Monday, March 24, 2008

Non-Fiction II

A headache was forming in a pinpoint behind his left eyeball. Lawrence had been logged into the game for over an hour now, and unless he logged out soon, he wouldn’t even be able to read for the rest of the afternoon. The game left his eyes fatigued, and left his brain feeling like a round hole with a square peg jammed firmly in place.

The loudspeaker overhead droned on and on in Japanese about some Commencement Ceremony, but he had never really bothered to learn the language. His job was monitoring the machines that provided for the addicts, to take their minds off the pain and suffering that was their everyday lives. Understanding the thoughts and whims of his Japanese overseers at the Not Anymore Addicted Clinic really didn’t apply to that line of work. He used to entertain the notion of explaining that the name of their workplace was completely fucked, but when he went to his bosses office, and saw him wearing a tee shirt proclaiming “We Can Care You Your Health For Now!” he just surrendered.

Interactions with the Japanese were always so strange and distant. He really had no idea what the fuck was going on 90% of the time. They would grab him by the collar, shoving a screwdriver into the palm of his hand and begin yelling about something, pointing towards the jyo-sei incubation center down the hallway. It all sounded very urgent, but to be honest he just couldn’t really be fucked at this point anymore. He’d nod, bow, and try to shuffle off, leaving them rambling on in that babble of theirs. If they didn’t follow him he’d chalk it up to good luck, and just hide the screwdriver somewhere before returning to the typewriter at his desk. He had grown fond of just sticking shit under the sink in the bodily waste disposal room. Sometimes they would run up behind him and point to whatever object they had placed into his hand, and pantomime an action. It was all very silly. Eye contact in Japan was apparently forbidden, so he’d stare at his feet, mumbling in English, until they just got sick of it and walked off.

Back at his typewriter, the situation wasn’t much better. These addicts were suffering, and he was supposed to ease their pain, but how do you ease the pain of slavery? His brainstorming sessions usually ended up with crumpled piles of paper with the words "log out" typed over and over again. Ever since the Parent Corporation had gained a foothold into the government, all restrictions limiting immersion in their universe were thrown out with the trash. The Chinese government had resisted, trying to cut the ‘net trunk lines that fed their children in a desperate last ditch attempt to free themselves, but the children themselves just rerouted the traffic thru proxies in India or Russia. Wireless was everywhere a land line didn’t reach. The internet was too fault-tolerant at this point, and trying to prevent someone from logging in to the game was like trying to keep someone from breathing. A bag over the head would suffice, but had a nasty side effect of invariably killing the patient.

Those in the clinic he serviced were laughable. There was still this notion that a few clung to, mostly from the older generation. They insisted on saying that they were Not Addicted, members of this silly underground new age religion. The ridiculous irony that they held their meetings in the game itself was not lost on this one.

Lawrence was one of a shrinking fraction of the population at this point. Born with what was lamented early on as a brain defect, he had 'an acute inability to spatially interpret a three dimensional area rendered in only two dimensions'. Every second in the game was a jarring ordeal as he tried to navigate simple doors and walkways. He would spend fifteen minutes or an hour just banging up against a wall over and over as he tried to walk down a hallway in-game. What seemed perfectly natural for 99.8 percent of the world’s population left him flustered and aggravated. He was never able to “lose himself” in the game, so his lack of in-game time raised a red flag with the Parent Corporation, and he became singled out and delegated to the custodial positions; caring for the bodies of those 'able to enjoy the better life that the game provided'. His assignment in Japan was completely out of his control, he just took the ticket and boarded the shuttle one day that would take him to his new life. The entire operation had become fully autonomous, he basically just flipped a switch here or there, and even had a growing suspicion that the switches weren’t even attached to anything underneath the dashboards. Japan seemed to be full of others like himself. He would see them at their desks wearing impossibly thick glasses, faces a mask of determination as they tried to navigate to the mailbox in the game. For many generations, Japan was closed off from the rest of the world’s gene pool, and defects like this would pass along in family lines and multiply. The Japanese were the official sheppards of the new generation; herding the sheep along, and managing everything via remote control.

The Parent Corporation was obligated to run these Addiction Awareness clinics, but Lawrence had the sinking suspicion that they were just a way to wrangle those of the population not even able to log in into still being a part of the bigger picture.

The game had been so promising at first. An immense new universe, limited only in size and scope by server hardware. The possibilities were certainly there. A universe where math itself was part of the very fabric of being. Any equation could be executed immediately, without having to “go find a calculator”, or “sit down to a computer”. The world itself was a computer. Scientists could instantly communicate with one another without the need for peripheral devices such as telephone or email. Everything was completely integrated into just existing. Fully scalable complex models could spring forth directly into being. They could reach out from wherever in the world they were and instantly collaborate with as many (or few) as desired. Telepathy realized, in a very real sense. Translation services, while buggy at first, were integrated. They became better over time, as the community developed them and expanded their vocabulary. The downside to all of this was realized much too late, of course, when the limit of said hardware was discovered. Nobody was bothering to build new real systems, since everything was happening on a theoretical area of space that only existed on magnetic drives in a server farm. The theoretical systems realized in the game world were years ahead of anything in the real world, but they never actually bothered to log out and build any of it. Entire generations of computer hardware were postulated on and improved upon time and again. They just refined the ideas over and over in game.

The Parent Corporation realized this and silently logged out to issue patents. Everything in the game was technically ‘theirs’ and they swooped thru the financial structures of the real world (what was left) practically overnight. No one had any real money left to pay for these patents, of course, since much of the work that used to be done outside the game had evolved to take place inside. Nintey percent of what happens in an office is just talking heads gathered around a board room table, or brains sitting in front of a computer monitor pushing buttons on a keyboard. Why go to an office to sit in front of a computer when you can do it all in the game? In-game currency had evolved from the early, fictional, copper and gold pieces into honest to god Dollars and Euros, but it was all still just ones and zeros (literally) on a hard drive in a server farm.

The Parent Corporation graciously accepted a position in the government as payment for keeping The Game running. Though global boundaries no longer had any relevance, 'America' was still happy to find itself in charge of everything that mattered. The mighty military of the western world became an online sports team of sorts; endlessly skirmishing against other nations in virtual conflicts, without all the hassle of bloodshed and death. Even the very time system used in the game was what used to be 'Pacific Standard Time', and eventually everyone on the planet shifted their schedules to wake, log in, and conduct their lives according to what time it was in Irvine, CA at any given moment.

TPC encouraged people to find ways to interface with outside systems via the game. APIs were released, and writing apps where someone flushing an in-game toilet would activate the real life waste excretion incinerator unit was smiled upon. That person might move up a level in the game. Someone designing server maintenance routines would be bumped up to the prestigious title of Game Master or some such.

An orange light began to blink on Lawrence’s desk. An addict was stuck in the geometry of the game, and needed help. These bugs, although rare, detracted from the overall immersion for the end users, and had to be eliminated at all costs. Lawrence sighed, closed his eyes, rubbed his temples, and logged into the game. He found himself stuck in the hallway where he had last logged out. The end of the hallway was the teleporter zone, where he could choose where to dispatch his in-game avatar to help the addict that needed him. If only he could unglue himself from this fucking nub in the wall that was sticking out and blocking his path. No matter which way he turned or rotated, he seemed to be running right into it. Why can’t the edges of the fucking hallway just be smooth flat surfaces all the way to the door at the end?!


God I hate this fucking game.

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