On the End of a World

Long-running Massively Multiplayer Online game City of Heroes is due to close this year. While the game remains profitable and has around 100,000 active users, the publisher NCSoft has decided it doesn’t fit with the company’s focus. Rather than sell the game to another publisher, they immediately laid off the 80 employees of developer Paragon Studios, leaving the game with a skeleton staff until they lay it to rest by the end of November.

The game has been running for 8 years – I’ve heard from people who have grown up there, who have proposed to wives and husbands in-game, or who have introduced their children to it as they become old enough. These people face losing their old haunts, places they often regard as an extension of their hometown. The community faces being torn apart.

The first point I’d like to make is that this isn’t a game anymore; the ‘game’ aspect of it is, at this point, something of a vestigial organ connected to the body of something much larger.

On any article or thread on the subject you will find comments from people talking about the personal importance of the community to them, or of the memories they have of the game. I’m not here to talk about that.

What I think hasn’t really been touched on elsewhere is the fact that what we’re glibly referring to as a game is in fact a priceless work of art, unprecedented in scope and sheer scale.

City of Heroes has the most versatile and easy to use character editor in the history of gaming. Yes, you can create a muscleman in spandex with a cape and a mask. But you can just as easily play an elf, a wizard, a cowboy, a robot, a dinosaur, a monocle-wearing time traveller, a fireman, a police officer, a sky pirate, a brain parasite, a private eye, an accountant, an alien, or a super-intelligent shade of the colour blue.

This is a world in which playing a cyborg elf cowboy who channels the might of the Sumerian gods is not only possible, but actually pretty normal. Players are also encouraged to write a short description of their character, his or her background and abilities.

In recent years, the game has added a feature called ‘Mission Architect’, inviting players to create content for the game; missions other players can play through and comment on. Since its inception players have built tens of thousands of additional missions. The highly customisable nature of the game also lends itself well to machinima.

Over the years, 9,000,000 people have played the game. Every single one of them has created at least one character. There are now more than 43,000,000 characters on the servers; a fictional population comparable to that of Spain.

What do you get when you ask millions of people to explain to you, in words and pictures, their idea of a superhero?

There are only around 3,000 characters in the above video, a tiny fraction of the population of the servers, but every one of them represents a real person. A person who, for whatever reason, decided that a giant panda or a fiery angel or a super-patriot with a star on his chest or a guy in pink shorts was how they wanted to be a hero.

The world of Paragon City is a vast work of participatory art, something absolutely unique and irreplaceable. It’s a glimpse into a particular corner of our collective psyche, a resource historians hundreds of years from now might relish – if it still exists.

Because right now it’s unlikely that it will. Electronic games are a new medium, MMO games even more so. The custodians of art and culture have yet to recognise it as art, or as part of our culture, or as worthy of preservation. Like the early silent films that were melted down to make boot heels, or the early episodes of Dr Who that were erased by the BBC to save on magnetic tape, it will be lost forever when the servers go down, because it was too new and too garish and too low-brow for anyone to think we’d ever seriously regret its loss.

As the campaign to save the game gets underway, we have an opportunity comparable to being able to write to the BBC in the sixties and telling them people will still want to watch Dr Who in the 21st century, to say that what’s being destroyed isn’t trash or ephemera, but part of our cultural record. Even if you’ve never played the game and never will, even if you aren’t part of that community, you can still join the calls for its preservation for the simple reason that together the players have built something huge and weird and amazing. Because what they’ve built has intrinsic artistic and historical value, and because once it’s gone, we’ll never get it back.

So what can you do? I believe the most important and easy things you can do are to sign the petition and get the word out by sharing this article or a link to CoH Titan’s ‘Save City of Heroes’ board. If you’re sharing somewhere with hashtags, use #SaveCOH. If you want to join or just see the in-game protests, instructions on getting into the game can be found here.

Edits: Corrected the age of the game, and added figures for the lifetime number of players/characters.

UK Government Consultation on Same Sex Marriage

I’ve received a letter from the Peter Tatchell Foundation urging me to respond to the British government’s consultation on gay marriage. So, of course, I did. I’d like you to as well. This is an issue where decent, kind people can make a lot of progress against the mean and fearful in a short time, and it’s worth putting in the effort to drown out the shrill voices claiming gay marriage will lead to people marrying the Eiffel Tower.

Press the big, shiny, candylike button to open the survey, fill it out, and paste the submission below into question 16. Amend it to reflect your personal views if necessary.


Here is the submission I used for question 16:

In case it isn’t abundantly clear already, I support full equality. I want the government to legalise:

* Same-sex civil marriages
* Opposite-sex civil partnerships
* Religious same-sex marriages by faiths who believe in and wish to conduct them.

In addition:

* Civil partnerships should be retained for gay and straight couples who want an alternative to marriage.
* Existing civil partners should be given the option to convert their civil partnership into a civil marriage, with a special ceremony if they desire this.
* Vice versa for married couples who desire a civil partnership.
* Married transgender people should not be required to divorce their spouse before they can receive a gender recognition certificate.

The UK’s twin legal bans on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships are unjust discrimination. In a democratic society, everyone should be equal before the law. Both civil marriages and civil partnerships should be open to gay and heterosexual couples, with no discrimination based on sexual orientation.

It differs from the Tatchell Foundation’s Model Submission in a couple of ways other than just being a bit snarkier.

I removed “Any individual minister of religion licensed to conduct marriages should be free to conduct a same-sex marriage in their place of worship, if they wish to do so” and changed ‘clergy’ to ‘faiths’. While I’d kind of like to see homophobic churches riven with division over same-sex marriage, I don’t think it’s the government’s job to make it happen; I just want the government to stop discriminating against the more tolerant religions to appease bigots. Religions should work out their stance on the issue using their own internal decision making processes, whether it’s asking the Pope or each congregation following their conscience.

I added an option for married partners to convert to a civil partnership; I strongly support the option for heterosexuals to have civil partnerships, a lot of people have good reasons for not wanting to be involved in the institution of marriage, and those reasons should be respected. If that option is provided, then it should be provided to existing couples as well.

I summed up my position on the whole subject in question 14:

I don’t feel strongly about the details, as long as heterosexuals, transexuals and homosexuals all have the right to civil marriage, religious marriage, and civil partnerships, and no group or type of union is discriminated against.

Seriously, this isn’t complicated: Just let people live the way they want and treat them all equally.

Please, if you’re in the UK, take the time to respond to this consultation and support gay marriage, gay religious marriage, and straight civil unions. It’s not complicated.

Tiny Lego Whores

Last week the Firefly Serenity project on LEGO CUUSOO reached the 10,000 votes needed for considering as an official licensed product. Lego considered and rejected it, giving the following explanation:

LEGO produces toys for children. Therefore all LEGO products, regardless of age target, must be content-appropriate for this core audience. With this in mind we have decided that as cool as the Serenity model is, the Firefly TV show and Serenity film contain content that is not appropriate for our core target audience of children ages 6-11. While we know this news will disappoint those who supported the project, we will not be producing this as a LEGO product.

They elaborated in a comment on Facebook:

The primary reason we have decided not to consider the Firefly IP for a LEGO product is the Inara Serra character, who is a “companion,” or prostitute. This character and her profession are central to the story in the Firefly TV series. The character is inextricably linked to the story, and it isn’t possible to produce the model and license the IP without creating a link between the LEGO brand and this character. In this process, we have made our decision for brand fit up front as it is the first logical step in the process; it is upon this basis alone that we have made our decision.

I can understand why they wouldn’t want their wholesome brand associated with women being treated as sexual commodities. Oh, wait. It would appear it’s okay to depict Jabba enslaving and trying to force himself on Leia, but Inara would irreparably damage the brand by her mere presence. SO APPARENTLY IT IS OKAY AS LONG AS SHE DOES NOT CONSENT.

This is an uncharitable interpretation of Lego’s position. A more reasonable interpretation is that Star Wars is a cash cow that saved their company from the receivers, and that like most corporations they are perfectly willing to compromise their principles when large sums of money are involved.

A separate blog post elaborated on their criteria:

Understand that we will not produce products that are related to these topics:

  • Politics and political symbols
  • Religious references including symbols, buildings, or people
  • Sex, drugs, or smoking
  • Alcohol in any present day situation
  • Swearing
  • Death, killing, blood, terrorism, or torture
  • First-person shooter video games
  • Warfare or war vehicles in any situation post-WWII to present
  • Racism, bullying, or cruelty to real life animals

This clearly disqualifies brands like Star Wars (racism, torture, genocide, mass killing, and pantheism) and Indiana Jones. The ‘present day’ exemptions also suggest that they’re writing the rules to give existing violations a pass. A modern tank isn’t any more or less a symbol of violence than a panzer tank.

One could argue that the these criteria are applied not to the brand being licensed, but to the way in which Lego presents it – for example, the burly German mechanic from Indiana Jones is shredded by a propeller in the movie, but simply has his head knocked off and goes comically running after it in the Lego game – but if that’s the case, why not simply do the same with Inara? She does a lot of things other than have sex for money. Lego isn’t compelled to even acknowledge that element of the story, any more than they have to make a Princess Leia Death Star Torture Playset, or a version of Leia chained to Jabba’s throne – oh, wait.

What really offends me about this, though, isn’t the hypocrisy, the convoluted standards, the inability to follow their own rules consistently, or even the implication that attempted rape is somehow more acceptable fare for children than implied prostitution.

It’s the fact that they rejected the Serenity model for this specific reason. Presented with a world of deranged cannibal rapist space zombies, government assassins, corruption, priests (see item 2), human experimentation and crime, they ignored all of that and made a beeline for what was apparently for them the most unacceptable and depraved element in that world: Female sexuality.

it is upon this basis alone that we have made our decision.

I don’t think for a moment that they, as individuals or a company, explicitly hate women. I praised their conduct as exemplary when they came under fire for the Lego Friends line, which was exactly the opposite of what it was accused of being. But what they are doing here is pandering to widely held and deeply sexist underlying beliefs.

Leia’s sexual abuse at the hands of Jabba, while unpleasant, does nothing to outrage these beliefs; she’s merely acting as a damsel in distress and this is an acceptable role for a woman. Inara’s willingly unchaste behaviour, on the other hand, does, and that’s why Lego fears damage to their brand from her more than they do from the sexual assaults committed by either Jabba or the Reavers.

Which raises a deeper issue. When you scrub the swastikas from the Nazis in the Indiana Jones Lego sets, you aren’t just taking away a symbol, you’re taking away an idea. You’re taking ideas out of the minds of children. Important ideas. Don’t get me wrong, I love the absurd playful wholesomeness of a lot of Lego products, but I’d be horrified if you told me that I shouldn’t have known about the Nazis and the things they had done when I was in the 6-11 age bracket Lego targets.

And sure, while it’s hard to argue that children of those ages should know what a courtesan is, the erasure of Inara and her crewmates reminds me of the way homosexuals were erased from my own childhood by Section 28. It’s one thing not to want to go into detail with children who are too young to understand, but that can’t justify sweeping the whole issue under the rug to keep children ‘pure’ or to protect parents from having to answer awkward questions or to appease the religious right or whatever this exaggerated wholesome veneer is supposed to achieve.

Smallville RPG: Avengers Campaign

I’ve been batting around the idea of running a Smallville campaign based on the Avengers for a while now. It’s an obvious enough idea: Take a series that shows the origins of DC heroes such as Superman and Green Arrow, and do the same thing with the Marvel universe. It’s interesting to me because it involves stripping away so much of the characters, not just down to the bare essentials but actually beyond that, and then seeing if you can still make them interesting characters and tell good stories about them.

So I decided to make some notes and share them, both for my own use and for anyone else who might want to run a similar campaign. With the success of the movie, the idea seems timely. The first question is when should it be set? In the present, with the Avengers forming sometime in the future, as with Smallville? Around 2000, with the Avengers forming today? Or a decade before they first formed in the original continuity, which would place the campaign in the 1950s?

I like the latter best. It creates an opportunity to see what the Marvel universe would be like without the floating timeline, with characters growing old and having to pass the torch to younger heroes. It’s also an interesting time in itself. You have the cold war, WWII is still recent, and Captain America is retired and working as a schoolteacher.

Of course, everyone knows that Captain America was frozen in ice after WWII, but that was actually a 1960s retcon – it didn’t actually happen! If we’re going by what the comics of the time showed, then he’s retired and working as a teacher.

Two things strike me about most of the other Avengers. They’re huge, nerdy, white, male geniuses. They’re also highly irresponsible in various ways. So let’s say you’re someone working for the powers that be in 1952 – Nick Fury, maybe. You have some brilliant but troubled teenagers, and the greatest hero of WWII refusing to punch anyone, but wanting to play teacher. Why not put them together? You don’t need to teach the youngsters to be smart, but if someone can instill some moral values and patriotism in them, why – maybe one of these crazy kids could help America beat the reds one day!

So, falling back on the ‘everyone knows each other at school’ trope, but it actually makes a lot of sense here. Tony Stark ran a company making arms for the government; Bruce Banner built bombs for the government; Hank Pym envisioned his reduction formula allowing whole armies to be loaded onto a single aeroplane.

Steve Rogers

Steve Rogers Captain America

Steve doesn’t really like fighting. He doesn’t want to hurt anybody; he just doesn’t like bullies. The idea of a costumed superhero hasn’t really become a normal part of life in the Marvel universe yet (despite his actions during the war, and the activities of the various golden age heroes). When he gets home he doesn’t look for new enemies to fight, he looks for ways he can contribute constructively, and for him teaching is the most noble way he can find. His arc will probably involve him dealing with his students and gradually learning that the world still needs Captain America.

 

 

 

 


Bruce BannerBruce Banner The Incredible Hulk

Bruce’s father, Brian Banner, feared that his son was genetically damaged due to his father’s proximity to the early A-bomb tests. This lead him to abuse Bruce, and finally ended up killing Bruce’s mother as she tried to protect him. Bruce was a troubled, nerdy youth, who tried to blow up his high school with a bomb of his own design, and who at college killed his own father in a brawl on his mother’s grave. So the key to this character is to realise that //he is already the Hulk//. The gamma bomb just unlocks that side of him and makes it big and green. He’s already a troubled soul capable of incredible violence, and really just wants to be left alone.

 

 

 

 

Tony StarkAnthony Stark Iron Man

Tony Stark learned to take responsibility for his actions when he was injured by shrapnel from weapons his company sold. This younger Stark will have had no such epiphany, so where’s his story going to go? I think that the best arc for him might be from feckless playboy to ruthless arms dealer. Early on he could simply be living for today and squandering his talents; later in the series, with his parents death in an auto accident, he could be taking on the mantle of his father, possibly becoming a quasi-villain as he tries to build on his father’s legacy, regardless of the consequences – while never quite losing his playboy streak. The story needs to set him up for his fall and rebirth. Also, I like the idea of him being tinkering already, probably with cars, building and driving a big red and gold hot rod to impress the chicks.

 

 

 

 

Donald BlakeDonald Blake The Mighty Thor

The movie kind of missed the point here, I feel. In the original tales of Thor, he was an impatient, murderous bonehead who tried to solve every problem by killing someone. In the comics when Odin sent his son to Earth to learn, he forgot his true nature and grew up believing he was an ordinary joe with a bad leg. He learned what it was like to be weak, to be crippled, to be a scholar, to be a healer. He learned patience and compassion. When he recovered his powers and memories that insight stayed with him, and made him the far more admirable figure we see in the comics.

Thor lived as Donald Blake for 10 years prior to discovering his powers, so at the start of the series he could be newly arrived on Earth – perhaps as a ‘John Doe’ with no memory of his past. He won’t have had any time to learn humility yet, so he’ll probably be frustrated, ill-tempered and impatient, needing the help of his friends to grow into the man he’s meant to be. That’s what his story needs to be about. It’s not clear how he became crippled; he may start out that way, but it could be interesting if it happens in the course of the series.

 

Hank PymHank Pym Ant Man/Giant Man

This one’s harder; I can see why they left him out of the movie. To begin with he’s just a scientist making cool stuff with no particular backstory or motivation. When Janet shows up flashbacks reveal that he had a wife who was killed by the Soviets on their honeymoon. She was a communist defector who for some reason decided it would be perfectly safe to honeymoon in Hungary. Janet happens to look just like her, and Pym initially resists his interest in her as she’s much younger than he is and he is afraid to love again.

The 1980s domestic abuse plot he was involved in has cast a pall over his character, culminating in the messed up excuse for a human being that was Ultimate Giant Man. Let’s forget about that. Pym debuted in Tales to Astonish #27, 1962, in a tale about a scientist who tests shrinking technology on himself and ends up being chased by bugs. It wasn’t a superhero story, but a few months later they brought him back as Ant-Man. In addition to figuring out how to shrink, grow, and control insects, Hank invented artificial intelligence, building Ultron and the Vision. He also injected his girlfriend with insect DNA to allow her to fly and shoot bolts of bioelectricity.

His backstory is just not very good. It starts when he marries Maria; so we’d have to wait for the end of the series to see him marry a girl and lose her and decide to devote his life to science. All the interesting stuff happens when Janet shows up, so it’s tempting to just make him a young man in love with exploring the secrets of the universe, bring the events of The Man in the Ant Hill forward to the time of the series, and have Janet show up early, being the same age as Hank.

I’m not really sure what to do with him, but one possibility is to present him as the consummate scientist, a bit reckless, absent minded, loves to poke at things to find out what they do. Kind of like Richard Feynman, but with more of a propensity to accidentally build killer robots.

Janet Van DyneJanet Van Dyne The Wasp

Pym’s girlfriend and assistant. She came to him during his run as Ant-Man seeking his aid in getting revenge for her father, a brilliant scientist killed when he accidentally summoned a beast from another dimension. Pym did what any gentleman would do – injected her with insect cells, shrunk her to miniscule size, and started dating her. She’s often been depicted as sort of ditzy, and certainly as clothing-obsessed. I’d like to keep the clothes horse aspect of her personality, but also focus on her obvious determination and ability to accept crazy shit. She let the crazy guy with the ants experiment on her so she could avenge her father after he was killed by an alien. I like the idea of her getting her powers early in the series, and being ‘super’ well before anyone else. She’s sometimes seen as kind of a joke so making her the heavy hitter, the Avengers equivalent of Smallville’s Clark, might be fun.

Another good thing about both Ant-Man and the Wasp’s powers is that they can be exercised in secret. They could be active as superheroes from fairly early in the series without anyone knowing about it.

 

Clint Barton & Natalia Romanova

Hawkeye is a circus performer and doesn’t get the idea to be a superhero until he sees Iron Man years later; he also gets off to a rocky start when he falls for and tries to protect the Russian spy Natalia Romanova. It might work to run with that – have him meet Natalia early, and run them as potential antagonists for the other characters.

Why G+ is worse than FB

For many of us, Facebook is, as Russel Brand said of the Sun newspaper, “like an old friend who you fucking hate.” It’s increasingly important in organising our lives, but at the same time widely loathed for its attitude to privacy, its clutter, it’s labyrinthine interface and the regular ‘upgrades’ it makes unbidden to the interface, often not to improve usability but rather to shape user behaviour.

Understandably, when G+ launched amid substantial hype the more irritated users were keen to jump ship; a couple of months, some ill-judged forced ‘upgrades’ from a Facebook desperate to keep its edge, and some false rumours about its (actually quite sensible) new privacy settings later, even more were eager to take their business elsewhere.

Personally, I have seen 1% of my FB list close their accounts to move to G+, 5% post regularly on G+, and 25% register a G+ account. This may be higher than average since my a lot of my friends are big nerds, but it’s still a noticeable amount, particularly given the inherent stickiness of proprietary social networks, and it shows the strength of resentment toward FB.

I consider that simmering resentment to be a valuable resource, and one which we’re squandering on G+. What G+ offers us over FB is a cleaner interface, less clutter, longer posts with more formatting, no Farmville spam, a less heavy-handed approach to interface changes and, until recently, circles and selective sharing. It also has gimmicks like Hangouts and Huddle and Nearby; I call these gimmicks not because they aren’t interesting features, but because they are essentially peripheral; a version of FB with built-in Skype might be better at being Skype, but that doesn’t make it a better Facebook.

Underlying all of these superficial differences, however welcome they are, is the fact that both G+ and FB work on the model I described in my previous post; we get a service; they get our attention. They then sell that attention to advertisers, and use it to lure our friends in and do the same with them.

This isn’t a good deal for us, because what we need is for these services to be interoperable. Like email. You may use Hotmail, I may use Gmail, but we can still mail one another because, though we’re using different servers, the servers talk to each other and use the same basic language. Both servers agree on what an email message looks like, and will exchange them when one of us wants to talk to the other.

It’s not just a matter of privacy and monopoly and abstract stuff crypto nerds, paranoids and EFF advocates care about. Interoperability lies at the heart of all the things that annoy people about social networks. Let’s ignore for a moment the things that probably don’t affect you personally, like protecting the identities of political dissidents and allowing intersex people and victims of stalkers to sign up without specifying a gender and real name, and look at the little, everyday consequences.

  • Having to choose between ditching Facebook and keeping connected to your friends, posts and photos?
  • Not being able to turn the most annoying features off?
  • Being forced to use a particular interface because that’s the only one Facebook provides… and then having it changed under you every time you get used to it?
  • Being told which names you’re allowed to go by?

If social networks were themselves networked, you could use the one you like the best and still reach all your friends on the other networks. What’s more, this would lead to a proliferation of different sites with different interfaces. Competition would make interfaces better and adverts less obtrusive.

In fact the only reason facebook can be half as annoying as they are is is that they know you’re locked-in. You can’t get the service elsewhere and still reach your friends, so they can do as they please.

Some people have suggested that they should do as they please; characterised Facebook as good Samaritans, giving us a free service which they should be able to run as they see fit. That is clearly not the case; we are paying them with something that is evidently a very valuable commodity. On top of that, we’re giving them something even more valuable in return for their service: We’ve made them custodians of our communal space. They own and manage the town square where we meet up, organise parties, and wish one another well on a daily basis. This custodianship is a valuable thing in itself, and not something we should give to just anyone.

And what are they giving us? A website where you can post stuff? Building such a service is not exactly easy, but when you compare it to the number of users FB has, the effort of building the site is infinitesimal. Even if FB took 10,000 man-years of work to code, that would only be six and a half minutes per user.

Nearly everyone who uses social networks uses FB, but that doesn’t make it immortal any more than MySpace and AOL were immortal. We won’t all quit FB overnight; one day we’ll just find a better service, have an account on both, and gradually post there more and to FB less.

The problem is, G+ is not that service. What it offers is essentially the same.

One social network in particular – Diaspora – offers something different. It’s open-source, distributed, and interoperable. It’s still in Alpha, but I went back to it recently (after trying it a year ago when it first came out) and it’s actually quite usable, and compares favourably with G+. It even has features G+ doesn’t, like hashtags and selective filtering of your stream by circle.

I’m not saying we should all jump to D* now; it’s not ready, and it’s not proven. But as it stands it isn’t any worse than G+, and unlike G+ it actually offers us a better deal than Facebook.

If you do want to give the alpha a try, you can sign up at diasp.org.

Have you heard the quote “If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product”? It has a lovely sinister ring to it, and it’s partly true, but what’s actually happening is a bit more complicated than that. Companies like Google, Facebook and TV networks are acting as middlemen between advertisers and consumers.

You say “I’ll give you my attention, in return for sitcoms/Gmail/social networking.” The company giving away the advertising supported ‘free’ service says “thank you very much.”

It can’t pay its employees or shareholders with attention, though, so it goes to the advertisers, who say “we’ll give you money for people’s attention.” The ‘free’ service provider is acting as a broker to mediate an exchange between the two parties.

Around the turn of the century there were even a couple of companies that cut out the extraneous ‘service’ step and simply paid you to look at ads. They were, of course, gamed into oblivion.

I should like to begin, if I may, with this pair of videos. In the first, Carl Sagan talks about space, and the evolution of mankind from fragile, humble beginnings to the hopefully better creatures that we’ll be by the time we leave the planet.

I’ve always been interested in transhumanism, but a lot of the dialogue and fiction on the subject is strikingly soulless and mechanical. I remember reading a couple of books by Stephen Baxter. One was a sequel to H.G. Wells The Time Machine, the other was Manifold: Time.

In both cases I was struck by how incredibly unimaginative they were. The time traveller goes forward in time and encounters a species of noble, peaceful Morlocks living in earth orbit (a transparent rejection of the original book’s association of technical knowledge and cannibalism.) Their orbital station should be a place of incredible wonders, but instead it consists of vast featureless rooms of black rubber. Further on, he encounters beings who consist of writhing pyramids of homogenous nanomachines. Further still, he finds the ‘perfect world’, where the squid-like beings (reminiscent of Wells’ Martians) from the end of the first book have ordered all matter and energy according to the will of intellect. Again, it’s boring and homogenous. In Time, a man even goes to the future and is able to exist briefly in the simulated lossless computing substrate that exists after the heat death of the universe, occupied by our most distant descendants. What wonders might he find there? Well, according to Baxter, he find a hotel room, takes a dump, and goes home.

A meaningless life, extended indefinitly, is yet meaningless. –Miracleman

More than the ability to control energy and organise information, human evolution needs soul and imagination, the ability to identify what’s best in us and the ability to form a sense of purpose that goes beyond mere survival and conquest of the world around us. This horrible Wired article is a great example of someone championing science without knowing what science is or what it’s for, and rejecting the whole world of abstract ideas in favour of a false sense of certainty.

Dresden Codak, in particular during the Hob story arc, presents a more soulful version of transhumanism, focusing less on the technology and more on the sense of hope for a better future, with frequent reference to Metropolis and it’s idea that “The Mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart!”

They see the sun go down, but they don’t see it rise.

An explicit defense of transhumanism is Diaz’ piece A Thinking Ape’s Critique of Trans-Simianism, which notably states:

In living so long and spending so much time ‘thinking,’ do we not also run the risk of becoming a cold, passionless race incapable of experiencing our two emotions (fear and not fear)?

As well as being funny, this line deftly calls into question the assumption that, in evolving, we will become less subtle and interesting creatures, when our evolution to date has made us far more subtle and interesting. I think this assumption arises in the first place from listening to guys like Baxter, who eagerly envision us becoming a species of vaguely autistic super-engineers. But perhaps it has earlier roots. Wells in particular repeatedly warned us of the dangers of intellect without emotion, through his literally heartless, vampiric Martians and cannibalistic Morlocks.

Which brings me, quite neatly, to our second film. It’s an edited version of Charlie Chaplin’s speech from The Great Dictator which has been doing the rounds on Facebook. I’ve never head Chaplin speak before; I confess I didn’t even realise he was British!

It’s tempting to question the agenda of the editor here; using a string of democratically elected presidents to illustrate the section on dictators seems disingenous. On the other hand, perhaps it’s a good reminder that we aren’t quite as free and democratic as we’re accustomed to believing.

It’s also easy to be wary of the enthusiasm lavished on this film by commenters, and the simplicity of its message. It’s nothing new – science, progress, peace, kindness, democracy, freedom, but it’s rare these days to see it stated with such eloquence and direct sincerity.