Thursday, October 30, 2008

Online Interactivity and Social Networking: Warhammer Style

Journal Entry No. 6

Social networking has improved tremendously over the past recent years. I think massively multiplayer online games are an extension of this growth. First, in the early days of AOL Instant Messenger, people could jump into different chat rooms that are separated by different tastes. For example, car mechanics could join the same chat room and instantly have something in common with everyone else in the chat room. Forums were (and are) the same idea. Second Life, I believe, was another step. People suddenly had three dimensional avatars to portray themselves: and, instead of chat rooms, there were huge, 3D worlds to socialize in. Car mechanics could suddenly go to a world full of other car fans, and people interested in virtual slavery could find a world for them. Still, all of these tools still allowed people to be anti-social. What if a tool, or a game, forced you to be social?

I think MMORPG's have successfully done just that. Of course, there is the way MMORPG systems link people together in parties: damage dealers need tanks, tanks need healers, and healers need tanks. Playing Warhammer Online, I have realized that other systems exist in MMORPG worlds: and in Warhammer, the system is really cool.

As my little goblin character, I eventually made it to the gigantic hub of all evil characters: The Inevitable City. Despite the morbidity of the dark city, it felt very alive. Monsters lurked just outside the city walls, which were made up of huge black spikes; shopkeepers stood waiting and calling for you; people bustled all over; goblins were seen tricking some orcs in a game of dice. After exploring the city a little bit, I found some fellow guild mates. I also saw some players were of other guilds, with whom we had sort of a rivalry (though, later, we would end up forming an alliance with them. Keep your enemies close and all that). Soon afterwards, there was a lot more talking in the area. The forces of Destruction (that's us) were very successful, since the launch of the game, to be able to capture most of the keeps in the game. Anyone can check on the keeps at any time on the map: red for Destruction, blue for Order. Suddenly, as people in the Inevitable City were clamoring over, many of the red symbols were blue. First, it was just one. No problem. But then there was one right after the other – in a span of about 15 minutes, Order had become organized enough to take over the forces of Destruction in four different keeps. Parties were soon being formed in the City: my guild members and I were soon a part of warband of two other guilds, but our goal was the same. Get back the keeps.

We were lucky enough to first go after a keep with relatively low defenses. Soon afterwards we ran to another keep, and entertainingly enough defenders of the last keep died trying to follow us. After some great battles and some good leadership we knocked down the door of the next keep and took it over after a bit of work. We got three keeps back that night, but by the time I went to sleep, the forces of Order were already pushing back. After our third keep, though, the first keep we got was already blue again. On our march back there, we had encountered a gigantic Order war party. Our little band of heroes was no match for them, though we kept trying. As fun as success was, I felt that the defeat brought our three guilds even more so together, and the main similarity between us grew even stronger: we needed to kill the other guys.

Many people still feel that feelings can never be represented on a computer, and that no one can really socialize with a computer. An article about the first interactive video art installation states that “some people feel that computer systems will eventually reflect the personality and biases of their users. Yet these systems only appear to talk back. That they are alive or independent is an illusion. They depend upon the architectural strategy of the program” (The Fantasy Beyond Control, Lynn Hershman, page 3). I think things like Second Life and Warhammer Online have drastically changed this outlook: no long is there a false illusion of computer systems talking back. Now, experiences can depend totally on other people, on totally organic living people, perhaps on the other side of the world. One person is looking at another person's 3D avatar, made by a 3D artist and programmed by a programmer, existing on computer functions, but the feelings and actions of that avatar are led completely by its user. Thus, personality and biases are reflected in these avatars, in these computer systems. Programs like Warhammer Online bring people together towards a common goal, and force people to socialize. The more people talk, the better organized the team will be, and the more likely that team can take over a keep or whatever needs some good taking over. This comes close to being even more of a social interaction that some real life experiences. Walking in the middle of New York City, for example, no one talks to you unless you talk to them first, usually. The same as in the Inevitable City. But in the Inevitable City, a large portion of the City might suddenly band together in defense of their keeps. Still, these avatars are still goblins and dwarves. In the future, avatars, I think, will become more responsive and controllable to the user's personality with appropriate, smooth, facial expressions and the like. Often times, though, I feel more at home being a goblin anyway.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Notes after reading Stephenson's "The Diamond Age"

Journal Entry No. 5

After reading the entirety of The Diamond Age, as it follows Hackworth's descent from moral, skilled man to becoming The Alchemist, and Nell's rise from an unlucky child to a Queen, I'm still more than a little confused about everything. Maybe another read through of the second part might help.

Anyway, I have some main comments and questions about all of it, and perhaps I missed hints describing this. But, where did the Drummers come from? Did Dr. X design those nanomachines to infect the Drummers only to steal and share Hackworth's skills? Also, was Miranda just incredibly unlucky to become Nell's mother? (Or, how much impact did Miranda have on the Primer - did the Primer raise Nell or was it really Miranda? Miranda seems like an unlucky spectator to me.)

Also, for the boat scene, why a clown? And, is the Seed better than the Feed? Would things be better without this Feed? It sounds like communism versus anarchy to me.

I like how the Raven is a common theme throughout the book. The raven first appears in a poem by Coleridge (which is significant because Finkle-McGraw, who seems to be the puppetmaster of much of this, offers the poem to Hackworth.) Then, the raven appears as the first word Nell learns to spell, and shows up in later tales as well as a character. I also like the Dinosaur story a lot - it was of course a prelude to Nell learning how to fight, but what else did that story serve as? An explanation of how nanomachines fight against eachother? Or how the subset cultures fight against eachother?

Either way, I think I'd enjoy reading an illustrated primer, and think that "Kidnapper" was a great name for Hackworth's "pet."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Journal Entry No. 4

A journal entry from Warhammer Online. (WAR, a new MMORPG, went live on Sept. 18, 2008.) This is from the perspective of Karbunkle, the goblin squig herder.

I can't remembur it, but I knows dat I was born. I wuzza spore, and I came from outta space. I grew up, an time flew by reeel fast, an den I ended up 'ere, at this war camp. War is everywhere. There are bigun green orc bullies an gobbos me size scurryin' around wif weapons in da air. I've bin able to train these squigs; they are basically livin' stikkbomz wif big fangs. These, I consida me weapons, though I also carry a bow an arrer and a big stikk. Explosions are everywhere. Weez in a swamp, liddered wif big spikes stickin' outta da ground fer protection. Trees stand tall against da mountain, but da per-tty scenury does not cova up da war at hand.

Ahead o' me is a bigun orc squattin' on a dragon. He is decked out in fancy iron armor, painteded wif red blood stripez. It is obvious dat this orc is tougha dan da uvver ones – 'is helmet has horns stickin' out of it an he doesn't wince at any ting. 'Is name is Skarzag. He tells me dat “stunties are fer smashin'!” and orders me ta go down da hill there and kills sum stunties (stunties, which we have been warrin' wif fer ages). I pray to da godz Gork an Mork an head down the hill. There are dozens o' orkies wif choppas and boards in their 'ands, alongside shaman gobbos, swingin' their staves around an castin' dem spells. I give me squig a mean look, jus' so he knows not ta eat me, an den I poke 'im so he goes an attacks one of da stuntiss. I pull out me bow and arrer an shoot an shoot an shoot. Plink, plink, plink went me arrows. Before I knew it da stunty was dead; he barely put up a fight, I think. I go back to Skarzag ta tell 'im wot a good job I did – and he gives me sum nice new boots, he does!

I den find a gobbo named, “Crankz.” He tells me ta find some barrels by da swampy area near da dwarven keep an break dim open. I go down there like he says, and sure enough there's a bunch o' barrels sittin' around. But they is movin'. I qwickly break wun open ta see wut's inside – wodda ya know – a stripped, dizzy stunty! I take me stick, poke a few 'oles in 'im, den let me sqwiggy take da last bite outta 'im. Afta breakin' open three more barrels, I go back ta Crankz. He den tells me ta proceed ta Lobber Hill.

At Lobber Hill, I jump right inta wona them big wooden machines. Very advanceded – there must be two or tree movin' parts – probably took dim at least two minutes ta put dis togevva – an da slingshot machine launchez me up into da air. I'z flyin' fer maybe 10 seconds before I land, perfectly fine, on top o' da dwarven keep. Here, I meet another gobbo. 'Is name is Mugrush Gutsticka. He tells me ta find a knocked-out stunty. I move around on top o' da keep ta find more greenskins and stunties at war. I watch as an orc bashes a stunty on da haed wif 'is fist an leavz 'im there on da ground. I qwickly scurry over wif me squig ta pick 'im up. This fat stunty is reeelly 'eavy. I carry 'im over ta me new gobbo friend, who sez ter put 'im in a barrel. I stuff 'im in der good and close da lid. Den, Mugrush sez, push 'im! I push 'im off da side o' da keep an watch 'im splat inta da swamp below! Waaagh! So datz how da barrels ended up down there wif stunties in dim!

Lata, I happen upon a snotling – a lil' greun guy, not even a foot tall. He tells me there'z a shiny treasure in da heap o' trash behind 'im. Of course, me godda go look. Suddenly, I'm gettin' swarmeded by half a dozen more snotlin's! Me and me squig are bitin', stabbin', an shootin', and eventually come through, alive, wif dead snotling bodies all around us, and no shiny fing ta take home.

I proceeded a bit furda, and find more orkies an gobbos attackin' some squigs, who are all scurryin' around. I soon notice dat da squigs are all scurryin' around a huge giant. He has white skin and a big belly, but he iz as tall as 20 big orkies standin' on top of each odder'z shouldaz! A gobbo shaman looks at me and sez, “'Oi! You bigga than I is! Well, let me tell ya, we're 'elping out Ugrog the giant here, the squigs won't leave 'im alone! Ugrog sez he'll help us smash into dat stunty fortress if we help 'im, though!” I quickly order me squig ta go bite da nearest squig. Furst he tries ta bite himself, but den decides not ta, and runs afta a squig by Ugrog'z big left foot. I fling sum arrows toward it, and down it goes. Squishy as eva. We kills all da annoyin' squigs, and Ugrog tromps over to da door, but den falls to his butt. He sez ta us, “I ain't pickin' up dat spikey ball until I'm gud an drunk!” Nearby we see about 20 beer barrels filled to da brim – we quickly bring dim to 'im. Afta gulpin' dim all down wif out even a twitch, he gets up, grabs this big spikey ball, and brings it to da stunty door. He smashes it into da door, and it explodes! Blowin' da door open, and killin' Ugrog in da process. A dozen stunties come out, but they are no match fer us greenskins. We are all of a tribe, da BLOODY SUN BOYZ. No stunties iz eva goin' ta git in our way.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cyberpunk Timeline: 1980 - 1981

What happened in 1980? (And what makes these events cyberpunk?)

The movie "Lathe of Heaven" was released. The movie is a science fiction film about whose dreams alter reality. The movie takes place in the future, and becomes more "futuristic" the more he dreams. There is also a fear of the protagonist's dreams destroying the world.

The board game "Car Wars" was released. Car Wars is a post-apocalyptic vehicle combat simulation game.

Commodore releases the "friendly computer," the VIC-20. Computers are starting to be part of people's homes.

Mattel releases Intellivision nationwide. Video games are becoming are a part of people's lives by becoming more accessible. Entertainment is now a virtual realm anyone can step into.

"The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" published. Part of the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series of books, which is a funny look at futuristic science fiction future in which the Earth gets blown up by aliens.

The movie "Mad Max" is released internationally. It's an apocalyptic action thriller film set in the near future of a bleak, dystopian, impoverished Australia that is facing a breakdown of civil order primarily due to widespread oil shortages.

The character "Cyborg" of DC Comics is introduced. He is a half-man, half-robot superhero, who was the son of a pair of scientists who decided to use him as a test subject for various intelligence enhancement projects.

The movie "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back" is released. It is the sequel to the popular Star Wars franchise, featuring more lightsabers, laser guns, and robots, as well as Luke Skywalker getting his hand cut off, only to be replaced by a robotic hand.

Bruce Bethke claims to have coined the term "cyberpunk", though the story, "cyberpunk", would not be released until three years later. The short story was a high-tech science fiction story about a group of teenage crackers with ethical shortcomings. Bethke said that the coining of the word was his attempt to find a word that would combine the notions of punk attitudes and high-technology.

Gene therapy was introduced. Gene therapy is basically the repairing of genes to correct for diseases that result from a loss or change in our genetic material. Human DNA, our very coding, is able to be messed and meddled with. Could the ability to change human DNA be a bad thing? Don't ask a cyberpunk author, or else you might be having nightmares for weeks.

What happened in 1981? (And what makes these events cyberpunk?)

The movie “Looker” was released. The movie is about a plastic surgeon who works on four beautiful models when they start dying under mysterious circumstances. Paranoia is of course ever present in much of cyberpunk, and this movie is no different. This time the paranoia rests on a company that develops new advertising technologies.

The movie “Heavy Metal” was released. The film is an anthology of various science fiction and fantasy stories adapted from “Heavy Metal” magazine and original stories in the same spirit. The stories take you from space stations to zombies, and is rooted together with plenty of bloody violence, nudity, and sexuality.

The video game “Astrosmash” was released for Intellivision. It goes on to sell one million copies. People, more and more, are allowing electronics to take up their time and become part of their lives. In this very sci-fi game, the player takes control of a laser cannon, then protects the Earth from falling asteroids, missiles, and UFO's.

The TV series “Hitchhiker's Guide to the Glaxy” airs. Douglas Adams's famous, hilarious take on the cyberpunk fear of the world ending reaches the masses through the magic of television.

The movie “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” is released. Once again the viewers follow Max as he scrounges for the little bit of gasoline left in the world with his dog and a sawed off shotgun. The film's comic-book styled, post-apocalyptic, punk world popularized the post-apocalyptic genre in film and fiction writing and instantly became a cult classic.

The story “The Gernsback Continuum” by William Gibson is released. The story appeared in Gibson's Burning Chrome anthology. This story marks the beginning of Gibson's shaping of the cyberpunk world. This story does not drop the reader into, rather, has the reader follow the protagonist as he sees flashes of an alternate reality. An all too perfect futuristic would-be world with no regard for fossil fuels and where everyone looks the same.

The story “The Belong Kind”, a collaboration between noted cyberpunk authors William Gibson and John Shirley, is released. The story is set in a more modern time, where the protagonist follows a seemingly human woman around as she goes to different bars until he finds out she is some kind of creature. Then, he himself, becomes one these belonging kind. Once again, paranoia of the frailty of the human race is evident in this cyberpunk story.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Blade Runner Analysis - Where is Mercer?

Journal Entry No. 3

In 1968, Philip K. Dick wrote wrote one of the most compelling cyberpunk novels in history, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Fourteen years later, in 1982, Ridley Scott directed the cult hit film, Blade Runner, loosely based on Dick's previously mentioned novel. Between that span of time something dramatically changed in the tale of the bounty hunter, Rick Deckard. Both the movie and the text are meant to question us on what exactly is human? To answer this question, Dick and Scott use completely different androids and characters in support of their arguments. The novel asks, “what if a bounty hunter felt empathy for the androids he is meant to kill?” The movie asks, “what if an android could feel, or perhaps mimic, empathy?”

The movie left out a key character from the novel, the religious figure Mercer. “He is the focal point of the universal religion of humanity in the novel, the savior and God. He is a figure that the murderous androids, who the bounty hunter Rick Deckard is charged with finding and 'retiring,' do not understand and absolutely hate. Mercer represents the embodiment of “empathy,” an emotion that the androids lack and that the humans share amongst each other” (Waking the Midnight Sun, par 1). Throughout the course of the novel, Dick shows how similar androids are to humans. As a reader, it is easy to feel empathetic toward the androids – indeed, Deckard is shown to have feelings toward the androids, which is a major problem for a bounty hunter. By the end of the novel, though, it is clear that there is a severe distinction between androids and humans. Mercrer acts as a support in this. Androids can never feel empathy, and to further prove this, they can not understand Mercer or his religion, a physical representation of empathy. In fact, it is not so much that humans need religion: Mercer is shown to be a “fake” near the end of the novel. It is more about how humans will always feel the need to be connected. “Mercerism” allowed them to do just this. The novel also examines the question of, what if an obviously human person cannot feel empathy because of a mental disease? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? suggests that humans will always be able to tell the difference between people and androids – maybe not always by a manufactured Voight-Kampff test, but humans will be able to feel that androids are inherently strange. Deckard is able to feel this distinction, and is able to connect with Mercer. Deckard, in the novel, is obviously human. So, what does it mean when Mercer is removed from the story? What if Deckard's humanity was removed the story?

Despite the differences between the novel and the film, “Blade Runner is [still] explicitly concerned with the question of what it is to be a human being” (Mulfall, par 1). Mercer is removed, but a new character replaces him. This character's name is Gaff, and he works in the same department as Deckard. Throughout the movie, with several scenes of dialogue and a daydream scene, it is supposed that the Deckard in the film has a severe difference from the Deckard in the novel: he is an android. According to the director of Blade Runner, Rildley Scott, “the whole point of Gaff, the whole point in that direction at the very end, if Gaff is an operator for the department, then Gaff is also probably an exterminator. Gaff, at the end, doesn't like Deckard, and we don't really know why. And if you take for granted for a moment that, let's say, Deckard is Nexus 7, he probably has an unknown life span and therefore is starting to get awfully human. Gaff, just at the very end, leaves a piece of origami, which is a piece of silver paper you might find in a cigarette packet. And it's of a unicorn, right? So, the unicorn that's used in Deckard's daydream tells me that Deckard wouldn't normally talk about such a thing to anyone. If Gaff knew about that, it's Gaff's message to say, 'I've basically read your file, mate'” (Grenwald, par 32). The image of a unicorn is an important one in the film. A unicorn can be seen several times if one is paying attention. The unicorn is an interesting choice, because in Deckard's dream, it is as if he is having a memory of a unicorn, which obviously could not be real. Instead of simply meaning that it is a strange dream, it can be said the dream, or memory, was manufactured. “Perhaps the most important aspect of the recently released director's cut is the footage of Deckard's dream. He dreams of a unicorn. This is directly referenced at the ending in which another blade runner, Graff, leaves an origami Unicorn outside Deckard's door to signify that he is allowing Deckard to escape with Rachael. By this inclusion, Scott lends weight to the 'Deckard as a replicant' concept by implying that another blade runner knew Deckard's dreams” (Reagle, par 5). Ridley Scott seems to be providing an entirely different scenario than Philip K. Dick. Scott seems to think that androids would be able to mimic humans to a much higher degree than supposed in Dick's novel. The androids in Blade Runner seem to have empathy for other androids, while in the novel it is said that androids would kill another android without thinking about it to save their own “lives.” Scott seems to think that androids could feel, or perhaps mimic, love for each other, hence the last moment in the movie, where Deckard runs off with his new love, Rachael. Indeed, Blade Runner can be seen as a love story, which is a severe difference between Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In the novel, Deckard find out that it is impossible for him to love an android. The fundamental differences between the two stories may explain the reasoning for the different titles. In fact, the words “blade runner” never even appeared in the text.

Ridley Scott also plays with the idea of one finding his own creator. “By having a race created by man, Scott can portray a confrontation between creator and created, or to place it in a more human context, a confrontation between God and Mankind. Roy is seeking longevity, and finds Tyrell, the designer who masterminded the Nexus 6 Replicants.... In a similar way that Man rejects God for having made him sinful, so too does Batty reject Tyrell, when Tyrell cannot offer him salvation. However, Batty is in some way saved by the end when he saves Deckard's life, and the symbol of the dove released into the heavens, and the nail through Roy's palm, are quite clear in representing him as a Christ figure making his ascension” (Scott, par 5 and 6). Blade Runner should be examined as a story of androids, not just that of Rick Deckard, like the novel. In this way, it becomes obvious why Mercer is absent from the movie. Mercer is meant to be the prime example of differences between humans and androids. Ridley Scott's film supposes that androids, being so close to humankind, would mimic them in such a way that they would incorporate empathy and love into their lives. In the case of the androids, Roy Batty becomes the Mercer of humans: the physical representation of empathy.

If androids could pass the Voight-Kampff test and show empathy, would that make them human? I still feel that we would be able to feel a difference. I think that both tales explain the need to never make robots too much like humans. In Dick's version, androids are a human made project gone wrong. In Scott's version, androids are a sacrifice for selfish human desires.

Works Cited

Grenwald, Ted. “Full Transcript of Wired's Interview with Ridley Scott.” Wired Magazine: Issue 15.10. 26 Sept 2007. 01 Oct 2008.<>.

Mulhall, Stephen. “Picturing the Human.” Blade Runner Insight. 16 Dec 2002. 01 Oct 2008.<>.

Reagle, Joseph. “The Parting of the Mist: An Analysis of Blade Runner.” 1995. 01 Oct 2008. <>.

Scott, Simon H. “Is Blade Runner a Misogynist Text?” 01 Oct 2008. <>.

“Mercer and Krishna: Blade Runner & The Bhagavad Gita.” Waking the Midnight Sun. 31 Aug 2008. 01 Oct 2008. <>.