November 24, 2005

Have Cape, Will Fly!

Have Cape, Will Fly

New Cape
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One of the most interesting aspects of the CoV/CoH MMORPG is the ability to fly. Although a hero or villain can gain flying by level 14, it is not until level 20 that they earn the right to wear a cape. I don't know about heroes, but in order for villains to earn this right they have to do a special mission that takes them into an empty instance of Atlas Park where they desecrate a hero's statue and defeat a hero. Once they take the fallen hero's cape back to Kalinda, capes appear in the options available at the tailor.

So off Empress Dusty Enalios went in search of her quarry. The streets of Atlas Park were devoid of their normal pedestrians and vehicles. There was nothing in sight but clusters of Longbow patrolling for bad guys to stomp on. When the instance opened and I looked out on the scene my first thought was, "I might be a villain, but after this the people of Paragon should thank me! The place has turned into a police state!"

The first thing I did was fly around the edges and see how much of Atlas Park was actually available to me. Turns out it was about a third, although I will admit, I'd have to go back into CoH and zip around in Atlas Park itself to confirm that.

The groups of Longbow were spaced far enough apart that taking out one group would not draw the attention of the next. Since I soloed the mission, this was a good thing. It took less time than I thought it would to find the statue I was supposed to destroy. Once that was done, I got ambushed by a trio of Longbow led by a Ranger. When they were mopped up, another ambush came in. This time a Longbow Commander and two Captains. That was tough, and in all honesty, they almost had me. It took two rounds of summoned robots, and the battle lasted long enough to summon Triage Beacon twice, which has a 90-second recharge timer.

While I was still licking my wounds and wondering how much harder the Hero would be, she showed up! A hero NPC named Ms. Shock and a single Longbow Rifleman in support. Ms. Shock didn't do much damage with her electric attacks, but she was quite tough and didn't take damage easily. After the Longbow Commander and Captain battle, though, this one seemed almost anti-climatic. Not that it was easy! Her high toughness made her very hard to kill and it took quite awhile, but I was able to get by on my existing robots and I never felt compelled to drop another Triage Beacon.

Back to Kalinda I went, then straight to the tailor to pick out my new cape. The design is called "Celtic" and the editor allowed me to set the design, the length, and the style, as well as the colors for both the inner and outer surfaces.

Dusty Enalios looks quite regal now, I think. Although if Andromeda Redux continues to grow and she becomes a bonafide empress I will have to see about getting her a new costume. The pirate garb is sexy, but hardly elegant.

November 15, 2005

Master of her own universe

Master of her own universe
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Not satisfied with a werewolf alone, I decided to add a Mastermind to my collection of CoV villains. The Mastermind class has the ability to call up minions to do their evil bidding. In Dusty Enalios' case, that means robots. Well, robots are hardly magical, now are they? So I gave her a Technology origin and a Traps secondary. This also allowed her personal damage-dealing potential to be a Pulse Rifle. As long as I was building a nice little SF-style character I figured I might as well go all out and make her really extreme, so I made her a Space Pirate!

At first it was just supposed to be a humorous, satiric response to all the serious Mastermind characters that look like martial arts experts (Ninja minions), military leaders (mercenary minions), and walking undead (zombie minions). It turned out she was really fun to play. So, today, I made a Supergroup, just for the heck of it, right? And I started advertising for roleplay people who might be interested in belonging to a group of SF-style characters. To my own surprise, people actually responded. Since it now looks like Dusty Enalios is going to be my main character, I've gone ahead and written up a bio for her.

It's supposed to read like a criminal dossier, without all the boring physical details like height and weight. Just for the heck of it, I've included it below.

Dusty Enalios

Dusty Enalios discovered science fiction at the age of nine. From that time on, her imaginary world was dominated by the works of Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Kathleen Ann Goonan, and countless others. At the age of eleven, she stole an electric motor from a neighbor's radio controlled model car as well as an erector set from a different neighbor. She combined the two into a robot and named it, "Daniel Oliveer". When her theft was discovered, she denied everything claiming instead, "the Empress Enalios does not steal, she commandeers."

Her parents were not amused.

Although nothing else could be ascribed to her directly, small items of electronic or technological significance continued to disappear whenever she was around. No one was quite certain where she hid the items she took, so they could never prove she had stolen them. When confronted, she would deny any knowledge of the items, let alone their removal from their proper places.

As Dusty Enalios retreated further and further into her fantasy universe, she began dressing in clothing that bore a strong resemblance to the items worn in various science fiction programs or movies. Many of these things she made herself, without ever once asking her parents for the materials to construct them. Her parents assumed she was stealing the cloth, thread, needles, pins, and other materials, but no one came forward to accuse her and by this time they had given up confronting her directly.

At the age of sixteen Dusty Enalios and an accomplice were caught in the midst of breaking into a Science/Technology Hero Supply in Atlas Park. It appears they were attempting to procure the items necessary to construct a neural network of high-end computers. The hero who caught them used far more force than necessary, killing her accomplice and leaving her face badly scarred. As a result, she can easily be recognized by the three long scars starting from her forehead, stretching across her left eye, and ending half way down her left cheek. The left eye is white, milky, and believed to be blind.

Dusty Enalios was first imprisoned in a low security youth correctional facility in Galaxy City. She hotwired the security and slipped out without being detected. Another hero picked her up at the entrance to Perez Park. When questioned, she insisted her Empire was across the wall and beyond the security zone. Without the slightest trace of falsification or fabrication, she insisted that imprisoning her endangered another interstellar war only this time the invaders would be far more powerful than the Rikti.

Fearing there was no other facility secure enough to hold her, the authorities confined her to Ziggursky Penitentiary, where she remained for the next eight years. Although it is not certain how it happened, she disappeared during the daring prison break sponsored by the self-styled Lord Recluse of the Rogue Islands. There is some indication she was able to break into a secured weapon locker during her escape and gained possession of an advanced Pulse Rifle.

Anyone who encounters this villain should remember that she is highly delusional, devoid of all emotion, and will kill or maim anyone who confronts her. The most recent intelligence available indicates she is in the process of building a robotic army of immense proportions and may even be actively recruiting other similarly deluded people to join her cause. Standard law enforcement officers should avoid her at all costs. The Freedom Corps has been fully entrusted with her eventual arrest and reincarceration. All other agencies are encouraged to maintain a hands off approach to this dangerous and highly deluded individual.

What can I say? I am really enjoying this game!

October 31, 2005

Who's afraid of the big, bad wolf?

Who's afraid of the big, bad wolf?
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Life as a villain is sweet! City of Villains is now live and man is it fun! Ever since reading the Marvel comic "Werewolf by Night" when I was a kid I've wanted to be a werewolf and now I can. Not only do I have fangs and claws and a mean streak, I can throw fireballs like there's no tomorrow, rob banks, beat up on both good guys and bad guys, and generally raise havoc. Virtual reality is a wonderful thing!

Is there anyone left who does not believe that the VR world we all envisioned a decade ago is now a reality? Okay, maybe we don't have neuro-implants, body suits, and that kinda stuff, but MMORPG style games such as Lineage II and City of Heroes have now made it possible to log in, create a fantasy character all your own, and live out that character's life in a way so compelling that most people intuitively identify directly with their character. When they talk about their online presence they don't say, "my avatar is an elf", they think and readily affirm, "I'm an elf".

Virtual reality is no longer science fiction. It is now real, and has been for the past couple of years.

Do yourself a favor, go play a game!

October 10, 2005

Christianity takes on the porn industry

I don't know what to think, really. If you haven't been to XXX Church, you should check it out. Quite frankly, I don't know whether to be horrified or amused. I mean, it had to happen sooner or later, given Christianity's traditional stance on sexuality. A simple Google search of eros and church lists 868,000 hits for the two words in conjunction. Eros has long been of keen interest to Christianity. What most people don't realize is that there are real, historic reasons for this conflict and they date all the way back to ancient Sumer.

Five thousand years before the birth of Christ, humanity built what is quite possibly its very first city, Uruk. Uruk was dominated by two imposing temples that had already been rebuilt at least three times, with the originals being constructed somewhere around 7,000 B.C.E. These two temples are key points in Sumerian religion and they appear in every single city, town, or village the Sumerians, and the later Akkadians, were to build in the fertile lands of Mesopotamia.

One temple was dedicated to An, who later became, Anu. An was the Sumerian Sky-God, and quite possibly represents the very first personification of a natural element. An/Anu came long before the Egyptian Ra, and might even have inspired him. In Nippur, Anu's temple stood second only to Ishtar's in terms of size, and apparently in terms of popularity. Although there can never be any direct evidential links, I personally am of the strong belief that Abraham, the father of both the Jewish and Arabic peoples, left Uruk (which is labeled "Ur" in the bible) as a result of the economic and political decline in the Akkadian period (circa 2200 B.C.E.). I am also strongly of the opinion that the core components of Judaism (and thus Christianity and Islam) are in fact identical to the religion of An as it was practiced in Sumer and that Abraham himself was a follower of An. In other words, horror of horrors, regardless of whether you call him Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, or just "God the Father", the deity worshiped today by over half the world's population is nothing more than the modern version of the Sumerian An whose first temple was built over 9,000 years ago.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Ishtar began as Inanna, and there is some evidence that in her early years she was a goddess of war, not love. However, she is mainly remembered as a goddess of love, including erotic love, family love, the love of good friends, and the love of good times. Worship of Ishtar, and her later counterparts Aphrodite and Easter, is marked by banquets, feasts, orgies, coupling with temple prostitutes, erotic marriage ceremonies, and funerals that end in riotous celebration. The worship of Ishtar is the worship of the joy of life itself, whereas the worship of An is the worship of structure, order, law, and social obligation. An is the god of hard work and diligence, Ishtar the goddess of festivity and love. To Google the religion of Ishtar is to connect yourself to 9,000 years of celebration and to discover that the real joy of life is the acceptance of death.

The worship of An, including modern religions like Christianity and Islam, is the quest to avoid dying. An is the religion of fear, the fear of death, the fear of loss, the fear of shame, the fear of damnation, the fear of every evil that life can bring all landing on your doorstep at the same time. Since no human can ever carry this burden, we call upon God to carry it for us and to protect us against the chaos that life can bring, especially the destructive chaos. The only counter to chaos is order. Complete, total, all-consuming organization and constant vigilance so that when chaos descends, we can limit its destructive potential.

We never do learn though. Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Pakistan, the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, all demonstrate clearly our powerlessness. Ineptitude, negligence, and incompetence always increase the already horrendous damage that life throws at us with alarming regularity. To worship An is to learn from these failures and to seek to be less human and more godlike in our preparation and readiness for the next time they strike.

The worship of Ishtar is just the opposite. To worship Ishtar is to live for this moment in time because this moment is the only one we have! Eros, with those we love, with prostitutes and gigolos, or with a pornographic web page and our own self, is an entirely different approach. To seek love, especially erotic love, is to seek carnal pleasure in defiance of the chaos of life. To accept the fact that one day we all must die, that life after death is a meaningless concept and to therefore maximize the enjoyment of this life because this life is the only one we have, is to pursue the worship of Ishtar and her many variants even when we fail to recognize it.

Starting with humanity's very first city, the tension between those who live to love and those who live to work has been an ongoing source of social stigma, vicious infighting, and sometimes, wholesale slaughter. There are two approaches to life, the serious and the seriously fun, and each of us individually must choose which direction our life with take. Neither is completely right, neither is completely wrong. The only way any of us can be happy is for each of us individually to find the balance between the two that works best for us personally and then to recognize without malice that no one else alive is required to accept the exact same balance. is entering into a battle that has waged for at least seven thousand years of recorded history. It is a war that cannot be won and cannot be lost. It is a war of opposites that points to the excesses of the opposing camp while denying their own. True, the pornographic industry has ruined many lives, and continues to ruin lives to this very day, but Christianity and its extreme intolerance is directly responsible for the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, the horror of 9/11, the myriad failures that made Katrina so much worse than it needed to be, and continuing presence of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Christianity is the driving force behind America's hegemonic version of commercial imperialism, an imperialism as demonic as any of its many historical predecessors in the way it destroys cultures and societies with no regard for the values and priorities of their people. Pornography is rampant in America because it represents one avenue of stress relief for those who by all rights belong in a church dedicated to the worship of Ishtar and the real-world recognition that we cannot all be the same and we cannot expect other people to appreciate or respect our personal values and priorities.

The crusade of will fail. Despite any short-term or limited victories it achieves it will ultimately fail to "win" the war against pornography because what it is really fighting against is the need so many of us have to enjoy life while we can, when we can, and where we can. Eros is here to stay. The churches of America need to focus their energies on things they can more directly address and needs they can more successfully meet. Issues like homelessness, poverty, or inequalities in education and opportunity, are all far more important issues that no church in America ever takes it upon itself to address, and never will. They can't, because if they did, they might actually have to sacrifice the comfort of being righteous.

Like it or not, sex is just as important as history and, in some cases, creates it.

Reflections from the future: December 17, 2012

I am strongly tempted to go through this post and remove several paragraphs. I honestly don't know what I was thinking when I wrote them. Perhaps I was still angry over the boondoggle that Hurricane Katrina turned into and I was looking for someone to blame. Perhaps I was still clinging to the naivete of youth. In my own defense, at the time my real world concerns were still focused on my teenage sons, helping my wife get our company off the ground, and escaping into game worlds as a way of avoiding the nightmare that life in Tokyo had become. Although I was in the midst of my transformation from liberal progressive into staunch conservative, it would still be another year or so before I had the time to do any genuine research.

At the time, the thought I was reaching for and failing to grasp hold of was the dichotomy of collectivism/individualism. Although I did not even realize it at the time, I was still viewing the world through glasses colored by collectivist thinking picked up from Japanese society, certain professors at Sophia University, and CNNj as my primary news source. I could see the contrast between order and chaos, and I could see that "chaos" was sometimes nihilistic while "order" was often nothing more than forced conformity. Instead of viewing worshipers of An and Inanna as individuals making individual choices for their own reasons, I was still thinking of them as two opposing homogeneous groups. Naturally, the same flawed thinking colored my understanding of the goals of both and the online pornographers. Were I to sit down and write this post today I would still arrive at the same conclusion, but the internal logic would be completely different.

Perhaps, rather than condemning my earlier thought processes I should be pleased my instincts were good enough to bring me to the same real-world conclusion as I would arrive at today. The church in modern America remains a morass of hypocrisy, condescension, and self-righteous chest-thumping, sometimes seeming more interested in destroying those who disagree with it than in serving those who need it most. Most of the people who understand that the role of the church in this world is the role of service have fled the organized traditional churches and the pie-in-the-sky megachurches for the openness and honesty of home churches where the experience of each individual is welcomed and appreciated. (For more information on this issue please see "The Global House Church Movement" by Rad Zdero, or "Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity" by Frank Viola)


September 12, 2005

Will we ever learn?

An article in Time Magazine reports that Mike Brown, the former head of FEMA, "padded" his resume to get where he is, er, was. I don't really blame Mike Brown, though. We live in a world where imaginary credentials are more important than real experience, where people cannot learn and work in fields that interest them but must "meet the demands of the market" and where a despotic consumer is encouraged to make insane demands of honest business while supporting hand over fist any corrupt entrepeneur that will meet their petty needs.

We have created a world where honest, ethical business practices take a back seat to the bottom line and consumers are encouraged to be petty tyrants. "Padding" a resume is not only common practice, it is an essential business skill. Why have we allowed this to happen? Does anybody really know? Does anybody even care?

September 02, 2005

Have we truly sunk this low?

Go here: CNN

Five days ago a Category 4 hurricane named Katrina struck the Gulf Coast Region. Tens of thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands of people are left stranded with no food, no clean water, no medical assistance, and no hope of getting help anytime soon. Is this truly the United States of America? Is this the same nation that rebuilt Germany and Japan, financed the rebuilding of South Korea, drove the Soviet Union into bankruptcy, and recently invaded two Middle Eastern nations on the pretext of bringing democracy and fighting terrorism? We can command the world but we cannot manage the evacuation of a single city surrounded by some of the richest communities in the world? Have we sunk so low that firing on hospitals, rescue workers and police is our first response to the loss of civil order?

For the first time in my 44 years of life, I am truly ashamed to call myself an American. The failure in the Gulf Coast is a complete failure on so many levels it is unimaginable that this could even happen. One hurricane, a few broken levees, a drowned city, and the common people revert to behaviors and attitudes not seen in centuries.

Are we truly so shallow? Has American culture truly reached the point where we create more sociopaths than socially responsible citizens?

There is no doubt that Katrina has killed New Orleans. The city will never recover. I fear it may also spark the end of the greatest nation in the history of the world. The past five days have clearly shown that America has reached the point where she cannot take care of her own people.

This is our burning of Rome. This is the beginning of our end. People are dying and what is our president doing? Wining and dining his old friends in the oil industry and asking them not to raise gasoline prices.

At least Nero was honest in his fiddling.

June 26, 2005

Drop in a bucket

In the world of blogs, "Brian's Meandering Mind" is less important than the proverbial drop of water in the wide blue sea. Nonetheless, if the poll I had up for a few months at the end of last year is any indication, then there are actually 13 real people out there somewhere who stop by occasionally to peruse these woefully inadequate lines of idiocy. Thank-you, whoever you are. Really though, surely you have something better to do with your time, don't you?

Just in case you don't, or maybe even if you do, I have yet another eccentric burst of lunacy to suggest: National Novel Writing Month. Oh, and you can't blame a lack of time. It starts in November and I'm giving you a whole four months lead time. It doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter how much or how little you usually write, take a month from your life and put 50,000 words together and see what happens. It can't hurt, and it just might help.

Help with what? Damned if I know, but that's the expression we use. (Gotta find a way to get smilies into my blog pages!)

Anyone can write a novel. True, very few of us can write good ones, but what difference does that make? Play is the art of enjoyable unproductive experimentation. Forgetting how to play is one of the great curses of modern civilization and for all anyone knows, might be the key to unlocking the conflicts in the Middle East, the cynicism in politics, and the inherent self-destructiveness of capitalism. Something has to unlock these things, otherwise we are all headed to hell in a handbasket and there's not a damn thing anyone can do about it.

But who knows. Maybe one of you, one of the 13 fans and fools who waste time reading this insanity, maybe you'll be the one who writes the next "Uncle Tom's Cabin" or "Coming of Age in Somoa". Perhaps one of you has a magnus opus along the lines of "Moby Dick" or "War and Peace" hiding in the depths of your subconscious. There is only one way to find out if you have what it takes to change the world, take a month and write a novel.

And if you don't. If it turns out that the best you have is "Casino Royale" or "Buddenbrooks", that doesn't mean you've failed! Heaven's no! You've written 50,000 words in one sitting and that alone is far more than most well-educated, highly respected academics and theologians will ever achieve. At the end of the month you might not have a masterpiece, but it will be your book. Take it from one who has written not one, but two failed books: having a book you can call your own is a good thing, even if it's a bad book.

So then, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Spend November with me, spiritually if not physically, and together let's compose 14 books of egocentric trite that critics will disdain but each of us will love!

Robert Heinlein once remarked, "I go on writing for the same reason a chicken goes on laying eggs."

March 29, 2005

The Prophecy Game

Everyone laughs at the prophets, mainly because they are so consistantly wrong. Well, according to the Google archives, in 2003 a fellow named John Titor predicted an American civil war in 2005. John Titor claimed to be a time traveler from the year 2036. One would assume that if he were indeed a time traveller, he would also be an accurate prophet. Well, here we are in the Spring of 2005, and so far, I don't see any problems severe enough to suddenly spring out in civil war, especially in the United States.

True, the American public is pretty much split 50/50 on almost every issue. There are a couple of issues that are painfully important to both groups, particularly Immigration and Social Security. Although a group calling themselves "The Minutemen" is planning to begin patrolling the Arizona stretch of the US border with Mexico, there is nothing to suspect they are also planning open rebellion, and I don't expect American senior citizens advocacy groups will take up arms and fight for better medicare. Granted, the world is sometimes unpredictable, nonetheless, I strongly doubt things have gotten chaotic enough to see the US split by civil war before year-end.

On the other hand, Florida hurricanes have been getting stronger in recent years, the earthquake in Southeast Asia last year proved Christmas is no safer than any other day on the calendar, and an 8.7 "aftershock" the other day may have added another 2,000 dead to last year's toll. There is no doubt that AIDS is a plague of Biblical proportions, and air pollution in China is so severe it shows up on satellite images. Perhaps we have finally entered into the end times, or perhaps it only looks this way. Regardless of which eschatological laundry list they subscribe to, many people believe our world had a precise beginning point and sooner or later, will reach a precise conclusion. Since the beginning and ending are clearly laid out, the path between them must be as well! Or so the fatalists would have us believe.

Well, it strikes me that the prophecy game looks pretty fun, so I've decided I'd like to play along and offer up a few prophecies of my own.

1. The American economy will implode sometime within the next ten years, reducing the United States to third world status in a period of weeks.

2. Osama Bin Laden will never be found.

3. China will continue to bloom as an economic power and by 2010, will be the most powerful nation on Earth.

4. By 2020, and possibly as early as 2010, China will invade Taiwan, however, that invasion will trigger an enormous internal backlash that will break out in open civil war before 2050.

5. Sometime before 2100 (these things are hard to pin down, you know?) the Earth will experience a planetesimal impact that will kill 2/3rds of the world's human population, devastate 40% of the land mass, and kill off around 60% of all life on Earth. However, Central Africa, especially the region where the bonobo apes live, will be spared. Life from this region will eventually spread out and repopulate the globe. The next sentient species will be the descendents of the bonobos and their civilization will reach the technological level currently enjoyed by our own approximately 350,000 years from now.

Doom and gloom is easy! Anybody can do it! How about some good predictions, eh?

1. By 2010, a special food replacement dietary product will be developed. This food replacement will be so popular it's commercialization will be blocked by agricultural lobbies all over the world. In the end, it will only be available through prescription by licensed dieticians or as an emergency food source for drought, famine, and disaster relief.

2. The 2008 US Presidential election will be the most entertaining ever. Arnold Schwarzenegger will lead the Republican Party to a narrow victory over Hilary Clinton, but the Democrats will capture the vast majority of Congressional elections, displacing many long-time Republican-only seats. To everyone's glee, there will be no mudslinging at all. Instead, Hilary will try to use common sense and academic reasoning to win her race while Arnold will swagger, smoke cigars, and spend far too much time repeating old movie lines. American politics will be paralyzed for decades (thus the economic implosion) but everyone will have so much fun playing politics no one will realize the country has become an international irrelevancy.

3. With much fanfare and celebration, the last American soldier from the Middle East will return home in the autumn of 2011. It will be a nurse stationed with UN Peacekeepers in Egypt, because all combat troops will have been removed from the region the year before.

4. Before year-end, there will be a military coup d'etat in North Korea. The new military government will immediately disband the nuclear program and ask for UN assistance in converting the country to true democracy in the shortest time possible.

5. Just after the US economic implosion, representatives from NAFTA, the EU, ASEAN, and the WTO will begin a six-month conference that will ultimately result in a global free trade and free immigration pact allowing commerce and people to flow around the globe with almost no restrictions. Heralded as a "first step toward global political unity", the pact will trigger a brief burst of terrorist and organized crime activity that will dissolve within a few years despite almost no effective law enforcement by the world's nations. The criminals will learn it is easier to make money the legal way and the terrorists will get so rich from shifting money and weapons around the world they will be too busy to build bombs and plan further attacks.

So, in summary, on this 29th day of March in the year 2005 I, Brian K. Miller do hereby prophesy that this century will see the greatest peace, prosperity, and international cooperation the world has ever known, but this emerging utopia will be cut short by a planetismal impact so severe the Earth will gain a new moon and human society as we know it will be removed, allowing bonobo apes to eventually produce a new civilization that will take its first, haltering steps about 300,000 years from now.

See, prophecy is easy! Anybody can do it!

March 21, 2005

The zen of online gaming: Cheating hurts everyone

When the subject of buying and selling game data comes up, sooner or later someone will point out that wherever there is a buyer, a seller will present themselves. However, the willingness to buy and sell an item does not make that item beneficial, nor does it make trading in that item ethical. Slavery, narcotics, fissionable materials, nuclear weapon technology, etc. There are very valid reasons why these items have been deemed unsuitable for daily commerce and thus illegal to trade in. True, all of these items are still available if the buyer knows who to contact and if they have the cash to pay for them, but that still does not make it right, nor does it make it advisable!

Buying and selling game data hurts everyone. It deprives the game makers of income they have worked very hard to earn (income they need to maintain, improve and expand the game world!). It deprives the purchaser of the satisfaction of achieving goals put into the game by the designers. It makes it possible for operations like IGE to fill game worlds with non-players who have no vested interest in creating a fun, entertaining environment for everyone. It forces honest players into competition with players who are unwilling to play by the rules established by the game designers. It dramatically unbalances any PvP game by breaking the character/item balance established by the designers, and it creates hyperinflation in the game economy by putting excess game currency into the hands of players who do not appreciate its value.

Cheating hurts everyone, including the cheaters, but the cheaters are too self-involved to realize the damage they are doing.

An online MMORPG is not a console game. Any action a player takes, any choice they make, even if they spend most of their time soloing, will have a dramatic impact on everyone in the game world. No matter how minor it seems to the individual player, their choices affect everyone they are sharing the virtual world with. In a console game, if a person cheats, all they've done is save some time and skullsweat (and deny themselves any real sense of achievement). With a MMORPG, especially one that includes PvP, the cheater has dehumanized their fellow players by assuming their opponents have no right to win PvP encounters.

Cheating assumes the cheater is the only one who deserves to triumph. They need to triumph because their cheating has deprived them of any real sense of accomplishment, thus they cheat, because only by cheating can they gain the satisfaction that normally comes from playing the game the way it is meant to be played. Cheating creates a vicious and virtually unbreakable negative feedback cycle that the cheater does not realize they have fallen into. They can't enjoy the game without cheating because the act of cheating has deprived them of the sense of accomplishment the game is designed to impart in the first place!

MMORPGs are not console games. They are not designed to be "beaten". A console game is designed to keep a player entertained just long enough for the designer to come up with the next version. A MMORPG on the other hand, is designed to keep each player entertained for years. In a very real sense, a MMORPG is not a "game" at all, it is a hobby. The pace is intentionally kept slow, the world is regularly expanded, and the main emphasis is intended to be interaction with other players (both friend and foe). The game is designed to be slow. It is designed to be a time sink. The passage of time is designed to be part of the fun!

There are a number of people playing MMORPGs who really ought to still be playing console games. They are trying to achieve the pace of a console game in a world hundreds of times more complex, and often thousands of times larger. If a player finds a given MMORPG tedious, then the problem is not the game, the problem is their expectations. Rather than cheating, they need to change their expectations and learn to appreciate the greater complexity of the MMORPG they are playing.

If you don't enjoy a certain game, the problem is not the game.

March 14, 2005

Endings and Beginnings

Like many others, I want to believe that my contribution to the world we live in has some kind of long-term relevance. However, I am also realistic enough to realize that this not only highly unlikely, it might actually be impossible to achieve. I can also look at those who are changing our world and recognize that my failure to do the same is not really related to some lack or deficiency in me. I've done the best I can with the time, tools, and intelligence my birth and growth have given me. Sorry, Mom, but I didn't change the world. Somehow, I don't think she'd mind.

Anyone who has followed this blog since it's creation would know that my internal workings are hardly consistent. I jump around like a frog on hot pavement. I know this, and to be honest, most of the time it doesn't bother me.

But sometimes it does.

I have spent the last two hours browsing through my own archive (the links are all on the right hand side of the page, feel free to skim through it on your own, or not). Many of the pages I've offered up as links over the past two years have vanished into the mists of time. None of the Lineage II characters I've mentioned in the past still exist. I've deleted every last one of them, sometimes for good reason, and sometimes for no reason at all. I bought lots of Java books a year or so ago, but have not had time to read a single chapter. The books are still sitting on my shelf collecting dust, and the software was all removed from my home system a couple months ago. It has been a very changeable couple of years.

I suppose it will become obvious soon, so I might as well also add that Greyhawk Manor will soon vanish as well. I have not changed a single page in almost five years now, and there is no realistic reason to continue paying to maintain the domain name, so when it expires next month I'm going to let it die. All things pass, even websites.

As long as I'm looking back, I suppose it should also be noted that I have begun countless projects over the 43 years of my life and finished almost none of them. I guess persistence is not one of my stronger qualities. The things I did finish, have either wound up failing miserably or simply passed on with little more than a sigh of relief at their final completion. I guess one of the reasons I seldom finish anything is that the end of every project I do finish winds up being so profoundly anticlimatic. It gets to the point sometimes where I don't even know why I bother, but I do. Every morning I get up, I shower, I eat, I go about the day's business (even when it's just playing Lineage II), and eventually, I go back to bed.

For anyone with decent access to a job and a corner supermarket, life in our modern world is pretty boring. This is a good thing, actually. I have to admit, given the choice, I would much rather laze away my days in Tokyo than suffer through the daily uncertainities of Baghdad, Darfur, or even Pyongyang. There are many benefits to boredom, but it is boring!

Don't misunderstand me here. I'm not feeling depressed, or even melancholy, a little nostalgic maybe, but nothing more. Spring blues, maybe?

Anyway, my archives. I am somewhat disappointed at how many of the projects I've started over the past two years have fizzled away to nothing. So this year I am going to make a stronger effort at planning out and bringing to completion at least some of the things I start. Nothing important, of course, but I won't be deleting any more Lineage II characters, although I will lose the one I have on the PTS when the database gets wiped prior to the installation of C3. (If you couldn't follow any of that, it might be profitable for you to visit the Official Lineage II website.) Also, our business is starting a new project next month, so I'll actually be working at work instead of cruising cyberspace or surfing the web. Like it or not (and to be honest, I don't like it at all), I will have to concentrate on finding ways for that project to achieve some level of reasonable success. I don't know if I am businessman enough to accomplish anything, but I'm the only one sitting here so there isn't much choice!

There are a couple of things I would like to find time to get back into, but this year I will not have time to even begin. One of those is writing and the other is programming. I would very much like to rebuild my website with a different theme of some kind and relaunch it in 2006 with a new domain name. Doing so would require both more time spent writing and extra study of new web programming techniques. Since I won't have much free time this year (and what little free time I do have will be spent playing Lineage II), I doubt I will accomplish anything in that department, but it would be nice.

No, in all honesty, it looks like this year and next will be lots of work, and occasional bursts of Lineage II. Not very exciting at all. I don't even know how often I will be able to update this blog, but hopefully it will be more often than once a month! Of course, that also means I will have to find something to write about...

Hmm. Maybe once a month is a realistic expectation after all.

Oh, well. Time will tell.


March 07, 2005

In search of a better world

Every morning on my way to work I pass two homeless men. One of them is usually up and walking around. I always pass him somewhere between the subway station and my office. I usually pass the other one in front of 7-11 where he is sitting and sipping a hot drink from a cup bearing the label of a nearby coffee shop. The drink seldom appears to be coffee, though. Rather, it is normally some kind of tea (sometimes green, sometimes brown).

These men either have or had parents. At one time they were children. Neither one seems psychotic, but both demonstrate a variety of neurotic tendencies including obsession, lack of concern for personal hygiene, and some degree of detachment from the world around them. To these two men, the rest of us are mere apparitions wandering through a world half-dreamed and only fitfully acknowledged as being directly related to their internalized reality.

There are also two people I often see when I am playing Lineage II. One them plays a female dark elf, the other plays a male human, both are fighters. These two are what we call "chaotic". That is to say, they spend most of their game time hunting down and attacking other players, or even just killing players they happen across out in the wilds of the game world. They talk to one another in the main shout channel with no regard to the simple reality that others can read every word they type, they insult players and non-player characters with equal zeal, and will spend hours enthusiastically hacking away at in-town NPCs that do not fight back and cannot be killed.

Notice the parallels? I do, everyday. In a very real sense, the homeless men in the street and the two habitual player-killers ("PKers", as they say) in the game both share the same dissonance with their environment. Both pairs of people find little or no connection between their internalized reality and the one they are interacting with. "Reality", for both pairs, simply does not exist in the same sense that it exists to other people participating in it. For the two homeless men, "Tokyo" is a virtual reality that is of little or no concern to them personally, and the same is true for the two PKers in Lineage II. They simply don't care, because the reality they share with the rest of us has no substantial meaning for them.

However, and here is where I break ranks with the rest of the world, the inability of these four people to internalize their world does not lessen or remove the need for the rest of us to internalize their existence in our reality. Refusing to acknowledge their existence, their needs, their desires, their dreams, and their hopes, starts each one of us down the same internal road each of them is currently traveling. The marginalization of any person simply because we find their version of reality unpleasant is the first step we take to becoming that person.

If there is any difference between East and West, then that difference is reflected in the four people I have described above, which of course, is really no difference at all. The Eastern world has been plagued with overpopulation and a severe shortage of resources for many generations. This is a situation we in the West are only just now finding ourselves faced with. Populations in Europe and North America have risen dramatically since WWII, and now we find ourselves in a world where there are far too many people and not nearly enough productive occupations for them. To make matters worse, "outsourcing" in recent years has begun moving the few jobs that do remain possible into those countries where the devaluation of individuals has had generations to become fully entrenched.

The West is rapidly adopting one of the absolute worst elements of Eastern philosophy: dehumanization. Individuals are no longer important. "Mass media", "mass market", and "the wants of the masses" have become standard elements of our business and political dialogues. Politicians and business people no longer concern themselves with "customers", merely with "the needs of the mass market". Advertising campaigns do not target people with complete freedom of taste and choice, instead, they use sociology and cultural research that has been collected over the past six decades to target any of a number of "mass markets" such as "middle-income housewives with two or more children under the age of 12". The assumption of our world has become that no one person matters at all. Groups, demographics, "masses" of people are all assumed to feel exactly the same way. If someone dares to disagree, they are quickly labeled "merely an anomaly that can safely be ignored".

I am American. I live in Tokyo. Once upon a time this was not a bad thing at all. People were impressed and businesses went out of their way to find ways for me to send them my money in exchange for their products and services. Nowadays though, it seems that every single day I come upon another powerful effort aimed at dividing the world according to geographic regions in forced compliance to the assumptions of a young fool fresh out of marketing school. Since I don't fit the demographics they teach at Harvard, I am "safely ignored" and it does not matter how many times I mail customer service, phone managers, or otherwise attempt to open a communication channel, the response is always the same, "Please feel free to use the Japanese version of our store/website/market outlet conveniently located in Tokyo". But the part they don't mention is that same "local" office is exclusively staffed by young Japanese who don't know English and don't care to learn it. After all, I've been in Japan for twenty years, right? I must be the same as the Japanese!

I'm not. I'm still American. I still prefer a barbecue pit with five pounds of charcoal to a stoneware hibachi just the right size for grilling a single fish. Rush hour trains every morning put me in a murderous rage, and any time I have to deal with the Japanese government I find myself amazed at how murderously difficult everything becomes. In Japan, there are only "ignorant masses" against whatever person happens to be sitting behind the desk or shop counter. With 2000 years of overpopulation behind them, I can almost sympathize with some poor kid fresh out of high school trying to answer questions posed in English by an enraged foreigner twice his size. I can't justify their recalcitrance, but I can understand it.

So why is it every day that goes by sees more and more American businesses treating me the same way? I can't order cards through the Wizards of the Coast online store, I have to triple verify my credit card to order books from even though I have been dealing with them for over a decade, new discussion forums that I sign up for usually send not one, but two e-mail verifications if I dare to apply in English using an e-mail ending in .jp. Worst of all, any time I send in a support ticket to report a bug or apply for a new Beta test the game companies either ignore me completely or "politely" refer me to the Japanese-language only version of their company.

Enough is enough! There needs to be a new revolution in cyberspace. Instead of demanding ever smaller geographic divisions, we need to be demanding less division and more globalization that emphasizes the importance of individuals! Exceptions like me are the rule in the modern world. As travel becomes easier and more free-flowing, we will quickly become the majority. If things go as I expect them to, within another generation "national" borders will be nothing more than lines on a pretty globe that no one pays attention to anymore. We need to start planning now on ways to insure that anyone, anywhere, speaking any language whatsoever, can order anything at all from any company in the world and arrange to have it shipped to them.

The downside, of course, is that crime and customer fraud will increase as well. The solution is not forced regionalization. The only solution possible is increased consumer awareness and an improved education system that teaches every subject from a global perspective. If we do not stop the global trend toward objectification and dehumanization of the individual and stop it now, then the only path remaining to open borders and a global community will be a long, bloody, disastrous war. If we choose that route, then the lack of borders will not come about because we want it to, but because there will be nothing left but ragtag bands of parasitic survivors living off the ruins of our present age.

So which will it be, my friends: a global community built on compassion and openness for individuals, or a global ruin populated by scattered groups struggling to survive one more day? The outcome depends on the choices we each make on a daily basis.

I know we are building a new world, but I cannot help and wonder exactly what kind of a world are we building?

February 15, 2005

The zen of online gaming: A line in the sand

There are dark currents moving through the world of online gaming. I do not mean casinos, I mean companies like IGE (no link provided, now or ever) that broker the sales of ingame data. Today, I went to the official Lineage II forums and posted this:

Cindy Bowens on the secondary market
One Vanguard fansite takes a stand
With these two links I am risking losing my privilege to post on these boards, but hopefully I will still be allowed to play. Make no mistake, I fully understand and accept the risk I am taking.
This is not a "conspiracy theory". These are facts. IGE has been approaching both companies and fansites in an effort to extend their reach into the gaming world and legitimize their brokerage of game data sales. This is not X-Files. This is being talked about at Terra Nova and other major academic sites. This is no longer smoke and mirrors.
IGE has drawn a line in the sand. There is no longer any fence sitting. Players, developers, website builders, all of us must choose which side of this debate we are on and be prepared to fight for what we believe in.
I stand opposed to any and all efforts to exchange ingame data for real life cash. No quarter, no prisoners taken, and no surrender. There can no longer be any waffling by we the players, or by the developers. I will not support any company that supports IGE. When this finally hits the courts, if IGE walks away with the prize I will no longer play online games.
We cannot allow the cheaters, the shortcut takers, and any others who treat legitimate players as mere background objects in their quest for ever greater egocentric self-gratification to dominate our games.
My friends, my enemies, my fellow players, and yes, even the staff at these official forums, I ask you,
Where do you stand?

I am so angry now I can barely type. Nothing in all my years of dealing with the worst humanity has to offer has prepared me for this outrage. The depth of hypocrisy, the attempt to hijack the American legal system for self-aggrandizement, the sheer ego of Brock Pierce in his drive for self-justification is so enraging I cannot see straight. While the mainstream press wallows away with elections in Iraq and the petty tyranny of Syria and North Korea, black-hearted Americans are eating away at the very fabric of our society!

Games and how we play them define who we are. The way we play determines the values our society holds dear. In play we open ourselves fully and the reality of our personal priorities pour forth for everyone to see. This is why cheating is always frowned upon and always dealt with quickly and severely. Cheating in any form derives from the same source: the cheater assumes they are morally superior to their fellow participants and therefore above the rules governing everyone else. Cheating dehumanizes your fellow players and reduces them to mere props in your personal quest for self-congratulation. Cheating is the first, foremost, most visible, and earliest sign of lazy thinking, sociopathic egocentrism, and elitist arrogance.

When it reaches into intellectual property rights it is also illegal. Pierce Brock should have been jailed a decade ago when he founded IGE, and he knew this, so he founded it overseas and put its corporate headquarters in Hong Kong. He deliberately put himself outside the laws of his homeland in order to better facilitate his fleecing of the American people! Now, after a decade of being allowed to treat the legal system of the United States of America as his personal playground, he has begun taking steps to legitimize his illegal, immoral, and completely self-centered pursuit of black market money!

IGE has drawn a line in the sand. The gauntlet has been thrown down. Whoever you are, wherever you are, please, take a stand now and do not support IGE or any company that supports IGE through any means.

This is a cancer that is eating at the heart of our modern civilization. This is exactly the kind of presumptive arrogance that leaves the disadvantaged feeling impotent in the face of our modern world and forces them into terrorism as the only way for their voices to be heard. The greatest problem facing our world today is not Islam, it is hypocritic self-serving business people from modern, industrialized countries.

The battle against greed and arrogance is the real battle we should be fighting. The backdoor maneuvering of IGE is but one example of this widespread presumptiveness. It drove the executives of Enron and Worldcom, it drove the inside trading of Martha Stewart, it raises its foul head every time you cheat the IRS out of ten dollars on your tax return. If we cannot personally live in an ethical manner, if we cannot demand good ethics from every private and public organization in our society, then friends, we will follow the Roman Empire into the history books until we too are nothing more than a dead language and a handful of half-forgotten myths.

And that is the real lesson of history.

February 05, 2005

Tried and true American icons

Tried and true American icons, Posted by Hello

For the past half-century America has been defined by the automobile. "Fast cars and fast women" has become such a cliche that feminists themselves don't even pay attention to it anymore. Hollywood has given us dozens of movies based on automotive culture. Everything from the melodramatic and immensely captivating American Graffiti, to the corny, comical, and rather boring Convoy. Need I mention the wacky and forgettable Death Race 2000? By the way, that one somehow managed to engender such a solid core of fans that it even made the leap into gaming with the unlovely title of "Carmageddon."

Don't misunderstand me! At heart, I am a hardcore car nut. My first car was a lowly Ford Pinto and like all virgin loves, I still believe it was one of the most beautiful cars Ford ever produced. Sheepishly, I must also admit that my first college degree was an AOS from DADC and I am ASE certified in nine different fields. Unfortunately, at the time I graduated from DADC journeyman mechanics were accepting apprentice wages and the entire industry was shifting from shops that repaired anything to convenience-store style national chains offering lube jobs and tune-ups. What I really wanted to do was get into either racing or customizing, but none of those shops in Denver were hiring either. Lacking realistic work options, I came back to Japan and have been here ever since.

Well, at least I get to wear a suit and tie. Of course, my fingernails are no longer black with grime and my knuckle scars have mostly faded away as well, so I suppose it's not a bad life, but sometimes when I arrive at the office and unlock the door I really miss the smell of old hydrocarbons and burnt coffee. A sterile modern office just doesn't have the same effect.

Then one day last week I stopped by the NC Soft website and noticed the passing mention of a new game: Auto Assault.

Eh? A car-based online game? No dragons? No elves? My, how interesting.

If this game succeeds, then NC Soft will be holding the rights to the two most innovative games in the online world today, Lineage II and Auto Assault. As a matter of fact, when you consider that City of Heroes with it's Marvelesque theme and Guild Wars with its instanced dungeons are both also part of the NC Soft portfolio, then suddenly it becomes apparent that they are holding every truly unique game in the adventure-oriented MMORPG market.

Now all they need is a wild west franchise and they'll truly have covered all the bases. But in the meantime, I am patiently waiting for the Auto Assault beta test to start and trying very hard to keep my expectations realistic. There are a million things I would like to see, but very few of them are realistic.

Reflections from the future: December 17, 2012

In my never humble opinion, Auto Assault was the beginning of the end for NC Soft. With this game they had a golden opportunity to redefine how the world plays games and they threw it away. Part of the problem was a huge uproar in South Korea over how NC Soft handled customer relations. That uproar resulted in riots outside their headquarters, vandalism to their facilities, and tens of millions of dollars (well, South Korean "won ₩" actually) in new physical security requirements. They also lost a huge amount of money when a Chinese programmer got fired, taking with him copies of both the client and the server software for Lineage II, which he immediately dumped into the Open Source world. Nonetheless, Auto Assault could have pulled them back from the brink and launched them into a new future where they would have commanded all the best adventure titles on the market.

Unfortunately, they never really gave it a chance. There were many problems with the interface and playability of the game, all of which came out during beta testing and were discussed endlessly. Some of them where fixed, but some of the most egregious were left to fester. Most importantly, character movement inside the towns was slow, torturous, and almost impossible. Clan and party interfaces were bulky and unmanageable, often obscuring vital areas of the player's combat view at critical moments. Naturally when these issues went live it had a detrimental effect on their ability to gather players. New players would jump eagerly into the free trial and leave within a few days without bothering to drop by the forums and complain. Patches in the first six months after release fixed many of the problems but right at the point where the game became both enjoyable and easy to play, they cancelled it.

NC Soft has been floundering ever since. Guild Wars does okay and despite the turmoil, in South Korea Lineage II is still huge. However, the rest of their global market has mostly passed to World of Warcraft and Eve Online. Apparently Blizzard's customer service is good enough to keep the vast majority of online players happily killing rats and wolves while the techno-wannabes don't mind sailing around as a disembodied space ship in search of resources and pirates.


January 30, 2005

Free-floating relativities

There are a lot of things on my mind today, way too many to go into here in any depth, so I'd like to focus on just a couple ideas.

First and foremost, I am sorry to report that Wish by Mutable Realms (See the previous entry) died during its third week of beta testing. All told, it was an interesting game, but not anywhere near as revolutionary as the creators imagined. There has been no official statement on what exactly led to the decision to kill the game, but I suspect their dependence on pre-built middleware was a major factor. You see, there are several ways to build a game and each method has strengths and weaknesses. For example, Lineage II, the game I play, starts with a pre-built game engine that contains basic functions like terrain modeling, character placement, elementary physics (esp. collision detection), day/night light coordination, color palette swapping, etc. Unreal, the engine they use, contains a whole host of basic game functions and absolutely no details! In terms of middleware, the Unreal engine is a minimal execution object that eliminates a lot of core programming but places very few limitations on the final product.

Wish, on the other hand, was built up from about a dozen highly functional and tightly structured middlware products. This meant that it took the developers very little time to create the program (comparatively speaking), but it also gave them very little control over the functional content of the final product. For example, the Unreal engine that Lineage II uses provides very few ways to actualize player combat. This means that the developer who uses it must come up with their own combat system and use the Unreal core to link those systems to the game engine. This requires a lot of time, but it also allows maximum flexibility. The developer is not limited in designing things like attack speed, attack frequency, attack synchronization, defensive maneuvers, and so on. Wish went exactly the opposite route. They used two middleware products to control combat, one for physics and one for combat actions. This made programming very simple. All they had to do was link the two systems together. However, it also meant they had very little flexibility in how combat functioned for the player, so if the players did not like the combat system, there was not much Mutable Realms could do to improve it.

During the beta test there were countless complaints about the combat system and hundreds of suggestions on how to improve it. And combat was not the only thing players suggested changes for. The discussion forums were filled with helpful suggestions for improving everything from the chat system to the character models themselves. The final Wish game engine was wonderful and almost everyone enjoyed it, the problem was that everything else in the game felt like an old Gameboy game jury-rigged to run on the internet! Sadly, in a very real sense, their reliance on middleware for everything from combat systems to texture loading meant that was exactly what the developers had wound up with! Still, I do believe the game could have found a solid player base of loyal fans. However, I don't know if that playerbase would have been enough to keep them in business and apparently the management wasn't too sure either.

Further rumblings from the peanut gallery
Next, on a totally different tack, I've been thinking a lot about gender. Why? I dunno, it just kinda worked out that way. Partly because of the prominence of Iraq in the daily news, partly because of the storyline currently underway at El Goonish Shive, and partly because a couple weeks ago a player in Lineage II was following one of my female characters around trying to convince her to have cybersex with him. When I told him I was man playing a female character because I like the way they look, he rapidly oscillated back and forth between accusing me of being some kind of pedophile and begging me to let my character "cyber" with him anyway. Some major gender confusion going on with that kid, I think, which of course begs the question, "What exactly is gender confusion?"

Good question. I don't have an easy answer. is a group that discusses gender issues. Their specific concern is transgender and transsexual awareness. They want people to understand that precisely defined gender roles are not necessarily the best approach for society to take. There are many real people who do not feel comfortable behaving in expected patterns just because they were born with a certain biology. Women carry the babies, men implant them, but that does not mean that the way we dress, the way we speak, the way we walk, or the way we build interpersonal relationships must be defined by our individual biologial role in reproduction. If a person (either man or woman) undergoes an SRS procedure (Sexual reassignment surgery), does it affirm their internal reality or does it pervert their external reality? Why does it matter anyway? If a person is more comfortable wearing a body with different reproductive equipment does that mean we should now treat them differently?

When I was very young I felt that gender and sex were indistinguishable. If you're born with a penis you're a man, if not, you're not. Nowadays I can look back on that fanatic gender assignment and recognize it for what it really is: insecurity. In many cases, a person who insists on social roles defined by reproductive biology does so not because they are comfortable with their own sexuality, but because they themselves are afraid others will not recognize their sexuality and respect it. Men are afraid of being "weak", and women are afraid of being "aggressive", so both of them wind up insisting that "real" men and women behave differently and that difference is defined by biology. Although they present a very strong case, in the end, it's really only their own fear that someone, somewhere, will not take them seriously. Their insistence on gender is a demand for respect, which they may or may not deserve.

Then there is the other side of the coin. Online environments completely mask the reality of who we are. Reality is no longer a part of the equation. The only thing anyone knows is the presentation, and that presentation can never be an exact duplicate of our reality. People online who insist they are only being themselves are in fact acting out a role according to how they want to be seen. The more they insist that they are being "natural", the more likely it is their online persona has little or no relation to how they are in real life, especially when they themselves believe they are presenting an accurate image!

Cyberspace distorts reality. It cannot accurately reflect the real world because the act of engaging in an online reality automatically creates a distance between who you are in real life, and how others see you online. The cyber world is a fictional world. It can never be wholly "real". At best, it can only create a reasonable facsimile, it cannot recreate reality itself. Any online interaction will always be a kind of virtual interaction. That is the nature of the medium. Gender-swapping online is a natural extension of this virtuality. Experimentation is a solid part of human nature, it defines who we are and it is what seperates us from the rest of the animals. The ability, the willingness, and the desire to change our most fundamental nature is in fact, the one thing that makes us human. Every other aspect of our being we share with the animal kingdom. There is nothing else in this world, however, that actively seeks to redefine itself, not even a chameleon.

The only constant in the universe is change, and the desire for change is what makes us human. Gender, the precise defining of socially acceptable behaviors according to reproductive biology, represents a powerful resistance to change. Demanding that men be men and women be women is, in fact, contrary to the most fundamental aspect of what it means to be human. It is a violation of our most basic natural instinct which is, in fact, the need to seek out and create change. Demanding that women dress a certain way, forcing men to dress differently, giving each a different task based on a presumption of their "natural ability" is one of the most unrealistic aspects of human civilization. Precisely defined gender roles violate our nature, and the very act of defining them is inherently unnatural. The only possible outcome of a precisely defined gender role is confusion, which in turn leads to insecurity, which in turn leads to more people insisting on a difference which was never real to begin with.

We are not "men and women". We are people, and as people, we really ought to be smart enough to show one another decency and respect. It's only natural.