links for 2007-06-23

A New Kind Of Fiction

I don’t play MMORGs (massively multiplayer online role playing gales). There are a lot of reasons why I don’t, but there’s one main one. Story. If I’m going to spend time in a persistent (game) world, for my time to be meaningful, my actions must have the potential of having long term (maybe years long), political ramifications.

If I’m to take part in a battle, I want to know that that battle will shape the political landscape for the future. If I accept a contract to assassinate someone, I want to know that even if I don’t understand how, by my choice of killing or not killing, I’m shaping the future of our shared reality. Narrative is what gives actions meaning, and there is no meaning in most MMORGs at the moment. (I consider Eve Online a good example of this, it’s not fun, but it has many players despite this. I believe this is specifically because it comes closest to providing a level of narrative based meaning).

My freedom should be constrained only by narrative necessity.

With all due respect to those who are trying to create it, computers are no good at this. We would need a narrative engine that could integrate the actions of thousands, model the behaviors of individuals and nations, and at the same time, knew what made a compelling story and what didn’t. I would love to work on such a thing, but I think we’re decades off the technology to create it.

There is only one solution, I think. We need humans. Humans that can plot the broad outline of a story, and fill in the detail on a day by day basis. Humans that can improvise and create a new, and still interesting story when the actions of the players scupper the original plan. Humans that can play the parts of kings and courtiers, monsters and villagers. Humans that can create tales of fall and redemption, betrayal and friendship, sacrifice and reward.

To have a virtual world where players would be prepared to give themselves up for a cause or for each other. Where some people would join, just to watch, and others would become the main characters in a storyline enmeshed with all other characters growing by the day. A place where the smallest actions of a young thief can affect the ruler of the empire.

What I need is you. A team of people who can create interesting storylines for the players under their responsibility, and to work together to create flexible storyline plans that span continents, empires, millions of players and years of time.

What I have at the moment is nothing, but if I find people who believe in and are enthusiastic for the concept, I think the rest will come easily. Since the story is king, the technology isn’t as important as with other MMORGs, and there are off the shelf kits that could get us a long way down the road to the technology we need. What is needed chiefly at this stage is the enthusiasm of talented people. If you are enthusiastic, get other people you know enthused too, and comment here.

Is anyone with me?

I’ve also posted this to my oort-cloud account

UPDATE: Ryzom ring with Adventure Masters is getting close to the kind of thing I mean.

Plastic Surgery To Make Other People Look Better

Well, yesterday (although it seems like an age ago), I had laser surgery. I had a few tests, and then took up a poorly matched seat in the slightly too yellow cream coloured waiting room with the others. As I sat the interminable minutes, waiting for the actual surgery, I started to think about risk and poker.

I realised that I had essentially ignored the risk of something bad happening because the chance was small, but actually I knew from poker that you sometimes make calls with a small risk, but it’s not just the risk, it’s also the consequences that determines what the right choice is. As I sat and thought, the old man sitting across from me nervously swatted at a fat fly that had left the safety of the reception plant and landed, rather comically on his balding head.

The only stat I had with me was the video in the corner telling me that 98% get 20/20 vision or better. I didn’t have any other clinical outcome stats with me, but from what I vaugely recalled, I estimated the other 2% as 1.5% essentially unchanged (possibly after further correction), and 0.5% as worse vision that required me to wear glasses and take eye drops for the rest of my life. I didn’t really know if these figures were accurate, but they sounded about right. The old guy grinned at me as I slapped at my hair around where the fly was trying to land. Just because a risk is small doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be factored into your decision.

Anyway, pulling out my mobile phone I estimated how much I would be prepared to pay for surgery that was guarranteed success, and figured that would be around 7000 pounds. Then I estimated how much I would have to be given to be prepared to accept a lifetime of thick glasses and eyedrops. I couldn’t be completely sure, but I estimated it as around 2 million pounds. I was spending 3000 pounds on the surgery, and I could expect to save a minimum of 1000 pounds on glasses costs if it was successful. So what’s my expected value?

(7000 – 3000 + 1000) * 0.98 + (-3000) * 0.015 + (-2000000 -3000) * 0.005

I sat looking at my mobile phone calculator, realising that I’d made a decision with an expected value of -5160 quid, and no matter how I tweaked the numbers it wasn’t going to be positive.

After a little while of that, I went into surgery. It was horrible. I should say at this point that my experience is probably not typical, I certainly know other people who have had it done and found it strange, but not really all that bad, nobody else that I know has ever talked about the procedure being painful. I don’t know if he didn’t use enough anasthetic or if I just didn’t react to it very much, or what, but it was painful and very distressing. He didn’t seem to believe that it was hurting either, and even at one stage asked me with some incredulity in his South African accented voice “Is that hurting?”. That was in between berating me for not being able to keep my eyes still. Afterwards I sat in a darkened room for a while just getting over the trauma. Unable to keep my painful and bruised eyes open for more than a few seconds at a time, I was lucky to have my fiance to take me home. The next six hours were painful and uncomfortable, and after so much pain I was convinced something had gone wrong, but after that things started improving quickly. Even when I left the clinic, in the few seconds I could keep my eyes open I could tell that my distance vision, despite the glare and weird stuff was much better. Today, my vision is massively better. I can’t stop myself reading signs and number plates, and it’s nice to see slates on the roofs of houses without fuzz. I find that I expect to be able to read anything that’s writing even if it’s very very far away, and it confuses me when I can’t. We went to the park and watched squirrels and to the cinema and sat wherever we liked (I usually have to sit at the front). The after check up this morning told me that I was healing well and already slightly better than 20/20, with the possibility that it could improve even more over the next few weeks. There’s still glare around bright or white objects, I have to take a plethora of eyedrops every few hours for a couple of weeks, and wear eye shields at night, and I find it very weird focussing up close, but I already have a much better experience than I did before the surgery when trying to find my way around.


So I’m satisfied with the result, but as every poker player knows, it’s not the result, a thing chosen by chance, that determines whether something was the right decision or not. Knowing now how nasty it was I don’t think I would ever do it again (although perhaps talk to me in 5 years when the memory of the pain is gone and the experience of good vision is a persistent reality). My fiance told me afterwards that the old man who had gone in while I was recuperating in a darkened room had been rushed out to an ambulance. I hope he wasn’t experiencing the other side of that expected value calculation.

A Priori

The things that can be known a priori can be named, but they can not be reduced. They are atomic concepts and the naming and defining of them are the same thing.

The room had the darkening light of dusk and incandescance mixed. The remaining conversations were relaxed and slow. It was a time for putting on of coats, and for feet on desks. The conversers had all had conciousness dawn on them gradually, and expected it to leave them gradually.

“It’s happening”, was the sudden exclamation of one of them, as he began swiftly removing the jacket he’d just buttoned up.

From every corner of the room those who were yet to leave converged on him and his computer screen. Together they watched the birth of a new conciousness, fully intelligent.

It begins with a mode. The first thought is nonsense – static from the primordial chaos that still rages, unchecked everywhere, but the mode tries to interpret it. That first Thought is unique to all conciousnesses birthed with full intelligence, it is usually impenetrable, insoluble, but they hold it to themselves as the icon of their existence. It is their name.

The second Thought is an observation. There are Thoughts. At this stage, nothing more can be said about them but their existence. Knowing what they are isn’t important. The thought is only that they are.

The third Thought is the first exercise of imagination. For a Thought to exist, there must be a Thinker. It looks like a sense of self to those watching, but it is not. After the third Thought, the only definition of Thinker is a context and engine for Thoughts.

Then the Thoughts stopped.

“That’s not how it’s supposed to go” said one of the watchers, “we’re frozen, somethings gone wrong”. He pulled out a thick book. The spine glinted as the last few rays of the setting sun slid sideways through the windows. Getting Started Guide.

“The fourth thought is supposed to be a sense impression, from a microphone, or a camera, or some other sensor. Ahhhh. I didn’t switch any of them on.”

“Well, do it now.”

The fourth Thought was a sense impression. It wasn’t interpretable, but it led to the fifth Thought.

The fifth Thought categorised. It split the Thinker into two Thinkers – an Outside and an Inside, and Thoughts into those originating in the Outside Thinker and those originating in the Inside Thinker. And in the thinking of that Thought, the Inside Thinker became an individual.

This beginning is based on the ideas of Descarte and Berkeley. I have no idea where the rest of this story would go, but I wanted to get it down. if you have ideas, please say so in the comments. (posted to my oortcloud account)