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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 2

"Electronic entertainment is mass playtime in mass culture at a peak moment of feculent commercialism."

--Nicholas von Hoffman--


It had to happen sooner or later. But even given that probability analysis, I am nevertheless surprised to discover that it has happened sooner rather than later. I have stumbled upon a virtual reality whorehouse. A vBordello, as it were.

The time is late, probably after midnight. It doesn't matter. I am feeling Newtonian in my need for a temporal frame of reference. Call it 02:15 for the sake of argument.

I'm on inspection duty. In the vCity there are no police, there cannot be police. I am not the police.

("Men? Police-Men?")

Instead, I am the polis. I make my rounds only to observe. I give advice. If necessary, I post concerns about vCity sites to the Goodwill Division.

The GD almost always solves the problem by the relentless force of its combined persuasion. If it cannot persuade, it isolates via boycott. Social disapproval can render most vCitizens into quivering apologetic masses of protoplasm.

But sometimes even the GD is not enough. Then I must consider calling for banishment. The banned no longer exist within the walls of the vCity. And there are no walls to the vCity. The banned are exiles, outcasts. They live. They are free to do what they wish. But they are not linked to the vCity. Their names are no more.

There are very few with the corporate authority to call for a ban. I take it very seriously.

When the vCity was first zoned, we knew that zoning was meaningless. Only voluntary cooperation could separate order from chaos. That is why we set up the underside, which we called Belowtown.

Belowtown was divided into two sectors called Grunge and Mole. It was set aside for the knights and pages of anti-civilization. Strangely enough, the denizens of Belowtown turned out to be the most peaceful anarchists of all. It was as if they understood that this was truly their place, where all laws remained unwritten. I love them dearly. They are my people, these paradoxi. Codebreakers who never break the Code.

No, tonight I am not in Belowtown. I have wandered casually into Uptown, in Confluencia, to see what passes for entertainment among the people.

Confluencia was so named because it is the area of the vCity proper where the Three Rivers meet before flowing towards The Bay. We could have named it Trois Rivers or Koblenz, but those names were already taken by real world cities. Confluence seemed too harsh in its rational precision. "Confluencia" had mellifluence.

Most of my inspection tours are PC-based. Very few sites are capable of full HMD (Head Mounted Display) and/or MSE (Multiple Sensory Environment) interactivity. I could go that way if I wanted to, but it is too slow for inspection tours. When I see something that warrants further investigation, I bookmark it and go back to it later. There is always more to see, and always more than I can see.

Confluencia was designed to have a close-in, vaguely claustrophobic feel to it. The point of reference for the area is the Fountain Circle. I always lose my sense of direction about a block away from it, but I know the shops and stores in the area. Once it was all open volume which we used to call "sponge." Now it has hyperdensity, which we call "onion" Within the volumes people set up subvolumes, like layers of an onion.

I scroll up a side alley and into one of the older sites. I know the proprietor well, having e-talked with him before. Actually I don't know for a fact that he is a he. He registers as vCitizen Justin Thyme.

There is no reliable econdata on Thyme; he does not purchase from our corporate network, so we cannot produce a profile. Network marketing anticipated that problem. We can apply a probability program to his e-mail. There is a 75% chance, SD5%, that he is male, and nearly a 100% certainty that he is U.S. or Canadian. The irony being that knowing this, what do we know? It turns out that the only real way to learn about someone is to talk with them over a reasonable period of time. No one in marketing seemed to have anticipated this simple fact. Managers -- the people who hire others -- could have told them this. But the corporation sacrificed middle management on the altar of Productivity a long time ago. So the freshouts, armed with their reductionist knowledge, are now more ignorant than ever.

The name of Thyme's establishment is Sage Advice. The virtual hostess is a busty 3D scapp (self-contained application) named Rosemary. Maybe Justin has a spice and herb fixation, I don't know. More likely it's some in-joke from the 1960s. Ah, mental note for marketing: strong probability that proprietor for this site is 40+. Secondary possibility: nostalgia buff.

Sage Advice is an entertainment center divided into a number of suites. Rosemary asks one "what you'd like to do," and gives one a list of options from a menu. Clicking on an option brings one to that suite directly. Or, one can simply browse through the halls and floors of the building, looking at nameplates on doors. Clicking on a nameplate brings up a description of what is going on inside. Some doors are "locked" to visitors, and some have no nameplates at all. Some suites have Transparency programs that allow one to observe what is going on "inside", in a mode called semi-interactivity. In effect, it is similar to reading a transcript of a conversation or a closed-caption translation, only it is 3D. (Early on, the 3D objects interfaces were called windows, but someone -- I forget who, I'd have to check the Archives on this one -- got a cease and desist letter from a certain corporation, so now we all call them Transparencies)

I haven't been to Sage Advice for almost six months real time, and I am astonished at how it has filled out. I can remember when there was practically nothing here but a ZV (Zoning Volume) and Justin's architectural shell looked like a warehouse. Rosemary was much flatter then.

"From sponge to onion" as we say in the vCity business, though. A ZV is actually a bureaucratic entity, a registry of CCs (City Coordinates). Some ZVs can encompass tens of thousands of CCs. A ZV doesn't have to be a solid cube, however. ZVs can be interlaced with others. Hence, the term "sponge" to reflect the notion of a volume whose density is variable and which can "fill out" over time.

Sage Advice is actually a typical ZV, and works on the same principle as an office building ZV. Opening a door to a suite functionally transfers one to another site and, possibly, another server somewhere else on Earth. So when, on the third floor of the building, I find a lime green door with a silver nameplate marked Exon Inspiration and I "enter" the suite, I am transferred to a new location no longer under Justin's jurisdiction. The CC may be inside of his ZV, but it is not necessarily registered to him. He merely maintains the link.

Exon Inspiration turns out to be a very sophisticated site devoted to interactive, 3D pornography. This is why browsing is necessary and intelligence is useful. The suite was not listed by the ever-helpful and always smiling Rosemary scapp. The name of the suite itself would not ordinarily trigger an anti-pornography seeker program. In fact, to be curious at all about what lay beyond the green door, one would have to know what Exon meant. Or in this case, who.

A large, beefy bouncer scapp looking curiously similar to a befuddled Mr. T. asks me if I am over 18 years of age. When I reply yes, he further asks me for my vCitizen identification number.

This program is already more sophisticated than most, and I am relieved to see elementary safeguards installed. It was one of the first things our corporation designed for the vCity, a basic pass system called Turnpike (Copyright). Easy to install for only $9.99 plus applicable sales tax. Easy to hack, too, but that fact is generally not advertised.

I type in my vC ID, which is

There is a monetary pause. That is not a typo. There is a program running which is checking my ability to pay for services rendered or products purchased or downloaded.

The Mr. T. type plasters a dreadful smile on his "face". "You're credit is always good with us, First Citizen," he announces.

Of course it is.

"What kind of system are you running?" asks the bouncer scapp.

I enter the data from an easy-to-use menu. I recognize the menu driver as a cheap freeware version of our own corporate package, Free Choice (Copyright).

"OK," responds the face, his torso now absent. This is unsettling. "We're working on HMD and MSE stuff that will guarantee you a good time. Jack in, jerk off!"

Exon Inspiration is a nightmare. It's a movable, interactive Bosch painting. Being PC-based as I am, I can only mostly observe various sexual activities taking place, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. From a purely technical standpoint, I have to admit that the 3D is excellent. Whoever designed this put in a lot of time and effort.

The PC-based interactivity is shallow. In one room, the visitor is given a range of gender options and a menu of body types, and is allowed to "participate" in twosomes, threesomes, and N-somes. In the PC-based version, what this amounts to is observing one's own avatar and either dominating or submitting to numerous carnal choices with scapps and possibly other avatars.

I think I would be apprehensive about trying out the HMD or MSE versions. In addition to stimulation and penetration of every imaginable orifice with various organs, limbs, and devices, I see also bondage, bestiality, child molestation, rape, torture, and murder.

That isn't even the worst part, though, from a conceptual viewpoint.

In one area, one can engage in sex with moving body parts. Seeing a floating, pulsating penis build a memory with an undulating, gaping vagina puts a whole new spin on the concept of T&A.

I've seen enough.

Back at the front entrance, the bouncer scapp has been replaced by a leather-bedecked, whip-equipped amazon dominatrix who informs me that the charges are $29.99 plus applicable sales tax and have been automatically deducted from my checking account.

Not quite, madam.

The scapp smiles. "Come again. . .and again!"

I am returned to the third floor of the Sage Advice.

This requires some research which I can easily do at my desktop. As the keeper of the Archives, I can go anywhere, delve into any file, within the simulation. The Exon Inspiration has existed for 19 days. The name of the vCitizen to whom the Exon Inspiration CCs are registered is Lee Ward. S/he has an e-mail address that looks to be an educational site -- the real University in Sydney, if I'm not mistaken -- in Australia. The SLIP/PPP server address s/he is using to collect tele-income, however, is located in the Bahamas.

There is not much I will do at this early point except post an e-letter:

TO: "Lee Ward" / VCID

FROM: First Citizen / VCID

DATE: 20 JUN 02, 02:18 EDT

RE: Exon Inspiration


Regarding the Exon Inspiration, the First Amendment to the U.S. constitution does not protect pornography. Since you are located in Australia and your VR files are located on a server in the Bahamas, however, this is probably irrelevant to you.

To be honest, there isn't any action we, as a U.S.-based corporation, can take short of pulling the plug on you. For both PR and legal reasons, we prefer not to do this.

Therefore, let us try a different approach. Allow us to reason with you.

The vCity was established to provide our corporation with a marketing tool to engage people, both our customers and other net users, in a continuing multilogue about the future. Quite simply, we want to know what our customers want, to serve their needs and interests better. Owing to the long lead time for some project development, it helps us to know these market demands in advance. Also, by engaging our customers in a multilogue early, we can get them to provide input prior to product launch.

Your site, linked through Confluencia ZV:(+)17/(-)190/(+)84, is technically quite proficient. You should consider contacting our human resources representative in Sydney about possible employment with the corporation or one of our many transnational partner firms.

The subject matter leaves much to be desired, however. Is this really the kind of future you desire? A dehumanizing pleasure economy? A world in which people consider other people as body parts to be exploited, abused, and ultimately destroyed?

My personal opinion, for what it is worth, is that while your VR form is very beautiful, its substance leaves no room for advancement of the human spirit. I find it difficult to believe that God placed us here on Earth in order to engage in idle debasement.


First Citizen


Meanwhile, I post a short missive to the GD Board:

TO: Goodwill Division / VCID:

FROM: First Citizen/ VCID:

DATE: 20 JUN 02, 02:26 EDT

RE: Zoning Violation Referendum

By the corporate authority vested in me on 01 OCT 97, 00:01 EST, section VI, subsection IX, paragraph 4.1, I hereby call a referendum of the citizens of the vCity to determine if the city coordinates (as attached) known as the Exon Inspiration shall be considered in violation of the zoning instructions for the Confluencia zoning volume in which it resides.

First Citizen

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