Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Tiwesdaeg- First Cycle

Dear T

Thanks for your comments.  I am afraid that the next extract requires a little explanation. No wolves, no gods - just a story about virtual worlds and games.

Virtual worlds are introduced as an element to rationalize parts of the novel that move protagonists in and out of different times.  This leads to an explanation about the early development in Canberra of massive multi-player role playing games (interactive virtual worlds).  Similar developments can be traced in other cities elsewhere.  Any claim that the concept originated in Canberra would be as silly as the occasional claims made by some to have invented the internet.  

I intend this part to describe an early flowering of creativity - unleashing both good and bad elements.  In later chapters, these good and bad elements are explored after the Canberra firestorm. 

Mount Victoria
January 2011

[This is a fragment from the draft novel, "The Wolves of Ragnarök". It tells, in the first person, the second of the thief's seven stories in the first cycle. The novel itself roughly follows earlier extracts and is set around the fires which damaged Nowra on the South Coast of New South Wales, immediately before the Canberra firestorm, 2003.]

 Bleeding back into
This other world unbidden -
Cold eyes staring

An ancient battlefield, the ruins of war scattered around him, for as far as he chose to look.  In the distance a drum rolled and the echoes of ancient trumpets mingled with the sounds of horror long past.

He paused, confused.  Was this real or simply a memory preserved – perhaps for some drama – and turned back to her.

Some of my earliest experiences were of the stage – my parents loved musicals.  The love has remained strong, and I have played many roles, from writer, lighter, director to actor, lead and support, over the years. 

‘What is this place?’

She turned on him, ‘I am not a fighter.  These are your delusions, not mine.  Take them away.’

In the early days of the computer revolution I bought a franchise to design and sell additions to a popular role playing game of the time.  The franchise excluded computer applications and, under the name 'Games Systems', we started designing and selling stories which people could play.  

Studying the excited literature of the day, a team of designers gathered around.  It wasn't long before we started to develop computer programs to assist manual tasks.  The experience unlocked a wondrous world, barely matched by the primitive graphic capabilities of the day, of fractals, and geometric progressions.  In a spirit of frantic enthusiasm, we gave our all to meeting the design problems of the day – how to encapsulate time based movement, how to create primitive real time games. 

The team was good – within a short period of time, we had exhausted the technological capabilities of the equipment within grasp, and we started to explore basic game dynamics. 

One team examined how to build games that many players could engage in simultaneously – both from a distance and up close.  Another team examined interactions across complex game scenarios – a little like players taking on a role within a play – and continuing to play those roles, over extended periods of time.

Preparations for an extended three day play period one hot January, involving about 200 people, attracted attention from within the local drama community.  Assistance was offered in relation to building sets, creating props and creating costumes.  In one meeting of game designers, script writers, builders and organizers, a consultant director suggested asked me to approach the national drama association for financial support – assured that the association would be both interested and willing to meet some of the mounting costs of the production.

An application was prepared and dispatched – and, just as quickly forgotten – as the hectic preparations continued. Boisterous meetings, boundless enthusiasm, and people from increasing circles drawing emerging technologies into the mix.  A video camera – still a luxury – was hired at great cost to record the event.  A university supercomputer was co-opted to print currency and create world maps. 

The meeting with the association brought me back to earth.  It still seems surreal.

I was summoned to the association mid-afternoon – into the foundry – a small theater used to develop new plays and rehearse those in the early days of production.  Low – built in the style of an old roman villa, with baked clay tiles, it looked ancient.

I dressed in all my legal finery – my revolutionary jacket, flying boots and, an afterthought, a cloak. I entered the dusty hall, to meet the committee.  In the half light, I saw them, sitting on the stage.  

They asked me to stand before them, in the seating area reserved for the audience.

‘We have your application – we do not understand what you propose.’

‘Explain what type of entertainment you are proposing’, I was asked.

I propose a different type of entertainment.  All around me is a passive audience.  I believe that the audience can be empowered – that within the bounds of a scripted drama everyone within the theater can be engaged.

Nonsense – the essence of drama is focus.  How could there be focus?

Imagine an event of great stress within a bounded community.  A drama might be scripted that takes each of the audience out of themselves into a world of our making, confronting them with choices, allowing the plot to develop as the community develops.

            Let me get this right – you are not scripting this drama? 

Not quite – significant events might be partially scripted – perhaps even delivered by a professional actor or filmed and thrown onto a screen in the playing area.

            So the audience would not be sitting in their seats?

No – I propose to build a series of props through the theater – the audience would populate the props and play out the lives of the characters.

            How would this happen?

Each player, member of the audience, would be given a sketch of their character.  Their physical characteristics would be set mathematically, to allow interaction in the event of a tussle of wills, the use of an artifact or exercise of a skill.

We don’t understand you.

Assume we set the drama in a tight community – perhaps an island.  At the start each member of the audience would be given a role to play within the community of the island.  Into the lives of these characters we would introduce discordant themes – perhaps a series of threats to the safety of the community which every member must contribute a part in meeting.  We might expect to see the predefined leadership roles change as people work together to solve problems and build solutions.

One of the ‘audience’ might play a guard.  The guard might determine the nature of a threat and report it to her superior officer.  The conversation might be overheard and reported to town folk – while the official report is taken to the town council. 

If the guard confronts the threat, we would determine outcomes on the basis of chance and the mathematical profile of the guard, and the threat.

Sounds pretty boring.  How would you keep people’s attention?      

I have described a single threat – within the initial set up there may be many pre-existing stresses between a number of the ‘audience’ – and the threats brought to bear internally and externally would be designed to amplify some of these and create new dynamics. 

Remind me – why are you doing this – who is watching?

Well – the ‘audience’ is participating in the action – every person sees a different part of the action.  Each person will come away from the drama with a personal appreciation of what has happened.

Is there a Director? 

A committee has been working on preparing each of the character sketches – but there is no director.

Enough.  This is the most stupid idea ever presented to this committee. 

It cannot work – the audience will get bored and walk away.  It is not entertainment.

There can be no cohesion without script.  There is no focus without the essential elements of a stage and an audience.  The stage focuses an audiences’ attention – it allows a director to refine the drama – it permits every member of the audience to appreciate the same action.

Without a stage, there can be no drama.  Since plays were first performed, in the Greek amphitheaters, there has been a stage, and audience – there has been focus, and script.

There can be no development of excellence.  How could it be repeated – who would come back to see it – it does not make sense.

Come back to us with a drama and we will reconsider your application.

I walked away from the association, confused.

The convention went ahead as planned at the end of that hot January in an massive old hall – the Albert Hall, located on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin – and at the end of three days of solid drama, the 200 members of the ‘audience’ collapsed in exhaustion and argument about what they had experienced. 

There was excitement – everyone knew they had done something never attempted before – but no one could describe any more than they had experienced.  The audience came up with a name to describe the experience – they called it free form role-play – a unique form of drama.

The original story line developed by the committee had had to be thrown away at the end of the first day – the ‘audience’ generated a powerful dynamic driving the story in directions unanticipated, unplanned and highly emotionally charged.  We had not anticipated the strength of emotion – ‘audience’ players laughed, cried, argued, fell in love, hated and lived.

The threats we had devised proved too easy for a coherent community to overcome.  On the second day, the Committee had to sabotage the town council and send in a team of actors as wave after of wave of coherent threat.  As island members were killed, and new leaders arose to meet new challenges the community started to twist before us in ways the committee could not contain or control.  It became powerful and hungry.  It demanded new stories, new ideas – and when the committee failed to deliver, the community improvised.

The committee retired exhausted, fragments of the day captured by a camera man engaged to record the event, with promises to try to make sense of the event. 

The form was reported through the youth network.  Variants were tried with different degrees of success in other world cities within the year.  Merged with ideas of computer assisted games, the vision of a ‘virtual’ community started to appear in literature, and became the focus of computer application development.

I left the company soon after - pursuing trial work and leaving games theory behind.  The developers were snapped up by overseas companies, becoming leaders in their field.  Others turned to writing - one achieved world wide fame.

Decades later, with the emergence of the internet and powerful graphical applications, virtual communities became a reality – with all the strengths and weaknesses we observed that hot January in Canberra. 

They called these entertainments massive multi-player online role playing games.  There was no attempt to describe these as dramas – there was no stage apart from the individual portal provided by each players computer screen – there was no audience apart from the watching eyes of every participant.

Into these games fell a generation – and like the initial audience, they laughed, cried, argued, fell in love, hated and lived.  Increasingly trapped within the bounds of the electronic community.  No longer bounded by a three day long weekend in Canberra on a hot January, real people started to live their lives in artificial worlds and communities. 

People left the real world, the world of the sky and trees and earth and concrete and water and clouds.  A generation was transfixed by shared fictive memories.  So many lives lost to electric dreams.

She turned to him, ‘Your arrogance is astounding.  You have too high an opinion of yourself.  This would have happened with or without you – you have done nothing.’

He turned and looked at the ground.  'I did nothing.  I could have changed it.  I could have stopped it.'

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