Fans of the beautiful and mysterious Myst computer games series will probably know that an online multiplayer version called Myst Online: Uru Live was attempted and, tragically, closed after some time. What fewer people realize is that MOUL continues to exist and is actually the first open-source multiplayer online adventure game. The games’ creators made it possible for players with enough knowledge of the scripting language used in the game to write their own rooms and worlds, adding them to the exploratory space available to everyone.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past decade, you’ve probably also heard of World of Warcraft, Blizzard Entertainment’s quite successful MMORPG. I hardly need to write anything about it, it’s so well known – but if you’re not familiar, although many parts of gameplay have arisen from interactions within the player base, and more based on feedback, the world is very much a creation of its developers.
What if things had gone differently, and Myst Online had not only survived in its original incarnation, but also allowed its players to design it? What if it created its own culture a la WoW, and been as far-reaching into our own general culture?
That’s more or less what’s happened in the near-future Omnitopia Dawn by Diane Duane. Fifty million people connecting to a sensory-immersion world that’s expanded not merely by the game’s nominal developers but by players selected for ethical probity and love of the game. A world of worlds created to fit niches and fill needs that the original creator didn’t anticipate… as long as it’s legal and safe. People from all over the world interact in real-time in ways and in forms of their choosing. Actual history reenacted, possible histories explored, implausible and impractical fantasy worlds generated and a thousand different sorts of games delighted in. It’s a dream given form.
And there are forces gathering who would like nothing more than to destroy it all.
Duane takes her trademark theological speculation – in which the Powers responsible for creating and maintaining the world delegate some of their own power and authority to created beings – and makes the metaphor literal. Omnitopia is a self-modifying system made ever richer by those who participate in it. Yes, there are links all the way back to Tolkien’s ideas about subcreation. The game is one person’s subcreation that invites others to continue to elaborate and develop it, within a reality that Duane has suggested is just such a system. MMORPGs used to explore the nature of the concept of the divine and how we should approach our own responsibility in participation within reality itself, touching upon ethics, morality, and the nature of evil.
If nothing else, it’s a fascinating exercise in how to present an old-fashioned idea in modern terms. I can’t help but think that Tolkien would approve.