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Navigating Nonspace, Game Spaces and Virtual Worlds (and a bit of Superstring Theory)

January 30, 2011

Following on from my last post on Neuromancer, I wanted to take a little more time to look at the idea of virtual spaces. The novel describes this new anti-ecludian world as “Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and consolations of data.” However when you read the novel, the description of this virtual world is still strongly rooted in a mirrored geography of the real world. To enter the data-network of a set location, there is a mixture of physical and virtual travel required. This is not to critique Gibson for this, far from it, but to point to how our own perception of space is rooted in our perception of the real. It’s not just Neuromancer you find this in – think of the Matrix Reloaded, once Neo has mastery of this world, he still navigates it in a physical manner having to fly from location to location. If you can master the system to override it’s gravity, why stop there?

There is a roleplaying game heavily inspired by Neuromancer, Shadowrun, which envisioned the dsytopian future Gibson was mashed-up with a fantasy scnario. It was a fun world to play in. But I was always unhappy with its section of hacking (I’m talking first edition here) which had descriptions of networks and virtual spaces combined with the characters power to navigate within but it was heavily tied to the physical locations. In short hacking was hamstrung; if you can control the system to let you in, why does it matter from where it lets you in?

Not to be unfair to the people who wrote the game. I’m writing with hindsight and that gives me post-20-20 vision. My point is more that our envisioning of virtual spaces is well, a little to physical. I’m thinking for example of Second Life – personal I can’t see the attraction with replicating the real world in the virtual as a fun space. So where have we started to mess with the virtual spaces in a manner that starts to melt the geographic? The game Braid is one example. At first glance it is a platform game, but it’s manipulation of time renders a world that is at odds with ours and so is amazing fun to navigate and play in.

Why does this matter? It would appear that current scientific thinking on the essential nature of the universe means that the 3 dimensions we perceive are just the tip of the iceberg. That matter is a much, much more complex thing that we ever thought – and I thinks games, that envisioning of nonspaces that you can explore, might be a great way to explain these ideas…


The many dimensions of Superstring Theory...

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