[From a friend who wishes to remain anonymous, I received the original version of the message below, which was picked up using radio observation of signals from outer space. For the reader’s convenience, I have rendered it in contemporary English, rather than the early modern English in which it was written.]
Archive: Desbaresdes belt > Giraud γ > Orbit of Giraud γ 3 > Wreckage of Sigil, orbital torus space station
File: Anonymous journal entry, textual, untitled, dated 2321/12/16
Description: This log entry, retrieved during the salvage of Sigil station in 2456, appears to be an assessment of a particular type of interactive experience available to users of the station at the time through use of holocommunication transmitters. Remnants of the software which is referred to in the entry have been found in the data logs of Sigil station, and various other stations throughout the galaxy; see > T. Beach Projector.
I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this. Who writes reviews of holoperiences anymore? I guess it’s not meant for others, just to get my thoughts off my mind.
Well, obviously T. Beach was not entirely as promised in the ads. It might have been a “trailblazer” in its own time, though S. Thala neglects to mention when that was. I dug around in the code a bit, comparing it to what few data stockpiles we have access to in our remote corner of the galaxy—God, I feel alone sometimes!—and found a few matches. As usual, S. Thala’s products are far more derivative than they’d like to own up to. The bulk of its programming structure bears similarities to products from the early 21st century, particularly those originating in the Earth country of Belgium. The closest match I could find for the movement and perspective implementations was a relatively obscure ‘perience called Bientôt l’été. One wonders how much of S. Thala’s ‘work’ is simply the scavenging of code roughly three centuries old. So yes, if “a trailblazer in its own time” refers to the original Earth work, than perhaps.
Regardless, the ‘perience itself is at first as atmospheric as promised. The abstracted rendition of an Earth beach, complete with local fauna, is as touching as I’d expect it to be, tapping into a nostalgia for our planet of old that never ceases to hit home. My avatar automatically accommodates my actual sex, but apart from that is fixed into an age and dress that is apparently appropriate to the setting. I can walk along the seashore and collect sentences in French (exotic, huh!) which I can later use to communicate with other users in the U. Bridge café. Also, various symbolic objects lie strewn about, which somehow transform into Chess™ pieces that I can collect. Analysis of the sentences indicates that they are likely to be citations of 20th century French author and filmmaker Marguerite Duras.
There’s music as well, a lovely calm piano-based soundtrack. More data comparisons indicate that the closest match to be found is the music of Walter Hus, again a figure of the late 20th, early 21st century, known for his film soundtracks, among other things. More intellectual borrowing by the ‘creators’… what a surprise.
If I walk too far from the café, the ‘perience’s rough edges start to show. Honestly, S. Thala have done a shoddy job polishing their ancient bits of code, and if you push against it, the whole thing starts to come apart. Progress beyond the two benches that arbitrarily mark the borders of the navigable part of the beach, and the simulation bleeds away, allowing the stars and planets visible from our own polypurpose deck window to shine through—through what exactly?—a strange window/mirror thing that half reflects my avatar, but switches the gender around. The music suffers too: the midi settings of its calm piano tones apparently disintegrate, reverting to some sort of default electronic setting that really doesn’t gel well with the atmosphere of the beach. What’s up with all that? It’s like they weren’t even trying to create a coherent immersive sim.
And another thing: don’t close your eyes too often. The ‘perience will interpret this as a rest moment, remove the visual layer of the sim, and will quickly rush through its day/night cycle, again somehow unable to hide its skeleton from you.
Oh well, if you don’t want to break the spell, better turn around quickly, and head towards the café, which is where the action is at, anyway. In the café, housed in a varying selection of characteristic buildings in Earth European architecture, you can put your sentences and Chess™ pieces to use. The ‘perience connects with one other user, and you can take turns by making Chess™ moves (or just randomly placing the pieces), which translate to some of the sentences you’ve collected on the beach. There’s also wine, cigarettes, and French music, to round it all off. Inside the café, at least, the simulation is stable and coherent.
One thing I found rather annoying was the heterosexual design of the programs. Possibly S. Thala decided to conform to some kind of heteronorm that is enforced on some worlds, in order to get this ‘perience through the censors there, but for obvious reasons, this doesn’t really make the whole experience better for me. If the simulation is about love, well, for me that could just as well be sitting across from another man. Or perhaps there is something in the original 20th century beach-boulevard-café setting that requires a man-woman interface? Regardless, I question the artistic validity of the restriction, and wonder if the overall feeling of the ‘perience would have been compromised by making potential matches between all users, instead of using opposite gender pairings.
That said, the café experience—mediated through the U. Bridge program—is enjoyable at first. It is an intimate setting, and the sentences available allow you to re-enact some kind of amorous relationship. As quickly becomes clear however, the limitations in the design, the content of some of the sentences, and the impossibility of direct speech cause problems in the relationship. There is also the dimension of using your Chess™ pieces to construct some form of code, but it is unlikely that you’ll ever be able to understand what the other is trying to say, since there is no direct way to check. Ultimately, the conversation will founder, and one of the partners will choose to leave or otherwise end the interface.
For a ‘perience that’s meant to alleviate loneliness, it sure made me feel lonely. Starting it up, I feel an enthusiasm, a hope for the possibility of connecting with someone else, but I always end up disappointed. There’s love, but it’s constantly frustrated by the communication problems inherent in the program. That said, in that respect it isn’t very different from actual communication. Like love, I guess this thing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but nothing is, so we keep returning anyway, like wayward moths to the light behind a curtained window. Rather bittersweet.
Addendum: Data comparison research confirms the observations of the log author that the T. Beach program is derived from 21st century software. However, the author failed to discover that historical parallels can also be found for what he describes as inconsistencies or ‘rough edges’ in the simulation. This aspect of the simulation can also be found in the 21st century software, which seems to indicate that the inconsistency of the setting was intended by the original creators. However, these inconsistencies were apparently so verisimilar that the author of this log entry could not distinguish it from what he would have seen and heard had the inconsistencies been real. How the original creators could have anticipated this is unknown.
[I realise there are a few temporal anomalies in the message and its context, but we decided to present it as is, without trying to solve what appear to be paradoxes. Incidentally, the game Bientôt l’été, which is referenced in the message, was published not long ago, and I have written about some its communicational aspects earlier.]