Chapter 17. Virtual and Ambient Places

It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.


Of Dungeons and Quakes

SEMANTIC INFORMATION CAN BE TRULY IMMERSIVE. Whether it’s an all-night dorm conversation or losing yourself in an engrossing novel, language can swallow our attention whole. When you add more layers to the semantic environment, meaningful experiences of place can emerge. Take a role-playing game such as Dungeons & Dragons (Figure 17-1). For the players, the physical surroundings—a friend’s kitchen table or the back of a hobby shop—recede into mist as the shared story of the campaign becomes more palpable and compelling. Even as a teenager, when I was an active player, I marveled at how all it took was some scribbling on paper, some rules, and some dice to create a fully engaging environment that my friends and I could inhabit until dawn.

Digital technology is turning the sorts of rules and maps we find in a tabletop game into actively inhabited virtual places as well as radically transformed physical ones. We find one example in text-based Multi-User Dungeons (or Domains), more commonly known by their acronym “MUDs” (and variants MUSH, MOO, and so on). Invented almost as soon as computers with command-line interfaces could be networked, MUDs establish immersive environments in which players can interact as they find treasure and slay monsters, or in some cases ...

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