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vCity 1.0
by Dr. Adam L. Gruen

20 days in the life of a 21st century virtual city simulation.

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vCity 1.0
Chapter 12

"...diverse communities do not arise spontaneously, nor are spontaneously maintained, but instead have to be created and urged into being."

-- Richard Sennett --

Tourism is to the vCity what sunlight is to a forest. Without tourist interest, there would be no influx of vCitizens. Without new vCitizens, there would be no evolution and diversity and therefore no incremental revenue from advertisers, marketeers, toolmakers, or resellers. Our corporation did not invent the vCity out of the goodness of our own hearts. We did it to make a profit for our shareholders. If we happen to advance the cause of humanity and civilization and sustainable biodiversity of planet Earth, that is strictly a fringe benefit.

There is no such thing as a typical tourist. In the most general terms, it is a human being over the age of four who has a PC, an Internet connection, and web-browsing software. That pretty much defines about one billion people today. The rest of the world, even in the year 2002, just isn't linked yet, either because they have a lousy telecomm infrastructure, or because they can't afford the toys, or because they suffer under the humiliation of living in a People's Democracy somewhere.

Of those one billion people, about 90% have what we call "skinny pipes," anathema to the internetworking industry because it makes the most vibrant, fantastic new digitized products and services about as exciting as watching milk curdle. A "skinny pipe" is an Internet connection over a copper telephone wire transmitting and receiving data at 28.8K bits per second. It is pretty good at basic things like downloading text files and e-mail. It pretty much sucks at anything else. Well, maybe I am being harsh. I can remember a time when I thought that 2.4K bits per second was a startling technological advance. And we do have some amazingly efficient software packages (our own corporation sells the Major Crunch! product for only $14.99 plus applicable sales tax) that could compress an elephant down to the size of a mouse. But the bottom line remains that if you need to send someone a Meg (1,000K bytes) of content, it's still going to take a minute. And if you're trying to megaburp (send 1,000K bytes per second), that's a problem.

Anyway, what this boils down to is that our potential effective customer base is about 100 million people worldwide. These are people who can "speak" the electronic/ photonic language of the VR world; who can view and interact in a vCity with ease. VRML-based browsers can support the other 900 million, but people want immediate gratification, they don't want to die of old age staring at their PC displays waiting for megaburps.

So on any given day, we have about one million new tourists attempting to access our SLIP/PPP Internet address. I can't swear that everyone gets through on the first try. Think of it as getting 50,000 phone calls an hour. Through some pretty neat network management that I won't go into here for obvious reasons, the system senses an overflow and routes these calls to different "mirror" sites. This is why the vCity never crashes -- because the original clones itself in 14 different servers worldwide every 4.3 seconds.

When a first time tourist attempts to visit the vCity, we provide him or her with some basic information and freeware if needed. We also solicit some basic information from them such as their gender, age, nationality, and the nature of their telecomp equipment. That's only fair. In the world of internetworking there's a saying: "You gotta give if you wanna get."

Obviously one thing that most people need to properly work the vCity is VR software. If they don't have a good HTML/VRML-browser, we can give them one by downloading it to their hard drive in a few minutes. Make a cup of coffee and presto, you've got 3D capacity.

How can we give away a $59.95 value? That's easy, the technique was pioneered years ago. You give away an older version of the package, but charge for the upgrades. It's like giving someone an old clunker of a car for nothing, and then taunting them with flashy new models every time they drive by your dealership. Only the strong-willed can resist the lure of upgrading. And if there's one thing a New Millennite cannot resist, it's temptation.

With step-by-step menu-driven spoon-feeding formatting technique -- what is known in the trade politely as the "Bite Size Shredded Wheat (Trademark Nabisco Corp.)" philosophy of web page design -- we teach them the fundamentals of life in the vCity: what various terms mean, how the simulation works, what kinds of things they might like to see. We even provide them with a little quiz to make sure that they understand what they are about to look at. That way, if someone does not understand something, we can go over it detail and explain it to them. All of this in fourteen different languages.

Since people like to feel that they are "entering" a world, just like real world tourists, we give them a choice of how they would like to enter the vCity. They can begin their tour at the vCity International Airport, or at the vCity Seaport. Most people are familiar with aircraft these days, so most tourists like to enter through the airport.

Before they debark on their internetworking adventure, however, we also warn people to be careful. It's the VR version of "don't drink the water", I suppose. The number one lesson is caveat emptor. If they transmit credit numbers over the Internet, that's their problem, not ours. Information is encrypted only as long as they stay within the boundaries of the vCity simulation; however, the whole thing works on the principle of decentralization, so most of the City Coordinates link to sites outside of our corporate server.

Actually telefraud and telecrime is not as big a concern as people first thought it was going to be. Internetworking corporations discovered ten years ago -- to their dismay, I might add -- that most people don't purchase stuff over the Internet. Businesses do, but consumers don't. This miffed quite a few investors, who witnessed excellent growth in mail order business from consumers and assumed that the Internet would provide a logical electronic extension. According to our market analysis, however, consumer confidence in buying and selling over the Internet will not happen for another ten years, until 2012.

Why? Why are people reluctant to transact electronically? I think it must have something to do with instinct. This preference for tangible wealth probably goes back to a time when mammals lived or died according to the size of their cache or their ability to hoard food. The key breakthrough was to substitute tokens or coins for real value -- the first step towards a virtual reality economy. The second step proved much harder. It took forever to get people to electronically deposit pay cheques to their checking accounts, for God's sake. Banks built up an incredible electronic infrastructure and capital investment to hand out paper cash to people at automated teller machines. If that wasn't bizarre, I don't know what was.

Anyway, the solution is the New Millennites, bless their hearts. They've never known a world without personal computing. They are the Chairborn, and it is their destiny to rush in where angels fear to tread.


The vCity International Airport is a very cool techsimm because it is based on work sponsored by the U.S. DOT (Department of Transportation) in the 1990s. As a matter of fact, our corporation and a few DOT contractors got together to design the thing. We donated the server space and some additional software, and they put in the creative hours and the ideas.

They designed a beyond-the-state-of-the-art facility that features highly automated air control systems, grounds and building maintenance, environmental control, security, and baggage and cargo handling. The entire design of every aspect of the airport is geared towards ease of maintenance and repair, except where such considerations would compromise passenger safety. For example, the runways are constructed of "intelligent" silicate/ceramic inlaid concrete. Which means that cracks are self-repairing, and the runways "sense" when they need to heat, cool, or "wrinkle" themselves according to weather conditions and traffic use. (The wrinkles, by the way, act as anti-skid devices for wet or icy surface conditions)

Upon debarking and/or entering the airport, each visitor receives a small oblong token called a PIT or Personal Identification Tag. (Harmless if eaten, incidentally) At any of innumerable PIT STOPS, a visitor can enter information or requests for information about flight schedules and delays, ticketing, insurance, weather conditions and other information at point of destination, and available facilities at the airport including infant & child care centers, medical care centers, shopping, restaurants and eateries, exercise & entertainment, sleeping quarters, relaxation centers, conference center facilities, etcetera. These information kiosks "intelligently" steer people to where they need to be and offers such niceties as reminding people to catch their flights. PITs deactivate after a while and become nice little collectible souvenirs.

There is more that the average tourist never sees, because after wandering around the techsimm for a while, they usually beam over to City Centre or to the S & E Complex. However, for those who take the time to explore the airport in its entirety -- and I suppose you have to be a real aircraft enthusiast to get into this stuff -- there are some nifty explanations of how the vCity air transportation system works.

The vCity Aircraft Transportation Information Subcenter provides continually updated information about air traffic conditions to all types of aircraft including: fixed-wing, swing-wing, adjustable-tilt rotary engine, fixed rotary blade, glider, and dirigible. In short, just about any manufactured object that flies under piloted or nolopilot control.

There are six airports, airparks, and hangars located throughout the area, all accessible by light rail with stations located for convenient all-weather-conditions transfer directly to gates and waiting areas. All such facilities are constructed, managed, and operated by private corporate consortiums (simmcorps). There is a Regional Airport, and a Light Aircraft Airport. The vCity Helicopter and VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) Pad Complex, called simply the "H and V" by its users, services aircraft using small pads only. The complex is, effectively, a huge metered parking lot that coordinates vertical traffic in and around the immediate vicinity. The H and V is an important staging area between Plasteel Canyon and the rest of the vCity regions, especially the outlying piedmont and mountains where there is no light rail connection. The H and V also serves as an important cargo staging area between industrial sites in outlying regions, and the heavy rail cargo and spaceport areas.

The Ultra-Light Aircraft and Hangglider Airpark is not an airport, but really almost more of an adjunct to the Sports & Entertainment Complex. Indeed, several of the "U and H" facilities are actually owned and operated by members of the Good Luck Cartel. Anyway, this facility services personal aircraft of engine- and human-powered varieties, and it is located not too far away from the Updraft Junction, that is, the area that lay between The Canyon and Volcano Slopes which provides the nearly constant upbuffets beloved by personal aircraft enthusiasts. This is a dangerous traffic zone, what with all the gliders and ultra-lights dodging each other and trying to avoid hitting avatars and bird scapps. Finally, there is also a Dirigible and Balloon Hangar Complex.

A word about the difference between dirigibles and balloons. A dirigible is what used to be called an "airship", sometimes is now called a "blimp", and uses hydrogen and/or helium-filled containers or modular structures to provide lift for passengers or cargo, and engine-driven propellers for thrust and directional maneuverability. A balloon is a sack that can be filled with air which, when heated, provides lift for passengers or cargo. A balloon has no internal power and must go where the wind takes it. Great for a tourist jaunt and sporting, but irritating for any kind of regular transportation.

From the beginning of the vCity concept, I had argued for the inclusion of dirigibles not just as scapps, but possibly to allow people to "fly" legally and within the laws of physics throughout the vCity. Ever since the Hindenburg disaster, dirigibles have received a bum rap. They are seen in the public eye as cumbersome, slow, dangerous, expensive, and (sin of sins) low-tech. This is unfortunate, since with modern equipment they are superbly capable of filling some market niches at low pollution cost. For example, hauling bulk cargo to and from mountains, islands, or sea-based platforms where running tracks or roads would either be prohibitively expensive or impossible.

I argued that dirigibles, and to a lesser extent balloons, could also be used also for advertising and specialty projects such as providing video coverage of a selected area (useful for sporting events and security). Floating billboards, cameras, and telecomm links. Etcetera.

The Zoning Council remained unconvinced, so I added one other possibility: the House-Dirigible or "No Foundation Domicile". People are familiar with the concept of the houseboat and the luxury yacht. These are legal residences which float upon the water. Why not a residence that floats on the air? The legal address registration for House-Dirigibles, I argued, could be a D and B Complex.

Well, I won that one, to the delight of the DOT contractors. As it stands now, if someone wants to live above the vCity they can do so, provided that they obey certain civilized rules. For example, a dirigible resident mustn't stray from registered flight paths. In the real world, I imagine dirigible residents also would have to test their engines regularly, keep an ear well-tuned for the weather report, avoid tall buildings, and not dump garbage or sewage on people down below. They would also be limited to wireless telecomm links, which would probably restrict their access to certain kinds of information and entertainment.


I could wander around the International Airport for hours looking at things. There is so much to click on and investigate. I must say, these guys have really gotten into it.

"What the hell do you do with all of this stuff?" I once asked one of the designers, an ex-NASA guy from Langley Research Center, who still lives in the Hampton, VA area.

"Oh, we just have fun with it. You know how it is with the cutbacks and all. The only thing left to do is virtual reality, because the government doesn't want to spend money on real reality any more."

"Did it ever?"

"Ha! Well, listen, it's not all goofing off. We use it to showcase some of our ideas to airports around the country. Picked up about ten million dollars in business that way."

"Ten million?" I echoed incredulously.

"Well, yeah," he replied defensively, misunderstanding me. "Look, it may not be much, but it feeds the bulldog."

"Oh, I'm not complaining, Jimbo. I'm astonished. How much did it cost you to design the techsimm?"

"About $300K, plus or minus. Why?"

"Nothing. Listen, I have an idea for you, free of charge."

"Go ahead."

"Why don't you attach flight simulator software as a subsimm, and charge people to 'fly' aircraft around the area? I'm sure there are some mapps of the vCity you could use, even if they were only updated once a month or so."

"Ha! Way ahead of you," he replied smugly. "We're already negotiating with a major game company to do just that."

"Well, no dogfighting, please," I replied sourly. "Aerial combat among citizens is not a sustainable civilization."

"It is if you have enough air-to-air missiles."

"Maybe. But it's not a desirable future."


The vCity International Airport is not only a techsimm. Within the larger Zoning Volume there are places where real corporations have set up a VR shop. I notice that most major U.S. air carriers and many foreign national carriers have established links here. Clicking on one of the booths, I find myself in a 2D HTML-based environment -- a web page -- where I can order real tickets or obtain information on real travel schedules and frequent flier programs.

Oops. Back to the virtual reality, please.

The vCity International Airport is the busiest airport in the world. In 2001 it handled more than three hundred million visitors. Checking the data, I see that flow through has increased by 1% in the first three weeks of June. That means we're on target for something like a 20% increase for the year. That's just measuring the people coming through that gateway. The seaport handles some of the other inflow.

We really don't know exactly how many tourists the vCity gets every year. Once people have visited the vCity, they usually just beam to where they want to go, even though strictly speaking they should become vCitizens in order to do that. However, in the vCity world, there is no such thing as an illegal immigrant. You either become a vCitizen or you don't. If you do, you register your IP address and stake a claim to a Zoning Volume. If you don't, you're a welcome guest, and as we point out in the intro, "Stay as long as you please, and come back as often as you like!"

Not many tourists choose to become vCitizens. This year to date, we've had about three million new residents. If tourism is up, though, then vCity population growth is just around the corner. I'm guessing we'll top the seven million mark this year.

How does one become a vCitizen? Very simple process. Or as we say in the vCity business: "Five minutes to learn . . . a lifetime to master!"

It's all menu-drivel. That is not a typo. The mapp asks you, the potential vCitizen, where you want to live. It asks what you want to be named. Do you want a pre-fab Zoning Volume? If yes, choose from the 64 domicile types provided for that area. Don't like any of the choices? You can apply for a free range ZV, and design your own domicile. Don't have a VR construction package? We can supply you with one for free. Okay, now, where do you want to work? Don't want a job? Okay, no problem -- as long as you recognize that macroeconomically it's impossible to sustain a civilization that consumes more than it produces. If you don't believe us, look at the economy of the United States after 1970. You do want to work? What are you, some kind of nut? Just kidding.

The beauty of becoming a vCitizen is that a new customer can do anything s/he wants to, as long as it fits within the boundaries of the simulation, which means the laws of physics as we currently understand them and zoning ordinances established by the Zoning Council. All we ask, is that they be nice. That, and to contribute towards their vision of what they want the future to become.

We do offer people choices, of course. It's a well known phenomenon that almost nobody wants to do in the vCity what they actually do in real life. I don't know why that is. Maybe I'm the only one in the real world who isn't stuck with a crappy job. Or maybe the grass is brown on all sides of the fence. Anyway we provide them with a list of 128 possible commercial or industrial sectors; they can choose from among those.

More often than not, however, people come up with something new -- something that they've always wanted to do, but never had the time or the investment capital to do or build. This, of course, is one of the most important reasons our corporation created the vCity in the first place. We watch and we learn what is hot and what is not. That gives us a two year lead for most product developments, and two years is all it takes to squeeze most of the profit out of a market niche before competition arises and margins disappear. Or, if it's a product or service we don't know how to produce and sell, we set up a market survey for one of our transnational partners who might.

Why do people think I and other members of the Zoning Council inspect the vCity on a daily basis? Because we're busybodies? No, no -- because we are businessbuddies. Here's the point: anyone can inspect the vCity, right? So our corporation has no real advantage against any other corporation looking for new products. The difference is that we can establish a rapport with customers before our competitors can. We can help new vCitizens set up simmcorps, and discuss with these new vCitizens some of the advantages and disadvantages of their business concepts.

There's another strange phenomenon in the vCity. Some people like to register more than once as different people. In the vCity, multiple personality is not a disorder. Under the rules of the simulation, it's perfectly legal; as long as each vCitizen registers and maintains a valid Internet address, there is nothing to prevent one person from becoming more than one vCitizen. Of course, that's a rather complicated proposition, and sometimes can be expensive -- each vCitizen has one and only one e-mail account.

On the subject of names, by the way, we supplied some basic filters to screen out the obvious English, Spanish, and Japanese obscenities. However, we recognized even before the simulation hit the Internet back in '97 that there was no good way to prevent people from doing sophomoric things with their names. So we got even with them, and forced them to stick with their names. I must say, that had quite the desired effect. It may seem funny at first to have a name like Phuck Ewe, but have you ever tried to live with it day in, day out? People e-mailing you as "Phuck Ewe?" Ever try to send a serious salutation ending with "Phuck Ewe?" It just doesn't work. No one who tries it sticks with it. Sometimes there is great wisdom in laissez faire.

I know one Mole rat who, at last count, is 13 different people of different genders, races, and income levels. This kid alone must have built about 5% of the Belowtown tunnels. Is it fair to allow one person to vote more than once on the same issue? No, of course not. However, we decided to allow it on the grounds that we had no idea how to prevent it. Also, we felt that if someone were to go through all the time and trouble to maintain independent IP addresses and participate in the building of the vCity, they should at least earn the right to proportional representation in vCity affairs.

One of her names is Mole Queen, I've e-corresponded with her over the last few years. She's learned more about society and technology than any eleven-year-old I've ever known, and knows more than most people ever will.

I have often wondered about kids like this. What kind of girl spends most of her life in a fantasy world? I am sometimes tempted to tell her to get a real life, but four things always catch me short of doing so. First of all, it would be hypocritical -- I can see her saying to me with baleful eyes, "You spend your time in the vCity, why can't I?" Although I get paid for doing so. Secondly, what child, girl or boy, does not live at least part of the time in a fantasy world? Dimly I can remember back to my own childhood and it seems that a good part of it was make-believe. It just wasn't electronic fantasy, but it was still a shadow world where truth could be found if one knew where to look. Thirdly, I figure time and hormones will take care of things. There is a basic drive, even in the Chairborn, to get out, run around, and rut. Finally, who am I to say why my little friend has retreated to the shadow world of the Internet? I don't really know her circumstances. Maybe she is abused or unhappy or friendless in reality, but finds solace, respect, and thousands of friends on the Internet. She, who has built the vCity more than many, should at least have the right to 13 lousy votes.

I don't begrudge her the right to her sunless existence. Mole Queen and the rest of the New Millennites will need skills and knowledge to survive; and one day she will become a great leader of the new world disorder. So let it be written; so let it be done.

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