Things started to go downhill when I signed into “Winter Wonderland”. Or, rather, didn’t. Sure, I’d set myself up for two weeks of cyberspace hibernation and snow-covered dreams but, when I reached the golden gates, a LANCorp representative had been standing beside them like something from the old obituary cartoons. As if the irony couldn’t be more apparent, his name badge read “Peter Saint”.
He spoke with the kind of robotic formality that belied his humanity. ‘We apologise but, due to backup server issues, we have had to cap the number of users to ninety million. It’s one in one out, you’re welcome to take a ticket and wait in one of our subsidiary sites.’
‘How many tickets are there?‘ I’d asked.
‘Just two million so far.‘ Lowering his voice into a well-practiced conspiratorial whisper, he said: ‘If you’re lucky, there might be another outbreak of necrotic ebola in the peninsula this year. That should free up quite a few spaces.’
I’d logged out. It wasn’t out of disgust, but boredom. The routine was so predictable. Start by establishing facts, then use gallows humour to establish a rapport with the dissatisfied customer. The representative had barely even bothered pretending that he wasn’t reading from a script. All that was missing was a subtle plug for LANCorp Pharma’s “EbolaIhardlyknowya” preventative pills.
Not that I could blame the guy, he’d probably given the speech more times than an NPC in a fantasy SIM. After all, with virtually all of the city’s bandwidth mysteriously going to the main “Winter Wonderland” servers at this time of year, they probably didn’t even have the spare petabytes needed for a simple greeter NPC.
So, I was stuck in the city for Christmas, with next to no net connection and two million lost souls haunting the streets. On the plus side, the bandwidth crunch had crippled the city’s piracy detection algorithms. Sure, they still worked, but they took as long to find you as the first screen net buccaneers took to download a single MP3 over their copper wires.
It didn’t matter though. Everything was relative. With the bandwidth in the gigabits, you could literally spend a whole week downloading a single concert pattern or a celebrity neural archive. No, dream scans were the only game in town at this time of year. I felt like a bottom feeder even thinking about it. But, it still seemed better than doing nothing this Christmas.
Dream scans are small. They’re also impervious to every conniving copy-protection method the corps come up with. It sounds great in principle, but they’re fricking Weird. With a capital W. What happens is that some poor sap in the eastern bloc gets paid by the crowd to go on an epic intravenous stim binge, spending as many days as he can survive doing literally nothing but running a single program over and over again.
When the emergency cardioregulator eventually kicks in and he can do nothing but sleep, a REM-sensitive neural reader maps the 2-6 hours of dreams. Since his short-term memory contains nothing but the program, all it takes is a few basic repetition algorithms and interpolation programs to have a functional replica of the program stored on disk. And, yes, because it’s just a couple of hours of basic brain patterns run through an emulator, you can actually store the whole thing on a disk.
Sound confusing? Think of it like how the ancients used to record radio broadcasts on magnetic tapes and barter them with each other. Still, there was nothing better to do – so, I flash-downloaded three of the latest SIM games. The download speeds almost made me feel like things were normal again.
The first game was a bust. Sure, it had started out with a reality-perfect recreation of the battle of Aberystwyth. But, I soon realised that the dreamer had such a fear of death that he’d switched immortality mode on throughout the whole binge. Sure, there was something to be said for messing around with plasma grenades but the combat felt as boringly unfair as an early 21st century first person shooter game.
The second game was hardly any better. Obviously the dreamer wasn’t a fan of quiet, contemplative adventure games. Needless to say, the clothing data for all of the attractive NPCs was missing and pages from some badly-written hint guide were quite literally plastered over every available surface too. Except, of course, the attractive NPCs.
The third game showed promise at least. That was until I realised that the dreamer was perhaps the worst gamer on the planet. I’d breezed through the first level in five minutes, only to find myself right back at the start again – as if I’d been foolish enough to fall into the first lava pit that came into sight more than once. Much more than once.
So, what did I do? I went back to the first game, of course. Well, it is the holidays after all.