Casting a data point into the origins of the Polybius myth.

Nov 20 2017

A couple of days ago (a couple of minutes ago, as I happen to write this) I watched a documentary on Youtube about a modern urban legend, the video game called Polybius.  I don't want to give away the entire story if you've not heard it before, but a capsule version is that in 1981.ev a strange video game called Polybius was installed in a number of video arcades in the Pacific Northwest.  The game supposedly had a strange effect on some of the people playing it, ranging from long periods of hypnosis to night terrors, epileptic convulsions and, it is rumored, a small number of deaths due to sudden heart failure.  It's a story circulated for years online in one form or another, and a number of people have built their own versions that fit the details of the story, with varying degrees of fidelity.  I'll admit, one of my long-term plans is to build a MAME cabinet at home that looks like one as a conversation piece.  It's a modern day tall tale, where chances are you know somebody who knows somebody whose brother dated the sister of a guy who wound up in the hospital in a coma back in 198x because he spent 50 hours entranced playing some weird game in an arcade while on a family trip, and mysteriously the cabinet was gone by the time he was released.

One thing that I don't think I've heard anybody say, though, is that the origins of the story might date back to the late 1990's.  I first came across a story about a video game in the early 1980's that had strange effects on its players in the book GURPS Warehouse 23, published by Steve Jackson Games (first printing in 1997, second printing in 1999, available for purchase as a downloadable PDF from the Steve Jackson Online Store because the dead tree edition is out of print).  The chapter Conspiracies, Cover-Ups, and Hoaxes of the game supplement opens with a story called The Astro Globs! Cover-Up, which talks about a video game called Astro Globs! (unsurprisingly) developed in 1983 by a computer programmer named Gina Moravec (after Hans Moravec?) which was uncannily adaptive to the person playing it.  The video game described by the game book would figure out how the person playing it thought and tailored itself to be increasingly challenging and fascinating without ever getting frustrating, which also made it dangerously hypnotic.  The son of the programmer of the game was hospitalized for dehydration after playing it for over 72 hours with neither sleep nor food nor water.

The first printing of Warehouse 23 was in 1997, which implies that the genesis of the Astro Globs! story was some time prior to that.  From what little I know of the professional RPG authorship industry, factor in maybe a year's time for proofreading, layout, and the first print run to wind up in the warehouse for distribution (this was in the late 90's, after all - desktop publishing was nowhere near as advanced as it is now, and print-on-demand was certainly not a thing then) and two or three years for development, editing, playtesting, kicking around the group of people working on the text... so I would carefully guess that the idea came about some time in the early 1990's.  

The documentary states that the page on coinop.org I linked to above was created on 3 August 1998 at 0000 hours (timezone unknown) (local mirror, 20171120), which puts it about a year after the first edition of Warehouse 23 hit the shelves.  The researchers who made the documentary say that they traced the page as far back as 6 February 2000 using the Wayback Machine, which strongly implies that the date in the page footer is incorrect, possibly due to a default value entered in the back-end database during a site migration.

So... perhaps some GURPS conspiracy flavor can be found in the roots of this story?  Maybe somebody trying to make their favorite part of the book come to life somehow?

Year 1 under an authoritarian regime.

Jan 29 2017

UPDATE: 20170612

Due to extenuating circumstances, I don't think I can keep updating this entry.  For the sake of my mental, emotional, and physical health I'm going to let it go.  Lifeline, Edison, and other parts of me are going to continue monitoring and archiving the USian political situation but I, the organic core of everything, need to step back and do other things.

UPDATED: 20170604

In response to reading this tweet, I thought I'd type up the following list, and add links to some stuff I've observed.  I'll update it as necessary.  List beneath the cut.

Real life seems like Shadowrun - so why can't I throw fragging fireballs?!

Nov 26 2016

From time to time I sit down with my gaming buddies, and we both lament and observe how well reading and playing cyberpunk games has prepared us for life in the twenty-first century. I don't think that many people expected real life to track quite so closely with many a cyberpunk world penned by the masters, from William Gibson to Neal Stephenson to Bruce Sterling. Strangely enough, many of the lifestyle strategies depicted in these stories have helped keep our own lives (and those of our families) stable and, for the most part nice to live as human history has gone nonlinear all around us. Sure, we're seeing early experimenting with direct neural interfaces in hospitals, AI research is changing the world around us faster than we can see (and some of it's even open source), grinders are starting to do some pretty weird stuff with their own bodies, and we have stupidly advanced technology available for next to nothing on the street, but let's dig a little deeper.

What's really fucking with me is how much real life is tracking some of the backstory of Shadowrun.

Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

Nov 25 2016

It seems there is no end to the number of quotes through history that go something like this: "Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it." It's been variously attributed to Edmund Burke, Sara Shepard, Santayana... this is not to say that there is no truth to it. Far from it.

I haven't said much about the election of 2016, in part because my personal life has been upside down and inside out for weeks now, in part due to work, and in part due to the fact that there is so much fucked up stuff going on in the United States, in the global media, and in part in many different communities. When you factor in the fact that fake news is not just a propaganda tactic, it's a growth industry, the time requred to research even the simplest article is prohibitive. Pro-trolls and trollbots on pretty much every social media network don't make things any easier.

Maybe that's the point.

I'm certainly not the only person to notice that the media manipulation happening in 2016 isn't using new strategies or tactics even though they're being used on the Net in addition to print media and television. That people are treating this as a wholly novel phenomen, unprecedented in the western world has been driving me nuts. Did nobody pay attention in history class?

Then I got to thinking...