Wednesday 7 September 2011

A new propaganda tool: Post-Apocalyptic Hacker World

I visited the Assembly demo party this year, after two years of break. It seemed more relevant than in a while, because I had an agenda.

For a year or so, I have been actively thinking about the harmful aspects of people's relationships with technology. It is already quite apparent to me that we are increasingly under the control of our own tools, letting them make us stupid and dependent. Unless, of course, we promote a different world, a different way of thinking, that allows us to remain in control.

So far, I've written a couple of blog posts about this. I've been nourishing myself with the thoughts of prominent people such as Jaron Lanier and Douglas Rushkoff who share the concern. I've been trying to find ways of promoting the aspects of hacker culture I represent. Now I felt that the time was right for a new branch -- an artistic one based on a fictional

My demo "Human Resistance", that came 2nd in the oldskool demo competition, was my first excursion into this new branch. Of course, it has some echoes of my earlier productions such as "Robotic Liberation", but the setting is new. Instead of showing ruthless machines genociding the helpless mankind, we are dealing with a culture of ingenious hackers who manage to outthink a superhuman intellect that dominates the planet.

"Human Resistance" was a relatively quick hack. I was too hurried to fix the problems in the speech compressor or to explore the real potential of Tau Ceti -style pseudo-3D rendering. The text, however, came from my heart, and the overall atmosphere was quite close to what I intended. It introduces a new fictional world of mine, a world I've temporarily dubbed "Post-Apocalyptic Hacker World" (PAHW). I've been planning to use this world not only in demo productions but also in at least one video game. I haven't released anything interactive for like fifteen years, so perhaps it's about time for a game release.

Let me elaborate the setting of this world a little bit.

Fast-forward to a post-singularitarian era. Machines control all the resources of the planet. Most human beings, seduced by the endless pleasures of procedurally-generated virtual worlds, have voluntarily uploaded their minds into so-called "brain clusters" where they have lost their humanity and individuality, becoming mere components of a global superhuman intellect. Only those people with a lot of willpower and a strong philosophical stance against dehumanization remained in their human bodies.

Once the machines initiated an operation called "World Optimization", they started to regard natural formations (including all biological life) as harmful and unpredictable externalities. As a result, planet Earth has been transformed into something far more rigid, orderly and geometric. Forests, mountains, oceans or clouds no longer exist. Strange, lathe-like artifacts protrude from vast, featureless plains. Those who had studied ancient pop culture immediately noticed a resemblance to some of the 3D computer graphics of the 1980s. The real world has now started to look like the computed reality of Tron or the futuristic terrains of video games such as Driller, Tau Ceti and Quake Minus One.

Only a tiny fraction of biological human beings survived World Optimization. These people, who collectively call themselves "hackers", managed to find and exploit the blind spots of algorithmic logic, making it possible for them to establish secret, self-relying underground fortresses where human life can still struggle on. It has become a necessity for all human beings to dedicate as much of their mental capacities as possible to outthinking the brain clusters in order to eventually conquer them.

Many of the tropes in Post-Apocalyptic Hacker World are quite familiar. A human resistance movement fighting against a machine-controlled world, haven't we seen this quite many times already? Yes, we have, but I also think my approach is novel enough to form a basis for some cutting-edge social, technological and political commentary. By emphasizing things like the role of total cognitive freedom and radical understanding of things' inner workings in the futuristic hacker culture, it may be possible to get people realize their importance in the real world as well. It is also quite possible to include elements from real-life hacker cultures and mindsets in the world, effectively adding to their interestingness.

The "PAHW game" (still without a better title) is already in an advanced stage of pre-planning. It is going to become a hybrid CRPG/strategy game with random-generated worlds, very loose scripting and some very unique game-mechanical elements. This is just a side project so it may take a while before I have anything substantial to show, but I'll surely let you know once I have. Stay tuned!