author's preface
introduction: virtual reality
the perfect representation
what's in a name
being-here, now...
a theory of objects
last man on earth
scientific realism
esse is percipi
nation of fools
being-there, now...
being-there, then...
being-there, later...
reality simulation as a medium
game of life
love at the prompt
sex in the machine
death in cyberspace
Are Deities Frame-Dependent?

Virtual Reality!

last man on earth

Me and this guy Bruce, smack in the middle of the real world.

     My name is Knowles. Alan B. Knowles. They say I'm the last man on Earth not plugged into a Reality Chamber. Could well be. I haven't seen anybody walkin' around on two legs for several years now. `Cept on T.V., of course. They left me with 98 channels that I watch all the time. Old movies are my favorites. Wouldn't leave me the 3D stuff, though. Part of my contract said I wouldn't get that.
     See, ever since I tucked Mr. Kline away upstairs—him and his divorcée wife in one of those domestic tranquility machines – I'm supposed to watch over things. Not much to do really. All them machines fix themselves without me knowin' nothin' about it.
     Fact is, I don't know why they left me here—payin' me all this money I can't spend. It's weird.
     Anyways, I got my belly full of it a few days ago, and thought I'd pick myself out a playmate—wake her up, you know, and see if one thing might lead to another. Boy-girl stuff, if you know what I mean.
     Wouldn't do that ever again, I can tell you that. No matter how lonesome I get. Shouldn't even be tellin' you about this, whoever it is that finds this note. Don't matter, I guess. Nobody's ever gonna find it. I'm here for the duration now, let's face it.
     Anyways, I go into the Big House, pick me out a sweet young thing 19 years old according to what MOM the big computer said, and type in my password. Simple matter from there on. Just hit PAUSE, and go down to Reception to pick her up. It's all in the Manual; you can't go wrong.
     So I thought. First of all, I get downstairs and find that I didn't get myself a girl, but some guy named Bruce. He didn't even know that—what his name was. Had to read it to him off his tag.
     He was madder'n hell. Said he'd been a Shakespearean actor named Anthony Leavenworth for seven years, and had finally got into the part—bein' Leavenworth, I mean. I believe him. Kept on sayin' he'd fain do this, fain do that, fain get back into the machine right away.
     Then he rattles on about how I picked him off at the worst possible time. Said it was in the year 1612, in Stratford-on-Avon, and that he was Leavenworth in the Globe Theater playing Hamlet mimicking Polonius when I pulled the switch. Did I know what that meant for him, and things like that. Three backwards frame switches, he kept on sayin'. First Polonius to Hamlet, then Hamlet to Tony Leavenworth, and finally Leavenworth to some guy named Bruce he can't remember. Now in a game he didn't want to be in.1
     By this time we were outside the Big House, on the big front lawn. Nighttime, with lots of stars out. Figured that would be best for romancing the nineteen-year-old girl, which turns out to be some guy Bruce from San Francisco, like it says on his tag.
     "Don't like this game," he keeps on saying.
     "Listen," I say, "this ain't no game. This is the real world. And I'm the last guy –`cepin for you now, of course, who ain't in one of them Big House game machines. Whaddya think about them apples?"
     "Them Apples was a very early game," he says. "No one liked it, and it was taken off the disk years ago."
      "All right," I say, hopin' to get the upper hand. "Look up there, in the sky, and tell me what you think about the whole fuckin' universe. Those are stars, and they create a sense of wonder, and encourage thinking about the ultimate origins of things, even in slobs like me."
     "Hey," he says, "back in there we can click on them, and go there — just like that. Discounted, time-wise, of course. We go to places as they were years ago. Says right on the game ticket what the temporal discount is."
     This got my dander up. This kid obviously didn't know that the machine was importing transcriptions at 186,000 miles per second, and that he really wasn't going anywhere—not even outside the Big House. Figured I'd set him straight.
     "Listen," I said, "you ain't really goin' to them places. The machine is bringin' them to you! Anything else sounds like liner notes to me."
     "Liner notes?" he asks.
     "Yeah, the hype for the games. Always been that way—ever since the machine started writin' 'em."
     "Well, I can't complain. There's a lot of action back in there, I can tell you that. Anyway, what's so great about this game?"
     "This ain't a game," I say. "This is the real world!"
     "What's that?" he asks.
     "Don't rightly know. Only, that's what we always used to say here. Seems to fit."
     "Oh," he says. "We say the same thing in there too; only, all we mean is that the game is 256-bit or better. Listen, do you mind if I go back now?"
     I'd had enough of this crap. Here this kid was, smack in the middle of the real world on a starry night, and all he could think about was crawling back into one of those sliding drawers and dialin' up some place that was all fake.
     "O.K.," I said. "I'll let you back in. You're payin' for it, I guess. Don't forget, though."
     "Don't forget what?"
     "That this is the really-Real world. All those in there ain't."
     So I take him back to the Big House, and check him in just like I did with Mr. Kline and his wife, who were the last ones to go in, after they gave me the ten dollars. Couple-a-minutes later he's all wired up and behind the quartz window, and I'm just about to hit the red button and send him on his way when I hear him yellin' inside.
     "Whaddya want now?" I ask him.
     "Wait," he goes. "Can you select that place out there as a game?"
     "Sure thing," I say, and I punch up the digits on the game selector—all of them zeros if I remember right—and I hit the red button. Supposed to be the Lifegame—the one nobody ever selects. Something about that "infinitely-textured" in the liner notes that scares 'em off.
     It's only later that I see how bad I screwed up. The kid's on the lawn waiting for me when I go outside. Now he's looking me up and down and likes what he sees.
     Me and this guy Bruce, smack in the middle of the real world.

1Click "Back" three times on the toolbar of any current WWW browser to get a feeling for cyberspatial vertigo referenced here.

© 1993, Gilbert Scott Markle.

E-mail: philo@passports.com

 All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.