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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 22

"[The ideal society] is laid up as a pattern in heaven, where those who wish can see it and found it in their own hearts. But it doesn't matter whether it exists or ever will exist; it's the only state in whose politics [one] can take part."

-- Plato --


Pontification mode.

An old friend in the advertedutainment business once told me, "Pioneers get arrows."

(Consumer Content Warning and Disclaimer Notice 367HL: During the time of the invasion and expansion of European technologies and ideas on the North American continent, c.1500-1900, the native cultures resisted with weapons appropriate to their level of technology including the bow and arrow. To native Americans, European- and African-Americans were not pioneers, they were invaders. This public service announcement brought to you by the Committee for Balanced Historical Analysis for The Sake Of Our Children's Future.)

That may be true, but why? Two reasons. First, they often try to do things alone, without the safety of numbers and without the backing of powerful institutions. Second, they do not think things through. This is probably because the individual simply is not capable of acquiring enough knowledge and expertise in one lifetime to understand all the factors that might conceivably affect the introduction of something new.

The tides of the business world are changing. There was a time when most innovation was introduced by entrepreneurs, but only adopted by large corporate concerns at a time and a place of their own choosing in order to gain incremental revenue. Where do you think the arrows came from? However now, in the 21st century, the entrepreneurs are large corporate concerns. To phrase that another way, corporations now consist of huge swarms of entrepreneurs all simultaneously looking for the nectar of high margin revenue. Their core business is change. They seek avenues of high risk and large profit. Since they are all engaged in different fields, the individual risks balance each other out. Failure in one area can be ameliorated by success in another. In a sense, the modern corporation acts like a huge mutual fund of risk takers.

So yes, I suppose pioneers do get arrows. However it makes no functional difference to the process of colonization. There will always be new pioneers to take their place. Bees die; the hive lives on.

Entrepreneurs tend to be very individualistic, free-thinking, creative people. By their very nature, they are anti-corporate. It is enormously hard to gather them all in one place, under one roof, speaking the same language, wearing similar clothing, sporting corporate security badges, grumbling about lousy coffee and slow elevators. It can be done, but only for a very short period of time. Eventually they begin to disassociate. The entrepreneurial corporation either explodes or implodes. Bright people leave to pursue their ideas somewhere else, or stay and tarnish like silver left out too long in the sunlight.

Therefore the modern transnational corporation achieves a stable, sustainable state only through internetworking. It allows entrepreneurs the freedom they crave, but gives them the support they need. Not just financial support -- which can be gained from many sources including banks -- but intellectual support. From all over the world. Day and night.

Now, not surprisingly, this was first realized by internetworking corporations themselves because it was their business. Just as, in the U.S. in the 19th century, the first truly national corporations were railroad companies. The railroads raised a generation of managers who saw the potential of mass production, mass distribution, and mass consumption simultaneously. The multi-national corporation was the logical 20th century successor. There was, unfortunately, a dark side -- mass destruction.

The Wheel turned; by the end of the 20th century, people perceived that the issue was not about masses, but about splinters. The challenge was no longer to achieve a big picture, but to step back and comprehend the meaning of the fragments, as beautiful and as mysterious as the stars in the night sky. Indeed, although I am talking here about marketing and economy, this applies to politics as well. The challenge of the 20th century was to establish democratic government. The challenge of the 21st century is to achieve democratic anarchy.

We created our vCity to facilitate our ability, as a transnational internetworking corporation, to communicate with our customers. We learned how to reduce our risk, while keeping potential payoff high, by communicating freely on a decentralized basis within the corporation. Ideas could come from anywhere; it did not matter who one was, or whether one was lower than whaleshit. The only thing that mattered was the quality of the contribution. Then we learned how to reduce our risk even further, and improve the potential payoff even more, by obtaining advice and analysis from everybody outside the corporation.

This is old paradigm language, but it will have to do for now. It's not really a we and them situation. We are not sheep dogs barking at the sheep, herding them from one green field to the next. We are them; they are us.

In 1995 a corporation which became the nucleus of one of the most powerful internetworking corporations today created a cheerful advertising slogan in a laudable attempt to define this new world disorder. It was the mysterious "Where Do You Want To Go Today?" campaign (Trademark Microsoft Inc.), which, with its peculiar befuddledness, could easily have been mistaken for a presidential campaign slogan. I imagine the man or woman who came up with it was probably stuck for an idea, and the spouse came home after a hard day's work and asked, "Where Do You Want To Go Eat Tonight?" and ouila!

The early attempts at virtual cities were pretty much failures because they did not attempt to engage people themselves in building the city model. The very first efforts were enthralling to look at, but ultimately proved to be billboards. When the novelty of navigating a 3D environment wore off, visits plummeted, businesses became discouraged, advertising revenue dropped, and the models collapsed.

Several efforts failed because they charged people to "purchase" empty lots -- that is to say, file space on a server. It made about as much sense as bringing children to the beach, and then placing them in an empty sandbox and saying to them, "Okay, now for each dollar you give me, I'll give you a bucket of sand to play with." Huh? Who came up with that marketing concept?

Other efforts failed because they were blatant attempts at advertedutainment. Teachers just loved the early ecosimms. Kids loved them. Everybody loved them. The problem was, there was no way to make any money off of them. It was a very inelastic market; the minute someone would try to charge telemoney to look at an ecosimm, everyone simultaneously said, "The hell with it, I'd rather go to the aquarium or the zoo." Kids, of course, are notoriously cheap. The smarter ecosimm designers kept their VR sites free, and scrounged for grants and underwritings from institutions and corporations. So the whole concept degenerated into a public-service quagmire in which corporations kept trying to sneak unpaid advertisements into the sites.

Other virtual worlds (not just cities, but entire galaxies) failed because they had no overarching objective other than idle amusement. They were, in effect, gigantic, chaotic video games.

I remember one early virtual world called WildWest which consisted, basically, of a huge, sprawling, continual gunfight across space and time. Perhaps this is where the phrase "Reboot Hill" came from, I don't know. You talk about raising the hackles of parents, hoo-boy this one was a winner. There were cases of children so severely addicted to the game that they were suffering from malnourishment and anemia. I imagine a few parents felt pretty bad after seeing the Internet access bills, too. There were also cases of people -- mostly men, for reasons I don't think we fully understand yet -- who became so obsessed with playing 3D Internet games that their lives were ruined and their marriages fell apart.

Anyway, what kind of people would raise heaven and earth to hide pictures of nude men and women, and yet cheerfully accept a virtual world whose slogan might just as well have been, "Who Do You Want To Plug Today?"

Which isn't to say that WildWest, and DragonLords, and GalacticConquest, etcetera, weren't profitable. Of course they made a ton of money. It's just that they weren't very useful. There is a distinction there. A civilization that spends its time and energy in pursuit of idle amusement cannot survive.

So that, in a nutshell, is why our vCity became the first virtual city simulation to survive over the long haul. We sought something larger than what was possible and achievable in the technical sense; we sought to understand what was desirable in a political sense. Naturally, a polis is a good place to do this.

I think that perhaps Plato would have understood, perhaps even have applauded the vCity concept. The Athenians loved the idea of perfection, and struggled to define that which was Good. If they knew that they could not reach perfection, nevertheless they aspired towards that goal in their art, in their architecture, in their bodies, etcetera. Modern world civilization, on the other hand, has abandoned perfection as a goal. We deny that it exists because it is unobtainable, thereby confusing product with process, ends with means. We seem satisfied to produce that which is merely Okay. Xeno's paradox bothers us a lot more than it bothered the original Greek city-state philosophers.

Between these two worlds of past and present, there lies the future of the vCity. It is neither attainable nor unattainable; it is neither perfection nor pragmatism; it is both.

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