little to expect in return.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Miles to go before I sleep...

So I'm returning this evening after a rather disappointing foray out into the city--the city being in this case Arlington, VA by way of DC, and frankly there's nothing I hate more in the world of driving than adventures through that particular area. I was intending to attend a talk on Usability standards, but ended up spending about an extra hour on the drive and getting lost. When it got to the point where the talk would have been half over, I surrendered and drove home. All in all not a profitable evening. My technology failed me, first through its absence: for journeys like this I usually borrow my boyfriend's GPS, this time I didn't manage to acquire it. Even worse, the Mapquest directions I copied down [the printer in the new apartment isn't connected yet] were vague and unhelpful, leaving me to spend my time looping back and forth from 50 to Arlington Blvd to 395 to Washington Blvd to Ridge Rd and so on. I'm now very familiar with the names of roads in that area, though I still can't tell you where that lecture was held.

So I'm afraid I don't have any insights on usability to post tonight. Instead, I'd like to muse a bit about a sense of direction. I am well known for not having one: give me an inch, and I'll end up in the wrong state. Missing this lecture is just the latest in an ongoing series of navigational mistakes that have defined my life. Technology has yet to fix that for me. Nothing short of a GPS shouting "Recalculating" at me over and over again can keep me on a proper route--MapQuest and GooogleMaps are just placeholders, digital versions of an old trick. I remember when I was younger and every year for Christmas my family took a drive down to Florida. Before we left, I'd go with my mother to the AAA where we got a TripTik. For those of you unfamiliar, a TripTik is a bound roadmap for a journey that moves from map to map that one of the specialists at AAA creates based on your itinerary. This is old school MapQuest: they even mark construction and similar concerns and give you a "best route" of sorts. On that long drive to Disney I used to look at it and try to visualize how many hours of books on tape each page of miles represented.

Now MapQuest can bring all this up for you instantly on demand and give a guess as to how long the trip will take you, but it still doesn't take into account all the variables en route. I'd like to be able to input my actual travel times into Mapquest and get something back from it, have it improve its estimates based on reality and not its idealized system--all its estimates of travel time to and from DC would certainly change once the reality of the beltway gets factored in. Maybe as the GPS becomes more ubiquitous the technology will start to track the results of people's travel, and realistic suggestions and times for a commute will be compiled.

Of course, keeping track of how much time we all waste on the road might make this whole commuting idea sound even worse than it already does...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Shaking the Internet: Virtual Sex Worlds

"The Internet, Dude. Shake it hard enough and you can get anything to fall out of it."
-Brent, PvP Animation Episode 7

Sex on the 'net hits the news at regular intervals, as one big event or another falls in the hands of a news outlet and everyone is briefly fascinated by this brave new world. Right now, Second Life is at the top of the list for mainstream interest. With major companies invested in the Second Life mainframe and real money and--perhaps?--real hearts at stake in the intricacies of this virtual realm, everyone is as interested as they've been since LambdaMOO became home of the first cyberspace rape.

Virtual sex worlds have been around in one way or another since the Internet emerged. Erotica-esque writer Susie Bright wrote a book in 1993, Sexual Reality: A Virtual Sex World Reader, that began to chronicle the enticement of these realities as they became especially appealing as concerns about AIDS and other STDs mounted and virtual space became a world where the viruses were much less life-threatening: while continual pop-ups from adult web sites may be annoying, they have much easier to come by cures.

Getting things going in one of these environments--whether its a dedicated sex world or the romantic side of Second Life--takes a bit of getting used to, according to Bonnie Ruberg writing for the Village Voice. In Click Me: Getting Started with Sex in Second Life Ruberg describes the typical Second Life virtual sex experience: "Second Life sex is a combination of the visual and the verbal. Players strip their avatars down to their cyber skin, use pose balls (those floating orbs placed in romantic areas throughout the virtual world) to animate them into various sex acts, and keep up with the whole thing in IM" (par 3).

The pose balls are only the beginning--players who make money off designing for the game have created sex beds dedicated to allowing wide ranges of sex acts that the Linden Labs designers didn't account for. In the last month there's been a Second Life scandal turned lawsuit as the creator of one of the best sex beds in Second Life has seen his invention stolen and copied, sold on the cheap by a virtual patent infringer. The drama has even hit ABC News: 'Second Life' Sex Machine Spawns Suit.

This is only one of the virtual moral and legal dilemmas to emerge on the Second Life sex scene. The virtual nature of sex connection can lead to actions others find disconcerting, chief among them "age play." Second Life separates teenagers from adults on their world grids, and acts presumably to prevent actual children from entering the virtual sex scene, although with the distancing factor of a keyboard and a parental account anything is technically possible. Child avatars are definitely present, and thus "virtual child" sexual actions take place within the world. It's not really virtual child pornography in no actual child is involved, but it does lead to moral concerns. CNET has an article, Phony kids, virtual sex, addressing some of the outcry. There's a clear problem with the game trying to police such actions, which is why no attempt has yet been made: if no real children are being hurt, where's the victim in sexual roleplaying by consenting adults?

Of course, even actions between consenting adults on Second Life can have their real world consequences. MSNBC has an article by Kristin Kalning addressing one of the social implications of virtual sex world relationships, Is a virtual affair real-world infidelity?. The same question has been posed by Janet Murray in Hamlet on the Holodeck, but Murray's discussion takes into account future developments in technology: sure, current technology might only allow for a virtual world affair to consist of animated pre-programmed "sex" and dialogue through a text box, but if technological progression leads towards the Star Trek esque holodeck, at what level of "realism" in the virtual does it become genuine infidelity? Kristin Kalning tackles the issue differently: she discusses some effects these virtual affairs have had on real couples, leading to the conclusion that the very need for a virtual affair suggests something lacking in a real relationship.

Second Life is the current hot world for the mainstream to take a look at. Time Magazine sent sex world novice Joel Stein in to chronicle his experiences finding his first penis [in Second Life, nothing comes free] in My So-Called Second Life. Wired Magazine has taken a more ambitious scope: Regina Lynn has taken a look in on Sociolotron and Jewel of Indra, two far smaller worlds that attract a more specialized user: Real Sex, Virtual Worlds. For a historical perspective--in terms of Internet time, at least--Daniel Terdiman wrote in 2004 on Red Light World, a virtual world game based on Amsterdam's red light district: Virtual City of Smut Now Online

I propose to maintain for the course of this Fall a blog as prelude to a final paper looking each week at developments beyone what the mainstream press is catching and particularly in terms of forbidden sexual subcultures. What are the implications for virtual morality when we leave the mores of "normal society" and try to construct a new morality that understands how real the virtual can be? The philosophical turn to moral particularism gives us a balance for considering moral questions in a virtual space, meaning essentially that we have to take questions like "What is adultery?" and recast them in light of the particular situation these virtual worlds present.

In short, are the sex beds of Second Life becoming the new forum for the Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom, or are we looking at a new era for Philosophy in the Bedroom?

Monday, September 3, 2007

More on 3D Printing is home to a fascinating diy movement dedicated to allowing anyone with the tech know-how to "print" in 3D. The home creation of 3d knick knacks is interesting, but generally the replicas are without any great function. Finally, there's a practical use for these toys: Candy Fab chronicles a printer that makes candy, fueled with sugar as its raw material. How far can we be from the dream Neal Stephenson presented in Diamond Age of the matter compiler, which like its Star Trek counterpart functioned as an easy way to create objects and food programmed to the user's immediate desire? It's not quite the era of the transporter, but it's a start...

[As a sidenote, with Halloween only a few months away, isn't it time to start decorating ala Evil Legos?]