Cybernetic Fantasies: Extended Selfhood in a Virtual Community
Mimi Ito

A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction...Contemporary science fiction is full of cyborgs - creatures simultaneously animal and machine, who populate worlds ambiguously natural and crafted. Modern medicine is also full of cyborgs, of couplings between organism and machine, each conceived a coded devices, in an intimacy and with a power that was not generated in the history of sexuality.

(Haraway 1985: 149-150)

The 1980's saw the birth of a visionary subculture of science fiction writers, artists, technologists, and social scientists describing and constructing unholy alliances between person and machine in new, cyborg or cyberpunk realities. At the turn of the decade, as Vernor Vinge was writing a novella about an electronic world of cracker(1) warlords (Vinge 1981), hackers at Essex University were designing multi-user, computer-generated worlds, modelled on fantasy role-playing (Bartle 1990). While Donna Haraway was creating her manifesto for bad girl cyborgs (Haraway 1985), and William Gibson was crafting his, now classic, description of the "consensual hallucination which was cyberspace" (Gibson 1984), a group of NASA scientists were designing the first immersive artificial reality systems, where a worn machine constructed a virtual persona within a three-dimensional, computer generated environment. Others may describe radically different origin myths for cyborg subcultures, and celebrates different hero(ine)s, but few would deny the steady encroachment of cybernetic fantasies on the popular imagination. Cyborg systems are becoming the metaphors of choice for the decimation of the nature/culture dichotomy.
Many emergent technologies have functioned as material for constructing cyborg fictions, among them genetic engineering (Haraway 1991), artificial life (Ross 1991), robotics (Minsky 1985), and mass media (McLuhan 1964). This paper is situated within the discourse surrounding a phenomenon commonly called "virtual reality," a pop cultural meme enabled by advances in simulation and telepresence technologies. (2) Virtual environments are part of cyborg realities in tht they are the context through which electronic selves manifest. While much of the dialogue on virtual systems has focused on either engineering and design or ontological issues, the virtual also provides a lens for viewing the reconfiguration of selfhood and social identity in cyborg systems.
Networked, computer-generated spaces provide the context for selfhood construction that is explicit and challenging to traditional notions of body and identity. In virtual environments, cyborgs are not physical bodies that carry the traces of technological inscription, but rather are selves only partially material, born from the electronic reconfiguration of identity. The boundaries of the body are deconstructed as selves are decentered from material persons and fused with virtual personas. This paper is an exploration of a virtual community that provides the social and environmental setting for such extensions of selfhood in computer-generated space.
The community I participate in is a Multi-Use Dungeon (MUD) called Farside.(3) MUD's are an evolving genre of text-based virtual environments in which users log in, via computer, to participat in, what MUDders sometimes call a game, but usually consider a communal life. Most MUDs, following the precedent of the first MUDs built at Essex during the early 1980s, are modeled on a fantasy adventure reminescent of the role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons. Diku-MUds, Aber-MUDS and LP-MUDs usually involve armor, weapons, gold coins and the killing of ogres, giants, and sometimes other players. In contrast, MOOs, MUSEs, and Tiny MUDs are primarily social, often have a space-age theme, and have little in terms of the adventure game component. MUDs are currently supported by the Internet, a vast, sprawling, international, university and government network, to which access is largely free for university populations. In comparison to other Internet forms of social interaction such as email, Usenet, or Internet Relay Chat (IRC), MUDs are unique in that they provide a richly evocative environment and multi-user capabilities in real-time interaction. There are currently hundreds of MUDs running with thousands of users from around the world.
Farside was established in the summer of 1991 by three Ph.D. students at Newcastle University on their free time. Since then, it has been moved to Swansea University. Every player constructs a virtual character in the MUD environment, giving it a name, building it a home, and acquiring, for it, skills, power and riches. Higher level players, usually called wizards, lords, or gods, are involved in the actuall programming of the environment, and have "supernatural" powers. Farside currently supports abot 250 players, and as of March 2, 1993, 44 wizards of varying levels. I have participated, as a player, in Farside for five months, spending much of my time socializing and conducting meetings and interviews, but also slowly climbing up the game hierarchy, killing monsters and acquiring riches.

The Constructed Environment

Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, or the concept, simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation of models of a real without origin or reality; a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map which precedes the territory -- precession of the simulacra.
(Baudrillard 1981, 167)

Farside is a designed environment, a coded text performed by the computer in alliance with the other participating, human agents. In the sense that it is authored and constructed, the computyer-generated environment is a text "populated with the intentionalities of others" (Bakhtin 1981). But it is not merely an inert text authored through human agency; it is a text performed by a sentient machine, a discomforting analog to human performance of a genetic code. In the new genetic sciences, "we become a particular kind of text which can be reduced to code fragments banked in transnational data storage systems" (Haraway 1991, 6). Conversely, the computer becomes a "squatting sentience," and we find ourselves destabilized by the notion that "the machines are restless tonight..." (Stone 1991, 81). In MUDs, players enter into an environment populated by the intentionalities of the programmers and designers, but enacted through the agencies of machines.

Farside is not a simulation of a physical environment; rather, it is a simulacrum, a constructed environment that lacks a real-world referent, a map without a territory. The environment is loosely modelled upon the fantasy novels and games devoured by the hacker subculture. While some MUDs are modelled on the mythological futures of science fiction, Farside is modelled on a magical, medieval past. It contrasts to the high-budget, networked military games that simulate, in minute detail, "real" environments with "real" physics (Sterling 1993); Farside delves deeply into the idealized hacker imagination, giving it form in a dynamic, interactive, social idiom. Within the computer-generated space is a world of matgical forests, Orc and Giant Valleys, merry towns, and daunting castles [figure 1]. Real-world constraints of time, motion and biology are freely reshaped; characters regenerate as they munch an apple, magic wands cast potent spells, and wizards teleport at will. Farside is continuosly evolving; new towns and lands suddenly manifest, and outdated spaces disappear without a trace. The world is in a perpetual state of magical flux. In the space of a few weeks absence from the system, I found that a new combat system had been implemented, a new "Gotham City" environment was added, in addition to a "Newbie Forest."
Users interact with Farside and other participants through text-based descriptions. The only interface is the screen and the keyboard. One can navigate the environment by using the commands (n)orth, (s)outh, (e)ast, (w)est, (u)p, and (d)own. The system responds to each command by sending, to the user's screen, a description of the current space. Below is an example of navigation of a portion of the Farside environment, where the text following the">" is typed by the user.

This is the main thoroughfare in Dambarsham. Even though this is a small village, you notice some very useful shops, and of course the usual grotty touristy shops. These gifty hops by some good fortune happen to be shut, which shows how much the villagers like tourists. A big impressive looking building is south, it has the words 'Adventurers Guild' chiseled above the entrance archway, in large letters. To the north is an old, nearly dilapidated building, which you suspect is the shop, due to the sign creaking in the wind stating 'Ye Olde Shoppe'.
There are five obvious exits: west, east, south, down and north
> w
You are near the centre of the little village of Dambarsham. To the north, along Kite Row, you can hear laughter and merry-making. East the road continues into the centre of Dambarsham. A street named Wildman's walk is south, from which you can hear a loud 'clanking' noise. You quickly come to the conclusion that this is not a quiet little country village. The only peace is to the west, where the road starts to make its way out of Dambarsham.
There are four obvious exits: west, north, south and east > w
This small track leads to Dambarsham, it turns into a road further to the east. A green lawn can be seen in a westerly direction. You notice a NEWBIE area to the south!
There are three obvious exits: west, east and south > s
This is a well worn bricked path leading to the south; there are many large trees that line this road, you feel as if they are watching your every move.
There are two obvious exits: north and south

In addition to the descriptive text which sets the scene for player activity, there are interactive agents--simple artificial intelligences--programmed into the environment. Some rooms, like shops, pubs, banks, and post offices provide services to players. One of the most important components of the environments are the various creatures (o.e. orcs, giants, wolves, angels) that players kill in order to gain experience points. All these creatures are endowed with attributes such as strength and constitution, and carry gold, weapons, and armor that comprise the loot following the kill. An excerpt from a battle scene follows, illustrating the environment's response to my command to "kill orc," and subsequent battle moves.

You catch Orc with the flat of your blade in the abdomen.
>pn orc (4)
You skillfully dodge Orc's blow.
You duck below Orc's lunge, delivering a weak riposte to the chest.
You aim a backfist at Orc's head, but are blocked.
>kk orc
Orc's teeth gnash you abdomen.
Your blow is skillfully dodged by Orc.
You aim a spinning outside crescent kick at Orc's chest, but are blocked.
>pn orc
Orc's swipe grazes you in the chest.
You barely cut into Orc's head.
Orc's swipe grazes you in the abdomen.
You barely cut into Orc's head.
You aim a reverse punch at Orc's head, but are blocked.
>kk orc
You skillfully dodge Orc's blow.
You fluently roll behind Orc, hacking their abdomen.
Orc bites you abdomen.
Your blow is skillfully dodged by orc.
You aim an outside crescent kick at orc's ribs, but are blocked.
You skillfully dodge Orc's blow.
You duck below Orc's lunge, delivering a weak riposte to the abdomen.
You skillfully dodge Orc's blow.
Orc died.
With an almighty effort you cleft orc into two with a godly strike.
Their innards still steaming, ooze out from the severly mangled remains.
>get all from corpse
50 gold coins: Ok.(5)

One can also query Farside for instruction or for information about characters. For example, the "who" command lists all of the players currently on the system, and their rank [Appendix A], and the 'score" and "inventory" commands list one's own status in the game [Appendices B and C]. These text-based descriptions are the compact code transmitted and unpacked at the human-machine interface of keyboard and screen. Farside is an amorphous entity that manifests not only in the host computer, but in its extensions through the Internet nervous system and its leachings through the permeable membranes of the users' screens. The embedded meanings of the text must be decoded and rehydrated, as in any text-based medium -- thus the prevalent rhetoric that MUDs require "imagination".
Merlin (Andrew Blyth), a resident god of Farside, provided the "spark of life" for the virtual environment, giving it a body in the host computer, and tinkering with the genetic code of the generic LP-MUD program. Despite recognition of Merlin as the mythical father, Farside is the creation of a polytheistic universe, a product of the social processes of hundreds of players and many wizards, lords, and archs [Appendix D]. Wizards, and those above in the hierarchy, are able to tinker with the actual code of the system -- designing, in addition to worlds and artificial life forms, the very structures of communication and social organization -- action and emotive commands, hierarchical structures, reward systems. The players, in turn, accumulate gold and experience points, embark on quests, and meet other characters, eventually, attaining a wizship.

Social Process

Merlin shouts: I have to go now - *SOB*
Ottis grin evilly.
Rina giggles.
Merlin says: now now none of that children.
Ottis throws his head back and cackles with glee!
Rina hugs Merlin.
Merlin sobs inconsolably.
Ottis says: ok granddad
Merlin hugs Rina.
Joichi says: bye merlin thanks
Ottis licks Merlin.
Rina smiles at Merlin.
Rina kicks Ottis.
Ottis hugs Rina.
Ottis grins evilly.
> say thanks Merlin...
You say: thanks Merlin...
Merlin says: bye bye
Merlin left the game.(6)

While one may question the effectiveness of interpersonal communication in a two-dimensional, low-bandwidth system, most MUDders will contend that MUD social interaction is effective, satisfying and profound. In fact, sex and marriage are common occurrences on MUDs, and often lead to solid, lasting relationships. In MUD newsgroups and in discussions with fellow MUDders, the question of whether a MUD is "just a game" arises repeatedly. There is a sense of ironic selfhood, where participation in the MUD community is mere play. Yet for hackers that spend most of their waking hours interacting in electronically generated environments, the distinction between "real life" and "a game" is uncomfortably loose. One has only to witness the inflamed political battles between wizards to realize that power, prestige, and friendship in virtual communities are just as real as in the terrestial plane.
Power, on Farside, is linked with computing expertise and commitment to participation in electronic environments. Quests, which qualify players for wizships, are tests of hacker abilities; they are structures by which players demonstrate their skill in environmen design, and understanding of the MUD system.(7) Those characteristics valued by the hacker subculture -- programming ability, clarity of thought, knowledge of hacker fiction, commitment to cybernetic realities -- are rewarded, directly, by the Farside community. Newbies learn the basics of the system from other players, and eventually apprentice with a wizard in order to learn MUD code. When a wizship is earned, the character is initiated into the secrets of the "back end" of the system, the genetic code. By becoming a wizard, one is endowed with "supernatural" powers, not only of genesis, but also of teleportation, invisibility, and remote viewing.
Coding, adventuring, and questing are only part of the MUD story, however. Most players and wizzes will attribute a large part of their interest in MUDs to pure "socializing." Nintendo and Sega games are much more advanced in terms of the gaming component, and yet, for MUDders, they pale in comparison to the rewards gained on networked, multi-user systems. Social interactionis remarkably effective on Farside. There are a series of 209 emotive commands [Appendix E] with which one can project expressions and bodily configurations. In addition, there are language games particular to electronic communities, the most well knowen being the smiley-face :), the wink ;), and the frown :(. One can easily "see" who is online, see descriptions of the other participants, and engage in conversation to individuals or groups.
The experience of MUDding is exhilarating in the sense of freedom and play it promotes in social interaction. One is guaranteed to find at least ten, and upwards of forty players on Farside at any given time. Social engagement is easy to intitiate. I recall my first nervous foray into Farside, in which I met two players, and was invited to one of their (virtual) homes for an hour-long conversation. Conversely, disengagement is simple and swift; one need only hang up the modem and turn away from the screen. The following is an example of the beginning of an interaction from my early days on Farside, where a total stranger approached me with gifts and helpful advice.

Cerberus bows gracefully.
say hi there
You say: hi there
Cerberus says: hello
Cerberus gives mace to Mimi.
>say thanks!
You say: thanks!
Cerberus removes suit.
Cerberus gives armour to Mimi.
Cerberus says: I can get more armour....but remember the mud closes in 20
Cerberus says: mins
Cerberus nods solemnly
>wear armour
Cerberus says: so sell it all a few minutes and get the money
>wield mace
Cerberus says: sell the other stuff
>say ok...
You say: ok...

After this point in the exchange, Cerberus takes me to the Adventurers' Guild and gives me pointers about how to move up levels, as well as advice about good adventuring spots. It was through numerous exchanges of this sort, and queries to the wizards on the system, that I learned the basics of how to play the game, as well as developing a group of net-friends and informants. As in any social setting, interaction ranges from the benign to the antagonistic. Recently Farside has become an arena for contesting factions, and player killings are common occurrences.

Forgetting the body(8)

Real MUDders don't eat ;).
~ Beebop

Anthropological accounts of ritual often focus on the body as the zone of inscription for ritual activity. The authentic, subjective, and singular self is located within the physical body, and an externalised, public, collective self is inscribed on the body as the "social skin" (Turner 1980; Douglas 1966). In Farside, by contrast, the physical body becomes an incidental referent in the construction of multiple selves; it is "forgotten" -- systematically deconstructed through the fusing of the hacker body with electronically constructed selves. The person becomes a network of related but disparate personalities, only some of which are located within the physical skin.

In conversations with MUDders, I often encountered an idealization of the virtual persona as more authentic than the selves bounded by the physical body. A lord of Farside onece told me: "My physical appearance isn't good. But here I am my personality. People meet it before they meet the physical me" (Farside 3/2/93). The "physical me" is contrasted with "it," "my personality." This consciousness of identity is profoundly pluralistic; multiple selves construct the identity of the person. Amplifying this pluralistic effect is the fact that most MUD players have characters on a number of different MUDs, as well as presences on email lists, electronic bulletin boards, newsgroups, and other special interest forums. While most players focus on a small number of MUDs, I have met players on Farside that have characters on over twenty. Among the many selves that comprise the person, the selves nurtured by the MUD environment are those in which the physical body is incidental and secondary, a forgotten referent at a distant console. The "virtual me" is an extension of select elements of non-physical selves. One of the few female wizards on Farside is a two time rape survivor in "real life,' who "tends to be rather cautious of men in general." "But here,' she says, "I can be as confident and flirtatious as I like...without fear" (Farside 3/2/93).
The MUDder is a new breed of cyborg that plays freely with different selves, crossing and exploding the human/machine interface. The characters that populate Farside are not merely mirrors or shadowy simulations of physical people. Rather, they are original, authentic selves that are both extensions from and extensions to selves that populate physical bodies. The act of connecting to Farside is a moment of bodily amnesia. Players literally forget to eat. "Well," says a player reluctantly logging off, "I have to eat once a day" (Farside 2/15/93). The hacker's connection to the keyboard is fluid and automatic. The body is plunged into a sort of sensory deprivation as perception is flattened through focus on a two-dimensional screen. This flattening of perceived context effectively dissolves the boundary between person and machine, deconstructing the physical body in an act of creative forgetting.
What is forgotten is not only the body and physical sensation, but also the related responsibilities and experiences of terrestial life. Commitment to what Vinge describes as "The Other Plane" (Vinge 1981) is often called an "addiction" in which responsibilities to school and family are forgotten and replaced by attachments to virtual environments and people. Witness the following exchange between myself and some Farside wizards and lords:

You say: What does it mean to be addicted to mudding?
Rina whistles innocently.
Agentq says: hey, I went a whole 2 days without logging on
Agentq pokes Rina in the ribs.
Rina says: I have done that
Rina pokes Agentq in the ribs.
Agentq says: yeah, when you were on a bus
Agentq pokes Rina in the ribs.
Rina says: and then some
Rina pokes Agentq in the ribs.
Pakka says: Oh homework suffers. You care more about your Character's friends than your own (Farside 3/2/93)
The act of forgetting the body through entry into an electronic environment does not end with the deconstructive moment; new and engaging notions of selfhood are reconstituted within the electronic space.

The Construction of Polymorphous Selves

Tao says "I have only one active character that is not named Tao and I don't like him as much."
Mara laughs!
[Mara] says "It's kind of funny...why didn't you like your other self as well?"
Tao says: "I don't like Gregory as much because he has no really developed personality...I guess I just feel kind of fake in him"
Tao says: "It's strange." [...]
Tao says "You see, I feel I know the person who is 'Mara'[...]"
[Mara] says "Ah, but you don't really know's an illusion!"
[Mara] says "I guess you can project intimacy on people."
Tao says "But I do...Amy Bruckman is the illusion from this point of view."
(Bruckman 1992, 38-39)

In many stories of ritual process, the person enters a space set off from the everyday, in which the subjective, private self encounters an objectified, public self, and "experiences" a worldview through an array of symbolic fields. The culturally situated self is thus inscribed on the subjective self, usually through manipulations of the physical body. Alternately, selfhood can be displaced onto an object that enacts a set of social relationships. For example, Clifford Geertz's analysis of the Balinese cockfight describes a "migration" of social status onto the performance of the cocks (Geertz 1973, 436). The self, objectified in ritual, is a "mirror," and thus a "reflective" or "representative" simulation to be presented to and viewed by an authentic, subjective self located within the physical skin (Myeroff 1986; Turner 1982).
Unlike the performances studied in traditional dramaturgical and ritual frames, MUD practices inscribe themselves on virtual personas that are decentred from physically situated selves. The selves that populated MUDs can not be described as mere reflections, migrations, or representations of true selves situated in real bodies. Rather, they are better conceived of as extensions of selves through computer networks. Aspects of selves are digitized and compacted, and rehydrated in the context of an electronic environment. Virtual personas are illustrations of the sort of relationsl personhood described, in feminist terms, by some anthropologists (Strathern 1988; Battaglia 1990). The person is an amorphous, non-centralized but continuous entity, in electronic connectivity with multiple selves in multiple contexts. The distinction between authentic and constructed selves becomes blurred as the simulacra of the person precedes the referents of the material environment. The shift is from an understanding of the person and the self as bounded and singular units of anlaysis, to personas, characters and schizoid selves in an electronic dance of ironic relationality.(9)
Farside provides the context in which alternative notions of selfhood can be explored. Says Agent Q, a Farside wizard: "Almost everyone I've met I would never have talked to in RL(10)...the cool thing bout mud, is you talk to a person and you like them for who they are...don't have to worry bout outward appearances, etc." (Farside 3/2/93). The "outward appearances" that Q is talking about include gender, specie, and dress -- all elements that are foundational to the experience of selfhood. While most MUDders protest any ascription of disingenuous motive to their construction of virtual selfhood, it is clear that liberation from material, structural limitations implies the freedom to experiment with alternative selve. Thus characters are described as "female-presenting" rather than simply "female." I am a female elf on Farside, but I could just as easily choose to be an androgynous gnome or a masculine human.

Rembering the body

Right now, I only have one quest to do on Farside, but I don't think I'll ever do that. I don't really care much about all that stuff, I don't take mudding too serious. I play it if there is nothing better to do. Especially lately I haven't been doing it much, cause I have a girlfriend now, and you don't want to spend time mudding, when you can have fun with her..;)...The reason why I don't like knowing all of this? Well, it's because it makes you look like you have no life, and by knowing so much, you obviously have played quite a bit, and that's a lot of time wasted in your life. I do it just to meet people now, but before I used to play it all the time....
~ Chester
A cyborg is never entirely electronic; its nature dictates that the connection to the body is not severed. As Allucquere Stone argues, "No refigurred body, no matter how beautiful, will slow the death of a cyberpunk with AIDS. Even in the age of the technosocial subject, life is lived through bodies" (Stone 1991, 113). Often, virtual communities are awakened from their utopian bodily amnesia, to recall the material referent which is the body and the environment in which the body performs. There is an infamous story of a male psychologist who masqueraded as a disabled woman, having frequent online intimate and sexual relationships (Van Gelder 1991). A less dramatic story is chronicled in the early history of MUDs, where "Sue" was founf to be a man by a fellow player in search of a real body (Bartle 1990). "Sue" even went so far as to send other players pictures of "her" sister, claiming it was herself. "Flesh meets," where MUDders organize parties on the terrestial plane, are often rude awakenings for a community unaccustomed to dealing with the biological present (Bruckman 1992). On the other hand, many satsisfying, embodied, relationships are realized between MUDders who met in a virtual environment. On Farside, there is at least one text-based marriage that has translated to an embodied, three dimensional one.
Technological advances are likely to provide ways in which the hacker imagination can unfold in sensually evocaive, embodied idioms. Advances in biotechnologies already provide avenues for gender swapping, and other types of bodily reconfiguration. While the remembering of the body can take a material, non-virtual form, advances in simulation and networking technologies are also opening up the possibility of re-embodiement within the belly of the computer itself. When contrasted to simple talk and chat programs on computer networks that completely lack contextual clues, MUDs are a step in the direction of embodiement.
Computer graphics artists have designed environments in which living, three-dimensionally articulated plants grow and reproduce based on programmed genetic codes (Sims 1990). Telepresence technologies have already advanced to the point where a bodysuit affords full-body entry into an electronic environment. In terms of networked environments, there are already multi-user systems that incorporate sophisticated graphics systems (Morningstar and Farmer 1991). If the new administration is serious about its support of information superhighways, it is only a matter of time before 3D, immersive, high-bandwidth systems will be transmitted through a restructured Internet. Teledildonics is also an idea that has captured the imagination of the cyberpunk community; participants could don skin-tight body suits with tactile feedback mechanisms. Beautiful, sexy, virtual bodies could entwine themselves in lush, sensual environments.

Conclusion - Towards a Politics of Cyberspace

The empowerment and control of hacker selves by new cyborg technologies is in stark contrast to the colonization of the female body by the new biotechnics of reproduction. Emanating from the same cyborg systems of human/machine couplings are radically different stories: women, trapped in bodies inscribed and controlled by technological subjects, and hackers, forgetting and reconstituting their bodies in orgies of self discovery and extension. It is not accidental that the overwhelming majority of MUDders are male. But these two stories are unnecessarily dichotomized. The present is a crucial moment in the construction of cyborg identities, since the dominant electronic myth of adolescent violence is just beginning its reconstitution in networked form. As we emerge from this deconstructive moment of bodily amnesia, those traditionally disempowered by technology must, now more than ever, gain access to these new social spaces, not only as objectified others viewed from the eyes of a masculine, technosocial subject, but as creative agents in the constitution of cyborg realities.
Nothing in the new technologies of telepresence and virtual environment design is inherently emancipatory. Fusion with electronic realities implies a loss of control for the individuated, singular subjectivity of the human agent. This freedom from an individuated, material body implies integration within networked, electronic ones. The act of forgetting the physical body creates a crisis in subjecivity, where a multiplicity of possible worlds explode from the force of the deconstructive moment (Haraway 1992). New worlds of frightening potential have alreayd been portrayed in popular culture: a ruthless Terminators, confused cyborgs in Blade Runner, the dystopic future of Neuromancer. Farside, too, depicts a world in which players leave a trail of blood in their scramblings up the social ladder. Yet electronic environments and selves are as plastic as the minds that create them. We can now, literally, inhabit our wildest dreams and our greatest fears.


A: Sample "Who" Command, Listing Current Participants

There are 14 people currently logged onto Farside:
[Gm] Eternity of a Dark League (Demonic) <Collecting Souls...>
[Lord] Pakka the Paladin (Very Good) <Beanie's Husband>
[Elder] Robocop (Back with a vengeance)
[Wizd] A twisted figure of Wart frozen by time
Adric the grand master sorcerer (neutral)
Blackwood An Accomplished Spell Caster of the agi (neutral) <ARGH Thi>
Justice for 3 (neutral) <Maiden Vermont>
A twisted figure of Guitardude frozen by time <[censored]>
Tenar the statue molester! (nice) <leave me alone!>
Psychochild the small adventurer (neutral) <Tenar's love>
Quanta leap (nice)
Mimi the Humble Beginning Student of the Way of the Wind (nice)
Lunamond the simple wanderer (neutral) <the gentle monster>
Oderen the utter novice (neutral) <<Looking sad>>

B: Sample "Score" Commands Listing Personal Attributes

You are Mimi the lowrank ranger (nice).
You have 5276 experience points, 3405 gold coins, 74 hit points (74).
66 spell points.
Wimpy mode.
Age: 13 hours 32 minutes 52 seconds.
Dexterity: 3 Strength: 4
Constitution: 4 Intelligence: 3
Power: 4 Agility: 4
As of now you are level 3.

C: Sample "Inventory" Command Listing Possessions

You are carrying:
Cola bottle.
Cola bottle.
A Hawk (perched on shoulder).
A hawk's quicktyper.
A White Sash (worn).
The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Mimi's house key.
Permanent invitation to visit Joichi's house.

D: Farside Power Hierarchy

Gods: Merlin, Alvin
| | | |
GMs: Eternity Doar Beebop Zaph
| | | |
Lords: Nick Pakka Maverick Ford
| | | |
Archs: Morgoth Candlemass Cletus Agentq
^^^^^^^ ^^^^^^^^^^ ^^^^^ ^^^^^^
Wizs: Again Batman Basilisk Boots
Burble Calico Brynn Morgein
Otto Obo Beanie Spiderman
Malikto Rosencrantz Isageau Vuluptua
Rast Manny Ottis Wart
Sunder Rina Silvanus Zargon
Tiger Zoltair Atlas Cataclysm
Daimyo Robo

As of March 2, 1993
E: List of Emotive Commands

>help feelings
Soul commands (currently 209)

ack accuse agree ah ankletap apologise
applaud beep beg bite blbl bleed
blink blush bodyslam boggle bop bored
bounce bow breathe burp cackle caress
cheer chew choke chortle chuckle clap
comfort comp congrat cough cower cringe
cross cry cuddle curtsey curious dance
daydream die disagree dream drool duck
duh expect eyes faint fart flash
flex flip fluster flutter fondle freak
french frown fume gasp gaze gibber
giggle glare grab grimace grin groan
grope grovel growl grumble grunt guffaw
headbutt hiccup hide high5 hi5 hold
homer hop howl hug hum ignore
insult ising jump kick kiss knee
kneel lag laugh leak lick love
massage melvin mgrin moan mock mourn
mumble mutter nack nibble nod nudge
oh ouch panic pant pat peck
peer pick piledrive pinch ping point
poke ponder pout pucker puke punch
purr puzzle raise razz recoil rock
roll rub ruffle scratch scream shake
shiver shrug shudder sigh simper sing
slap slice smack smile smirk snap
snarl sneer sneeze snicker sniff snore
snort snuggle sob sorry spank spit
squeeze stare start steam stifle storm
strangle strut stumble suck sulk swear
tackle tantrum tap taunt thank hink
threat throw tickle tongue tug twiddle
twirl understand wave waggle whimper whine
whistle wiggle wince wink wobbly worship
wry yawn yodel yuck help



(1) I use the term "cracker" to refer to a subset of hackers who use their computing abilities for "criminal" activity. A "hacker," on the other hand, more generally describes a person with a high commitment to computer-based systems.

(2) "The term "virtual" has come to refer to anything that is computer generated, or even more generally, 'not quite actual' things that are generated through human artifice (Heim 1991, 29). I will use the term to describe entities generated through computer modelling that exist within non-material, electronic space. For purposes of this analysis, I will focus on the term 'virtual environments,' defined by Scott Fisher as "computer-generated worlds that users may enter and take action in via telepresence technology" (Fisher 1992, 1). Telepresence "is a term used to describe technology that enables a person to feel as if he or she is actually present in a different place or time" (Fisher 1992, 1). Virtual reality (VR) is the popular term used to describe a mass of phenomenon in some way related to telepresence technologies. Due to its ambiguity, the term has little analytic utility for this study, but rather points to a popular mythology surrounding technology and the philosophical concepts of 'alternative reality'" (Ito 1992)

(3) To reach Farside, telnet to 2500.

(4) pn=punch, kk=kick

(5) "Ok" is usually a simple response of the environment, to acknowledge a particular command such as "get all" or "wear armour."

(6) This excerpt is from a meeting I had with a group of Farside wizards. What you see is what would be scrolling down my screen. The actions and expressions of the other characters are responses to their typing of "soul" commands such as "giggle" and "lick Merlin," etc. If I type "say thanks Merlin...." others will see, "Mimi says: thanks Merlin..." and I will see, "You say: thanks Merlin..."

(7) Examples of quests: Kill the orc shaman, build a house and have a certain number of people vote for it.

(8) The idea of creative, bodily amnesia was suggested to me through conversations with Debborah Battaglia, as well as through readings of Taylor 1991, Battaglia 1990, Strathern 1988, and Stone 1991.

(9) My debt to postmodernisms and postructuralisms are profound but diffuse. Some of the influences on this paper are referenced in the bibliography.

(10) code for "real life"