February 03, 2004

Changing times

The Japan Closed Beta for Lineage II ended on January 26. Now I am gnawing away my fingertips waiting for the Open Beta which will finally start on Feb. 11. In order to help the time pass more quickly, I've been hanging out at Universal Realms, posting in the forums, browsing their immense database on gameplay and game items, and so on. However, it struck me today that despite six-plus years of active Usenet participation, I have not scanned a single Usenet post in close to two years. Well, that seemed like a good excuse to skip over to Google and see what kind of buzz Usenet was generating on the single greatest game since Space Invaders.

I found four posts, all over a year old.

Whoa! Has the world changed so much in such a short time? Is the long predicted end of Usenet finally in sight?

Probably not. There are hundreds of thousands of other very active topics, but Lineage II is not one of them. Methinks the reason is actually quite simple. The kind of people who love Lineage II are visually oriented. We have little or no experience with text-based MUDs, and even less interest. Some folks do combine role-playing and fantasy writing with their Lineage II experience, but the game itself is so consuming that 99% of the participants would rather spend their online time playing than fantasizing. The game is so compelling that dozens of Americans are downloading the Chinese client and playing in the Taiwan Open Beta even though they cannot understand a single word of the chat dialogues, NPC dialogues, quest dialogues, and so on. They cannot read a single line of text, not even a weapon description, but they are in the gameworld, exploring the countryside, killing monsters, joining or starting clans, and everything else the game allows. There is no other game in the world, online or otherwise, that can inspire that kind of fevered obsession.

When this game goes retail the concerns and outcry over online addictions will jump tenfold, but even they will not be able to stop the stampede. Cyberspace is rapidly approaching the Sci-Fi fantasy/nightmare of an alternate reality so compelling that lives vanish, cities are abandoned, and civilization collapses. There has not been a Pandora's box like this one since the Age of Exploration sent European visionaries scrambling to the four corners of the globe. I don't know what our future will look like. I'm pretty sure it won't be a Gibsonesque gothic landscape of cowboys and corporations, but I'm equally certain there are going to be some staggering parallels.

See you in Aden, or maybe Paragon City.

Then again, it will probably be someplace neither one of us can predict.

Reflections from the future: December 17, 2012

A few days ago there was a terrible mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. A decade ago, I wrote the post above. Much has changed in my life since I wrote that post. Just for starters, City of Heroes was shut down on November 30, 2012, so we couldn't meet in Paragon City even if we wanted to. The North American version of Lineage II has suffered one shut down and been revived, so we could still meet in Aden, but the beautiful world of Lineage II has become a morass of bullies, thugs, and other malcontents. I no longer have the optimism about and enthusiasm for virtual worlds that I had ten years ago.

Mark Twain reportedly said, "If a man is not a liberal when he is young then he has no heart. If a man is not a conservative when he is old then he has no brain."

In ten years I have aged three times that, partly because ten years ago I was still thinking like a teenager instead of like a grown man with two children. Well, now both children are grown men and that has led me to re-evaluate my life on many different levels. It is surprisingly painful to go back over this blog and read not just the old posts, but some of the "Reflections" I added only two years ago. Times have indeed changed. The internet has become part and parcel of everyday life. "Smart" phones that fit in a pocket now have more power than supercomputers did in 2003. Cyberspace is now home to about a third of the Earth's people and it is nothing like anyone imagined a mere decade past. For those wise enough to learn the lesson, cyberspace has taught us that there is no utopia in our future. Our best hope is to work everyday to prevent our world from spiraling downward into a dystopia far worse than any we have imagined so far.

It is a dark winter day here, ten years in the future. It is a day of mourning and a day of reflection. The cavalcade of horrors that has been visited on the Earth over the course of the past decade has been nightmarish enough to make the Mayan prediction of the world's end on December 21, 2012 seem positively optimistic. It is extremely selfish of me, but I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.