<<The Purpose of Space was written as response to Kameron Hurley’s batshit insane propaganda piece, “Its About Ethics in Revolution” https://archive.is/CwNUN. It is inspired by a conflict I experienced in Second Life, detailed in the Ignite presentation, “The Plight of the Digital Chicken”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3p5d4e5e-7o#t=41>>
You’re trying to enjoy your root beer — or at least, a scripted item that looks like root beer and tells your brain that it smells and tastes like root beer. The best thing about it is that the bottle never empties, and you never feel sick no matter how much of it you drink.
Two loud and angry mobs have formed on either side of the sector 0,0 central square. Shouting matches are going on between groups of individuals, and were it not for nature of virtual reality, you’d be sure someone was about get shanked.
Some of them are arguing over sim usage, each claiming their use of processing power is more valid than someone else’s. War gamers are arguing with virtual pet breeders over how their ballistics calculations are more important than their gene sequencing and pet emotion simulations. Flight enthusiasts are insisting that their aerodynamics calculations should take priority over furry fandom’s fur physics.
Some are complaining that the war gamers are too violent — claiming that people like them will cause trouble when they arrive in Alpha Centauri. In one corner, you can even see the the leather-clad BDSM fetishists being berated and called ‘digital rapists’, their ‘slaves’ being told they are being emotionally abused.
There are countless factions gathered in front of you, but all of them seem be grouping into two forces. Some factions splinter over internal arguments, others remain whole, but despite everyone’s different agendas, no large third group ever emerges. Everyone is either yelling from one side of the square or the other. Almost nobody stands in the middle.
The bloggers are out in force to cover the whole ugly kerfuffle, some of them picking sides, others trying to remain neutral and then getting attacked from all directions for having the temerity to do so.
It’s been like this for the past few days, but today, something seems different. There’s a simmering intensity in the crowds that wasn’t there before.
You glance at the blogs and message feeds on your hud. The bloggers are gravitating toward the artists, the moralists, the pet breeders. The war gamers, the kinksters, flight enthusiasts, are derided as violent knuckle-draggers, depraved rapists, and egghead nerds. Words like ‘autistic’, ‘man baby’, ‘regressive’ and ‘misogynistic’ get thrown around, and petitions to allocate processor time to various activities appear, as do calls for other activities to be restricted to specific sectors of the simulation.
The response is barely seen in the sector itself, but the text communications light up with accusations against bloggers — allegations of sex scandals, cronyism, nepotism, bias and manufactured outrage.
And then it happens. Time slows down. For a brief moment, you feel nauseous as your brain reacts to unusual feeling, and even turning your head becomes a long, laborious process. Just behind you, a figure in a suit has replaced their avatar’s head with a 3D Mandelbrot set. By the time you realize what you’re looking at, it is too late, and its trillions upon trillions of levels of geometric complexity freeze your vision entirely.
The sector crashes, and without the VR connection, you fall into the unconsciousness of hypersleep. The next thing you are aware of is being back in your home sector, 0,451.
A feeling in your gut tells you that you’ve witnessed the start of something that is going to shape the coming years, if not the entirety of the Unity’s voyage.
You spawn some comfort food to eat — or at least enjoy the simulated taste of, and listen to some of your favorite music while thinking about what you saw. Your mind boggles at the outright vilifying of people just trying to have fun. You look through various feeds and forums and all around you see people airing the same views you have. Realizing you are not alone, you add your own views.
You quickly gain responses of agreement — and they come from diverse sources — one from a latex-encased, eerily perfect and creepily elegant, gleaming-fanged vampiress, and another from a stubbly hardass looking guy with ‘I AM BECOME DEATH’ written on the front of a helmet you can’t find an image of him without. There’s also an anthropomorphic fox, an ominously floating brain, and a black woman with an afro that strobes and flashes in all the colors of the rainbow.
People start sharing videos across the network — many of them made days ago in the build up to what you saw in sector o,o. The two most popular producers are Vivian and Gator.
Vivian is a ginger-haired, green-eyed, pale skinned young woman. She looks slightly unhealthy and rather tired — something very rare in this virtual world where anyone can look exactly as they please. She has chosen to look deliberately, conspicuously flawed and imperfect, with bags under her eyes hair that appears neglected. Normally, even real world scans of people are cleaned up to look ‘better’ than this. Speaking in her videos, she is a cynic, bitter but observant. Angry but accurate. There is an intensity and passion in her words, and you know that she believes in every word she says. She is no vlogger looking for fame, that’s for sure.
Gator, meanwhile, is anything but average. He is a massive, hulking humanoid reptile, scaled, fearsome, with a mouth full of sharp teeth and frightening, inhuman eyes. If you had your user settings configured to allow simulated pain, you’d be wary of angering him. Like Vivian, though, he has gone to great effort to look this way, and the artistry that went into his avatar reminds you of the human behind it. His videos are more entertaining than Vivian’s, though as a consequence, they are less substantial.
You spend hours watching these two people’s backlog of content, and when you think to check the sector status board, 0,0 is back online again and it has already filled with people — most wanting to talk about the what the ‘right’ use for everyone’s processor cycles was, or why the bloggers had skewed their coverage of the discourse to one side or the other.
Vivian was there too. She had a throng of supporters around her, and you caught those tired-looking eyes staring across the square at her opposition with an intensity that belied the alertness of the human behind the avatar. Her gaze was fixed on a blonde haired woman whose avatar appeared to be a flawless, conventionally beautified parody of her own, surely an affront the sensibilities of someone who had gone out of their way to appear ‘real’ and ‘average’. It put an even bigger scowl upon Vivian’s face, if that was possible.
This time, a collection of bloggers set up an impromptu podium in the square on a single untextured cube that looked grossly out of place in the meticulously detailed and hyper realistic street, but then, so did the throng of anime avatars on one side of it — especially the cel-shaded ones. Some of them were so elaborate as to appear truly two dimensional even though they were viewable from all angles.
The bloggers were trying to mediate a discussion even as AI admin bots still zipped around the sector looking for the cause of, and any potential damage from the previous crash.
The crowd seemed to cooperate in this endeavor at first, but shouting matches erupted several times. Gator showed up, cracked a joke, and was almost immediately set upon by a group of literal harpies with rainbow colored feathers, berating him for an unfunny, offensive, misogynistic joke. That dozens of women were stood behind him in solidarity, meant nothing to them. “You’re just useful idiots! You’re too fucking stupid to see your own subjugation!” they screeched at them.
A passing anthropomorphic Gazelle leaned in toward the Gator and throw her own two cents in with a disgusted growl of “Fucking scumbag!”
The big guy lost his temper, wrapping a massive, scaly, clawed hand around one of the delicate harpy’s wings, he yanked her clean off the ground and flung her, screaming, across the square. There was no pain in it for anyone — she didn’t feel a thing even as she tumbled and and bounced across the ground in a jumble of flailing, rainbow limbs. At worst, she was disoriented by the sudden spinning of her view and lost her sense of direction.
None of that mattered, though. The logical meaninglessness of what Gator had done meant nothing as the harpies and their backers closed ranks around the downed ‘victim’, asking absurd questions like “Oh my god, are you okay!?”.
“Of course she’s fucking ok! I made her fucking camera flip over! Big fucking whoop!” Gator huffed, but the harpies were having none of it. “You violated her right to control her own avatar!” One hissed at him like he were worse than dirt.
“You don’t EVER do that to a woman! Not even in VR!” Another stated in an angry, shrill scream.
Once again, a throng of bloggers sided with the harpies and the Gazelle. Vivian hopped up onto the podium along two bloggers who had seemed to favour her stance — a girl with a shoe seemingly welded to her head and a fat, bearded man. Spawning a microphone, she spoke to the crowd, but nobody heard her. Her parody had spawned a giant cartoon fire alarm and pulled it, filling the whole sector with an obnoxiously loud ringing.
Vivian was livid, throwing her microphone at her imitator, and that was when a certain guy in his ‘I AM BECOME DEATH’ helmet showed up, and, resorting to local text to communicate over the noise, maintained his commitment to upper case lettering:
“SCORCHED EARTH POLICY.”
He whips out an antique machine gun, and you watch as several rounds of giant Mandelbrot-shaped bullets are spat into the air. Time slows you, your vision freezes, and you wonder how many Mandelbrots will successfully spawn before the sector crashes again.
Reading post after post hurling accusations of misogyny and sexism at Gator, your frustration grows. Some reports of the incident contain inaccuracies and even outright fabrications. Almost all completely fail to mention anything that was said to Gator before his outburst, and many treat the incident as if it had been real violence, as if someone could have actually been hurt.
You can stomach these falsehoods no longer. You spend the next four solid hours making post after post in defense of Gator, bringing up the fact that he was slandered, vilified and dogpiled before his harmless act of retaliation.
As you are doing this, you receive a sector link from Vivian, with the message “You seem like the sort of person who should go here.”
It is sector 6470,12.
At first glance, it an empty island coastline, pretty, aside from the rather out of place, untextured 20ft diameter sphere sitting half buried on the beach. Puzzled, you take a few steps.
“You’re still here? I said go away, Viv!” A distressed voice grumbles from within the sphere. You realize it is Gator. He sounds like he has been crying, and you idly wonder to yourself if his avatar’s design is capable of expressing such a thing.
“I’m not Vivian.” You reply, stepping up to the exterior of the sphere. You place your hand against it and find it solid and immovable. You could use a teleport command to get inside it, but you think that would only upset Gator even more.
“Well you go away too!” He said.
You ask him why he is upset.
“I got on this ship to get away from all this. I thought I had, but no. Now I’m fucking stuck with the same obnoxious cliques of manipulative, lying cunts. I’m fucking stuck with them all the way to Alpha Centauri and I’ll be stuck with them all the way to fucking grave. It’s never going to end!” He shouts in exasperation.
You open your mouth to speak, but Gator isn’t finished.
“It’s the same fucking shit as highschool. I know their M.O. They’re going to poke me and prod me over and over and the second I raise my voice or my hand against them, they’re going to close ranks and point their fingers at me, like they did just now. That’s what they’ve always done and that’s what they always will do, because everyone around them enables it by being too fucking stupid to see their tactics for what they are — a fucking power play. It makes me SICK! They’re going to pretend they’re victims while doing everything they can to antagonize!”
You ponder his his words for a few moments.
“There are people defending you. I am. Vivian is. You’re not alone, Gator.” You say, trying to offer support.
“It doesn’t matter that I’m not alone. It doesn’t even matter if we outnumber them 5 to fucking 1. They’re the ‘in’ crowd and we’re not, and nothing we can do will ever change it. You watch. You watch how this plays out. We’ll all end up bullied and shamed out, packed into the buggiest, glitchiest sectors while those arrogant pricks team up with the bloggers. They’ll craft this gigantic fucking lie that we’re a bunch of subhuman scumbags and they’ll get us, and everything we like, banned. We’ll be driven into the cracks in the pavement to eke out a barely-tolerable existence while they control everything. Mark my fucking words.”
Gator’s words sound hyperbolic given the nature of VR, but you guess that he was probably not much older than 20 when he entered hypersleep — but then, that is probably true for most of the ship’s population. He might even be a teenager. Whoever he really is, he is hurt and afraid, and worse, he is used to being hurt and afraid.
“Well then, we’ll have to fight them, won’t we?” A second voice speaks up behind you. It’s that’s all caps helmet again, armed and ‘dangerous’.
He spawns another gun and offers it to you. “One of ma boys made a few modifications to it.” He says, although it looks just the same as the one you saw him use earlier.
“Now the bullets don’t turn into those sector-killers until they hit something. So you can fire ‘em from one sector into another and not get caught in the crash. Just, uh, close your eyes or look away, or your vision still freezes. It’s not a big deal if you’re in a different sector, though, cause you can still turn around no problem. We’re gonna go hit the blogger’s sectors. You comin’ with?”