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Future Nostalgia (A Fictional Review of Bientôt l’été)

bientot

[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.

Con­tent:

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.]