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MMO: Science Fiction MMO Outline #1 — “Book of Days”

Posted by on January 18, 2008

Inspired by Wilhelm and Potshot, who both see the barriers against any sort of MMO with a science fictional basis as nearly insurmountable… I found I disagreed.

Strongly.

I love science fiction — Peter Hartwell once said “The Golden Age of Science Fiction is twelve“. All life and possibility is open to you, and yet you have questions about what will happen to you in the future… where you’ll be living. And how things will be. Will life be better? Different? How will we change?

There is only one genre of fiction that can lead you to those answers. Anyone can look to the past and tell you what already happened. Shelves and libraries of books tell you what’s happening right now. Science fiction can help explain what will happen tomorrow. And the next day. And the year after that. How your great, great grandchildren might be getting along. What you can do today to make the future better. Or what you might want to stop doing because, hey, you’re screwing things up.

I love SF and I love MMOs. The problem with SF MMOs is that they don’t do what good SF does — let us look at ourselves from a distance. The original Star Trek HAD that, had that NAILED. So did The Twilight Zone. Babylon 5 did it, too. I’m just talking TV shows because if I started in on books, we’d be here for hours. And that’s not the point of this post.

My disappointment with SF MMOs like Star Wars Galaxies or Anarchy Online is that they use the tropes of SF as a *setting* but past that — don’t talk about the human condition at all. People let fantasy get away with it because that is the stuff of daydreams and fairy stories; anything can happen; there are no rules or boundaries and all fantasy is in the past and dead. It can’t tell us anything we don’t already know.

My challenge — to myself and to any other out there who care to join in — is to give a brief description of a MMO that could only be set in a SF-nal world.

Here’s my first.

“Book of Days”

The Earth is under attack, and nobody knows it.

Each day people wake up, go to work, watch the tube, eat, get drunk, go to sleep, wake up and do it all over again.

Literally. Because each day they wake up, it’s the *same day*. Like ‘Groundhog Day*’, but also like ‘Tunnel Beneath the World’, a similar story by Philip Jose Farmer, shades of Dick’s “Radio Free Albemuth”.

This day when the player wakes up, is the day when they first realize they’ve lived this day before. What the player does is important. Maybe they head to a military base and volunteer. Maybe they see a sudden flash in the direction of the next block over and decide to have a look. Maybe they follow sirens to a hospital and volunteer there. Maybe they meet up with other people who have come awake and try to leave the city (but they can’t… why not? Maybe if they found out…)

Each day they can explore more, solve the puzzles — and there will be many, many clues that this day has been replayed for quite a long time. Because not everything is back the way it was the next day. Sometimes the changes you make will stick.

And when you have done enough, found out enough… you come to Day 2. And the plot continues, along with all those others who have progressed enough to see the next day, find out a little more. Maybe you find out you needed to do something back in Day 1 — that’s okay, you can go back a day at a time, maybe bring news to the people there — do what you need to do, and keep heading up and advancing… until Day 7, when, with the knowledge you’ve gained through the previous six Days which may have taken weeks of play, you gather together with all your fellow travelers and fight off the aliens…

Only to find that the aliens were *protecting* you from Day 8, which has now become inevitable…

Or maybe you worked it out a different way, and your Day 7 ended with the bright spaceships landing in the park as you greet your new friends warmly. “Book of Days” takes place in one city, but based on the actions you take, that one city can be one of any number of possibilities, that slowly converge.

It’s a puzzle, it’s an MMO, you can change the plot, but there IS a plot and an ending that is no ending at all.

Got a better idea for a SF MMO? Let me know!

(* Groundhog Day is one of the best SF movies I’ve seen. I am proud to steal from it.)

8 Responses to MMO: Science Fiction MMO Outline #1 — “Book of Days”

  1. wilhelm2451

    I would actually put my own view on the path to a good SF MMORPG as “not obvious” or “more groundwork required” as opposed to “nearly insurmountable.” EverQuest, or something very much like it, was almost inevitable by, say, 1994. A good science fiction MMORPG is, not yet, so obviously headed our way. Or if it is, I cannot picture it yet.

    I’ll see what I can come up with on your challenge.

    Ironically, all of us running around in virtual fantasy worlds would have made good science fiction at some point in the past. Didn’t one of the Banks “Culture” book have a character who spent some time playing in a virtual world (as a pirate, if I recall right) only to tire of it and go off in search of something more meaningful?

  2. Tipa

    The use of virtual worlds in SF has almost always been a metaphor for escape from responsibility. They always either die or rejoin the world — think of the main characters in Clarke’s “The Lion of Comarre” or Zelazny’s “Lord of Light”. Banks has never had anything good to say about the rank and file of the Culture — he always describes them as useless and decadent. The only interesting ones are the ones who decide to give their lives meaning of some sort. In “The State of the Art”, Banks argues that imposing the Culture on modern-day Earth would kill it, and they decide not to contact us.

    Mike Resnick (believe it was him) used virtual worlds in one of his stories as a way to escape to a simpler time — where he lost himself as his marriage disintegrated.

    SF authors have already trampled through MMOs — and on the balance, haven’t had many good things to say about them.

  3. Barely

    At a glance it looks like sciMMO games are just not viable, but I think in the end its the fact that a producer needs a certain amount of imagination and innovation to churn one out. Besides that, scifi is based around ideas, rather than the swing of a sword. Its hard to translate that into a game the general public will embrace.

    Anyways, on to the guts of the question. I think Orson Scott Card has put forward a wonderful world in the Worthing Saga. It puts forward an interesting and totally possible future, based around a drug that will put poeple into suspended animation. Your status and wealth defines the ratio of your sleep, five years down and one year up for example. The world is a metallic jungle, one giant city. But people can sign up, no questions asked, on a colonization ship. This gives a totally different environment, one where people are starting over. The choice is which you prefer, a political world full of intrigue, or a virgin world who needs cultivation to become tenable.

    The way I see it, Worthing gives a traditional experience as well as room for innovation.

  4. Tipa

    I’ve not read that series. I have read the Ender books and the Alvin Maker books and have always thought him an inventive writer. Remember the game used to teach kids in the book-length version of Ender’s Game? There, the game was used to teach — but it also rewrote itself dynamically for each child. I’m not sure our technology is up to that.

  5. Barely

    OSC does great novels, but I really think he excels at short stories. The two short story collections can’t recommend enough are “Maps in a Mirror” and “Angles and other Stories”. More notably the stories “Kingsmeat”, “Unaccompanied Sonata”, “Fat Farm” and “Angles”.

  6. Tipa

    Thanks! I’ll look them up. I haven’t read much of his short stuff. I’d like to recommend in turn the short stories of Gene Wolfe; they are all great, but if you can find a copy of “The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories”, get it.

  7. Shola Ajayi

    I have not read so much of these books but I have read “The island of Doctor Death and other stories.