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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 5

"In democratic communities, each citizen is habitually engaged in the contemplation of a very puny object, namely, himself."

-- Alexis de Tocqueville --



The sector of downtown vCity called Plasteel Canyon mostly resembles the opening scene from the movie Blade Runner, only without the pollution, the natural gas burnoffs, or the incessant rain. I was impatient to see a new millennium metropolis with buildings so high and massive that they needed their own weather forecasts. These twenty-first century pyramids, I envisioned, would be called "ziggurats".

One of the earliest and still one of the best ziggurat sites in all of Plasteel Canyon is the Minas Ithil zoning volume. At its base at ground level, it occupies an entire city block. From the ground level looking up (this is more effective with an HMD than in PC-based mode) one cannot see to the top. I am told that the "sink" (that part of the ZV that stretches in the opposite direction, "below" the horizon) is equally large. Tunnels connect Minas Ithil to the vast labyrinth of Belowtown. It is written that the Minas Ithil site is home to more than 100,000 vCitizens. And there are close to one hundred more just like it in the Plasteel Canyon area.

The jeweled, cathedral-like doorway to this obsidian black-and-red tower is a famous point of reference for tourists. First time city visitors debarking at the vCity International Airport who are too impatient to take mass transit to the downtown sectors like to beam here directly, so that they too, can gawk and later claim a unique mass marketing experience.

Being a tourist attraction has its problems, though. The Minas Ithil planning coordination council had to purchase a duplicate server just to handle the overflow of visitors, and several times the site crashed anyway. As a result visitors started coming in through sidelinks and swamped several unsuspecting citizens within the ziggurat, crashing their servers. No one had predicted this kind of traffic problem, which today we call "casbar". (I checked into that recently. Apparently, the word is a combination of the term cascade failure and fubar, which itself stands for Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition)

Desperate, the Minas Ithil board appealed to our corporation to help them out. We solved the problem by the simple expedient of redesigning the ZV to include a "buffer" of vKiosks. In other words, we distracted tourists from entering the ziggurat directly by forcing them past vKiosks where they could read the latest nowlinks. It worked. Minas Ithil reports that while traffic has only decreased 3%, server outage has decreased by more than 90%, and customer satisfaction has boomed by almost 20%.

It was obvious to me that such incredible pieces of vertical construction as the ziggurats -- small cities in themselves -- would require new construction materials. At NASA they used to have a word for this: "Unobtainium". Regrettably, at the time we needed to name the vCity sectors, my imagination cup runneth empty. The only thing I came up with was "plasteel", a wheezing geezer of an SF cliché if there ever was one. I didn't know about aromatic lithocarbons at the time we needed to zone the vCity.

Oh well. There are hundreds of examples of things like that in the vCity, if one knows about them. We tried to bury such minor conceptual errors under the sediment of semi-plausible explanations, but the fact is, if I could anticipate the future of technology with any accuracy at all, I'd be heavily invested in stock markets, wouldn't I?

One of the things that we did predict accurately was the concept of the nowlink as a logical successor to the newspaper. That one was a no-brainer. It required no imagination at all, merely observation of what was already transpiring in the mid 1990s.

Historically speaking, the newspaper was an artifact of the 16th through 20th centuries. For its day it was a great innovation, but that was when: a) not much new happened on a daily basis; b) cheap rag-based paper was a hot new transmission medium, supplanting parchment; and c) printing became a reliable word-processing technology. It was no mistake of history that the nation famous for its printing presses and publishing houses -- the United Provinces of Holland et al -- was also viciously capitalist and predominantly seafaring. News in those days was primarily an International Business Section, with maybe a little gossip on the side and a few editorials to fill out the blank spots. Sea captains originally provided this early value-added information service, but the demand for business dispatches from overseas grew greater than the ability for one man to supply over dinner and cordials. In effect, the newspaper functioned as a public dispatch service.

By the late 20th century, however, a) everything was changing simultaneously; b) we had internetworking, a hot new transmission medium; c) we had hardware and software which, combined together, created an even more reliable word-processing technology. Every person who could afford Internet access, a modem, a computer, software, and a printer -- and in many nations, that amounted to less than 10% of an average yearly per capita income -- could become a "newspaper" publisher.

In short, worldwide infodemocracy was born. As with most newborns, the first thing it did was mewl, cry, puke, and generally keep everyone sleepless at night.

How would the "newspaper" translate to the realm of the vCity? We realized that the major problem with the "newspaper" (or any variation therein including newsletters, news magazines, digests, etc.) was that it was fundamentally static -- the same problem with CD-ROMs or video cassettes or diskettes. Once issued, the object becomes an artifact. The ideal "newspaper" would be instantly updatable and retransmittable -- in effect, it would provide the reader with continuous editions. Somewhat on the order of radio and television news, but infinitely flexible and tailored to the specific reader. Not broadcasting, but planting selected seeds for different soils.

We also realized that the "newspaper" (and its hardcopy cousins) was essentially a higher-order reference manual for society at large. In other words, if one wanted to judge a movie, one might read a movie review. If one wanted to see the movie, one might look in the paper to see where and when the movie was playing. But the paper did not itself provide the movie, or previews of the movie. It just referred to them. Same thing with restaurants, or sporting events, or museums.

In the vCity however, there was no reason why, if one were reading about something and wanted to see it, one could not simply go see it. If someone was describing what they liked (or disliked) about a particular zoning volume or vSite -- for example, vGolf Course #6 -- they would provide the city coordinate for vGC6, and one could beam there in a few seconds. In other words, a "newspaper" for the vCity could be not only a higher-order reference manual, but a transportation medium. Which is why we decided on the term nowlink.

Since the vCity was created as a marketing tool for the purpose of simulation, however, we realized that we needed many places where people could easily find nowlinks. In a burst of intellectual creativity previously displayed only by U.S.S.R. state planning committees, the Zoning Council came up with the name vKiosk. Well, I suppose I am being harsh. It could have been worse. The kiosk is a piece of architecture whose form goes back to the 17th century, derived from the Turkish kushk or open-air pavilion. It functioned, then as now, as a small tent from which to offer goods and services.

Several people in our corporation wanted to design a standardized vKiosk and place thousands of them throughout the vCity, but I argued against that on the grounds that if the people wanted landscape ennui, they could stay in the real world. The advantage of a vKiosk was that it could supply an infinite number of nowlinks from a relatively small VR volume. Its shape could be pleasingly bizarre as long as it fit within the confines of the laws of physics.

In the end, I won that one. Admittedly vKiosks sprouted like mushrooms and gave the early vCity the look and feel of a bizarre bazaar. So what? To modify the metaphor, when one lets a thousand flowers blossom, one is bound to get a pretty wild garden.

Actually the vKiosks don't just provide nowlinks, which was another example of the first rule of vCity development: Expect the Unexpected. When people started building vKiosks, they offered nowlinks, but they also started to sell goods and services.

A typical example of a good was what today we call downloads, or in other words, pieces of software. A download could be any digitized content from simple text to scapps. Some early entrepreneurs made tidy sums selling freely available VR tools to unsuspecting tourists, but we cracked down on that early by the simple expedient of instructing first-time visitors to the vCity that we could make most VR tools available to them for free if and when they wanted to become vCitizens.

Some bastards also sold software viruses, but we cracked down on that, too. The solution to that particular form of telecrime was simple. I just told the Mole rats about it. The Mole rats are vigilante packs of vCitizens who took up residence in the Belowtown sector of Mole. Their demographics indicate that they are worldwide, mostly male, between the ages of 8-16. They spend most of their time telegoofing around, as kids and teenagers like to do. If you ask them nicely to help, though, then they swarm viciously and continuously against a telecriminal until justice is rendered. It isn't a pretty sight, but then again, it works. The vCity is virtually free of crime, and yet there are no police.

An example of a service was what are now called mapps (Marketing Applications). At first, these were literally maps of the vCity, which early vCitizens updated themselves. Within the first year of operations, however, the vCity went "from sponge to onion" and grew so fast that it proved impossible to map everything. Whereupon several clever vCitizens began to sell mapps that asked tourists and new vCitizens what kinds of things they wanted to see. In effect, an "intelligent" and instantly updated map that could show different aspects of the vCity depending upon the customer's desire. Our corporation found that so interesting that we ended up marketing the idea profitably in the real world as our GridUnlock (Trademark) software package. Real real estate agents worldwide were crashing our servers trying to download new editions at $0.79 a copy, plus applicable sales tax.

I go over to one of the vKiosks chosen at random to see what the nowlinks are saying. It is a simple shack called Rasheed's. Rasheed (I don't know if that is a real name or not, but it doesn't really matter -- in the vCity, we have a saying: "It may be virtual, but it's still reality") sells nowlinks in Arabic, English, and Hebrew. Looking down at the titles, I see nothing familiar and move on to the next vKiosk. This one is called L'Enfant Terrible and sells an amazing variety of nowlinks, downloads, and mapps. After searching for a minute, I finally see the name of a familiar nowlink, a golden oldie titled Rainforest Mac.

Rainforest Mac is still one of the more respectable nowlinks around, in its fifth year of operation. The editor/publisher is a woman whom I actually know in the real world, a bicycle courier by day and a hellion by night. She is a tough, no-nonsense ass-kicker who wouldn't hesitate to say exactly what she was thinking. She was one of the earliest vCitizens to claim residence in an outland region, instead of building a vHome in the domain of the vCity proper. She spent four months (so she claims) designing a palatial vHome, nestled in an upland valley of the Jungle/Rainforest outland. I couldn't bring myself to scold her for choosing such magnificent and pristine isolation. When one's real world consists of paved hell, why not dream in rainforest heaven?

The answer being that it isn't a realistic option for the real world. The whole purpose of the vCity as a social-political simulation is to try to conceive a sustainable future, and then go there. The Jungle/Rainforest experts had fits about her. A whole e-mail war broke out over that damn site; I learned more than I wanted to know about the fragility of rainforests. Eventually we refused to zone a road out that far, especially in light of the fact that people could beam to her city coordinate if they wanted to. But we did accept her dirigible/helipad.

Anyway, Rainforest Mac was born. If anyone would notice my post to the Goodwill Division, it would be MacKenzie.

She did:


Meanwhile, once again the vPopuli are being treated

to a splendid example of how the First Cherub likes

to take the flaming sword and wield it to keep

VR entrepreneurs from returning to Eden to

taste of the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge.

What is wrong with Lee Ward's Exon Inspiration [link now]

other than its execrable content? Why is it a violation of the

Confluencia [link now] zoning ordinances?

vPopuli, I strongly urge you to vote no in the upcoming referendum.

I'm not advocating the site, I'm advocating my rights and your rights

as vCitizens to create and examine the content we choose.


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