The Strange Beauty of Virtual Worlds

Prompt: Immerse

Video games are busy places. Gamers are constantly in battle, or saving worlds or destroying enemies or facing impossible challenges. These worlds aren’t meant for leisurely exploration, but are settings for action and adventure. Unless, that is, you are writer and gamer Andy Kelly (ultrabrilliant on YouTube), who has found a way to break free of the gameplay long enough to film some of the most popular environments in gaming. The haunting soundtracks in theses videos are taken directly from the game scores.

Dunwall, a dank, dangerous, plague-ridden city, which reminds me vaguely of post-Industrial Revolution London (though industry has taken a very dark turn) is the setting for the video game Dishonored. Clearly an adult game, there are warnings about blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, and strong language. Yet, Andy Kelly captures the innate beauty of Dunwall in all its stunning detail.

Portal 2 offers up a completely different world, with robotics as compelling as any vista in the city of Dunwall. Described as a first person puzzle-platform game, it eschews the bloodshed for a darkly humorous, clever, physics-inspired experience, as you navigate the sinister Aperture Laboratories.

Another favourite in the series is Columbia, the floating dystopian city in the violent first-person shooter BioShock Infinite. Set in 1912, the protagonist sets out on a rescue mission, only to become ensnarled in the bleak conflict between the brutal ruling class and the rebellion. BioShock Infinite is the third in the series, and it is an absolute visual feast, demonstrating what talent, imagination, and virtually unlimited resources can accomplish.

Andy Kelly has more than 75 Other Places videos available on YouTube, each featuring a different game and location, in celebration of the beauty of virtual worlds, the most recent (Hitman) uploaded only a month ago. I find them inspiring, to say the least.


The Guaranteed to Catch a Fish Pond

Prompt: Fishing

fisherman with fishing pole holding fish

Juan Swann ran the Guaranteed to Catch a Fish Pond that was just outside of Ringerville on the way to Bartlett, in Echo Valley, but business wasn’t good. For that reason he was petitioning to rent some property right on the highway close to the bridge, where the tourists stopped because of the petting zoo, the fruit and candle stands, three fast food outlets, and now the bouncy castle (only $1 for half an hour, space permitting, age 4 to 11 only).

Business was slow at the Fish Pond despite the new neon sign he’d bought, which animated a blue fish leaping out of blue water (it was cheaper to have just one colour). He had forgotten that the neon was not as effective in bright daylight as it was at, say, midnight, when no one was interested in catching a fish out of a converted above-ground swimming pool.

But he was battling the district, who, under pressure from the Pearheads in the town of Bartlett, wanted to cap the activity on the Ringerville side of the bridge before it became, as they put it, tacky. The protesters had given up on eliminating the tourist “mall”, and now simply wanted to contain it. They pressured the district board members hard; they brought new energy into the concept of lobbying, which, to be honest, had never before been a staple of the Echo Valley District.

So Juan Swann decided to take a chance, a big one.

He asked to rent a small parcel on the Bartlett side of the one lane bridge instead of the Ringerville side, for his Guaranteed to Catch a Fish Pond enterprise. Now this was risky, as the protesters from Bartlett were a ruthless group, having recently stolen all the animals (four llamas, six goats, two old sheep, and Fancy the Chicken) from the petting zoo. These animals had recently been found roaming the fenced acreage of Jason Hock’s miniature pony ranch, in good condition except for the peace sign shaved into one of the llamas. What mischief would they get up to with Juan’s Fish Pond?

Juan fervently hoped his proposal would appease the naysayers. His Guaranteed to Catch a Fish Pond concession would be elegant, it would blend with the natural environment, it would be mostly hidden behind a copse of poplar trees, with only the subtle (in the daytime) blue neon sign announcing its presence. He would take out a bank loan and build a real wood deck to surround the pond, and would let the wood weather naturally. He would put out pots of flowers and herbs, and only sell soft drinks and water. The whole operation would be tasteful, and, he hoped, profitable for both the district and for Juan Swann.

Then one evening, as Juan settled in front of the television to watch CSI Miami, there was a pounding at the front door of his white panelled prefabricated bungalow. More curious than alarmed, he went to the door and to his horror, found a dead fish wrapped in newspaper on the porch.

It was only a goldfish, perhaps five centimetres in length, but the message was clear. Beware, Juan Swann. Your Guaranteed to Catch a Fish Pond is not wanted, and we will do what we have to do. Beware, or you swim with the goldfish.

Cyberfood for Cyberthought

Prompt: Artificial


Whether we are based on carbon or on silicon makes no fundamental difference; we should each be treated with appropriate respect.
Arthur C. Clarke, 2010: Odyssey Two

Numbers do not feel. Do not bleed or weep or hope. They do not know bravery or sacrifice. Love or allegiance. At the very apex of callousness you will find only ones and zeroes.
― Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Thinking is a human feature. Will AI someday really think? That’s like asking if submarines swim. If you call it swimming then robots will think, yes.
― Noam Chomsky

Nobody phrases it this way, but I think that artificial intelligence is almost a humanities discipline. It’s really an attempt to understand human intelligence and human cognition.
― Sebastian Thrun

How will machines know what we value if we don’t know ourselves?
― John C. Havens

Virtual Life and Art

art and second life

Photograph of Scottius Polke’s virtual exhibit “The Docks”.

This Photo Challenge entry is a little unusual. It is a photograph taken in a virtual world, where my friend, artist Scott Rolfe had set up a immersive art exhibit. My avatar visited the installation and imitated the pose of one of the exhibit components, and when I saw the weekly challenge topic, I immediately thought of this picture!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Life Imitates Art
This week, find inspiration in a piece of art. Then, imitate it.

The virtual world is Second Life.