One man's dream

One man’s dream can hold dominion over the entire world for one who dedicates his life to the forging of a single sword. While many can pursue their dreams in solitude, other dreams are like great storms blowing hundreds, even thousands, of dreams apart in their wake. Dreams breathe life into men and can cage them in suffering. Men live and die by their dreams but, long after they’ve been abandoned, they still smoulder deep within men’s hearts. Some see nothing more than life and death. They are dead. For they have no dreams.

(Griffith in Berserk, Kentaro Miura)

Que faire d'un mari gênant ?

Un malheureux perruquier de la Rochelle plaida sa cause devant l'intendant. Sa femme, Madeleine Guillermin, s'étant abandonnée à toutes sortes de débauches dans lesquelles elle avait même prostitué sa fille, le voyait tout prêt à implorer le bras de la justice. Elle résolut de se défaire d'un époux si gênant et forma  un complot avec quelques-uns de ses compagnons de plaisir. Deux valets de chambre travestis en personnes de condition achetèrent des perruques au malheureux boutiquier. Ces gens feignirent d'avoir oublié leur bourse sur le navire où ils allaient s'embarquer. Notre perruquier les suivit sur le Soleil d'Afrique et tandis qu'il courait après son payement, le vaisseau mit à la voile pour le Canada ! Voilà notre malheureux en Amérique; on voulait le livrer aux Hurons. Il réclama tant qu'il obtint un passe-port pour venir en France. Triste retour ! Sa femme donnait le bal au capitaine des gardes. Les gardes se saisirent immédiatement du mari importun, le mirent en prison. Les complices rédigèrent un faux ordre du Roi; une barque s'arrêta au pied de la tour où le perruquier était enfermé et l'emmena à l'île de Ré. De là un navire le transporta à Saint-Domingue...

(Fonctionnaires maritimes et coloniaux sous Louis XIV : les Bégon, Yvonne Bezard, Paris, 1932)

The importance of being alone

Lucas Yeat (R.I.P.) considered this collection of poems his greatest achievement.

What is it that we remember when we think of the poet, years after his passing? Mostly, his unabashed addiction to certain substances, including cheese of random quality.

I know in the right time I will meet Lucas again. We will all meet him again. Forever.

*

The importance of being alone, by Lucas Yeat, on Amazon (eBook).

Project Compass and the "box" in "sandbox"

In which I react to a micro-incident in Eve Online, eager to share and marvel at a creative endeavor by fellow players.

Worlds beyond the wormholes
In Eve Online, you find your fun in many ways, but the core gameplay is one of many-flavored combat. (Miners don't extract fun from the game; they extract ores.) Stellar systems, for example, are categorized primarily in function of the restrictions to combat. You can fight in known space (empire, low-sec and 0.0) and in something called wormhole space, a wondrous network of mysterious interconnected stellar systems which appeared later in the life of the game.

Combat is supported by other forms of gameplay which provide the elements necessary for a good fight. For example, players can have their characters engineer the production of industrial items, like guns, often using space structures called Control Towers.

And then there is emergent gameplay: methods to fun that CCP, the developers of the game, did not necessarily think about beforehand. Even though they do not directly encourage or condone each of these methods, they strive to provide a favorable context for players to come up with creative ways to enjoy the game, whose most vaunted feature is its focus on sandbox gameplay and player-influenced narrative.

1300 light years from the center of New Eden...
Back to wormhole space: a few roleplayers decided their characters would launch an in-game initiative to research its location using advanced mathematics. Poetic Stanziel explains: "Project Compass' mission statement was to determine the location of w-space (aka Anoikis) with respect to k-space (aka New Eden). And further down the line, to map Anoikis systems with respect to each other." If it still sounds a little bit cryptic, what about this: to simulate the wormhole systems in its software, CCP gave them coordinates somewhere in the same tridimensional virtual world already host to known space. Project Compass used a little-known function of Control Towers to calculate those locations, using those equations. They invested time and in-game money to build a network of Control Towers for this purpose.
Knowing where the wormhole systems are in the virtual world has no in-game consequence, as wormholes are the only way to travel there (you cannot travel directly to another stellar system, much to my chagrin). It does not help in any way to perform better in the game and its in-game acquisition takes a lot of hard work (out of game, the information can actually be found in the public data dump). Its relentless pursuit is thus of the foremost importance and extremely fun.

Well, was actually, because the Crucible 1.5 patch removed this possibility: "Control towers in wormhole space no longer reveal distance in the Control Tower Management window." This change kills Project Compass before it completes its virtual astronomy masterwork. Time to remember that the sandbox is a box!

Why
Project Compass, because it is shared with the community, contributes much more to Eve Online than just the fun of the players involved. Why was this, admittedly extremely niche, method to fun patched out of the game?
I would guess a purely technical reason. CCP has no interest in punishing players finding unlikely fun with minor game mechanisms and playing around the enigmatic quality of wormhole space.
Chances are the developer(s) who championed this change of the rules never heard about Project Compass until the patch went live. If that is so, I hope that, in the future, they manage to squeeze some time in-between two daily scrums to watch the fragile mini-systems of fun that grow like lichens on the most unlikely parts of their game. And when those rare varieties of fun are roleplaying-based, CCP has one simple way to soothe their pain while changing a rule: just maintaining the coherence of the game narrative by providing a background explanation to the change.
Whatever the reason, when players explore the physics of the game, they tread the thin frontier between emergent, exploratory gameplay and the exploitation of game mechanics for combat or griefing. That is why the developers removed the methods to create deep space safes, used by some to park ships in space out of reach of all would-be probers (explorers), or why they prohibited the use of "grid fu" to manipulate the shape of the immediate viewable environment around the ships of player characters.

Someday, some capsuleer will stumble upon bits of code in-game and argue on the in-character forums about the possibility that New Eden is an artificial world.

The discussion is going on in this forum thread and on the Poetic Discourse: Thoughts from a graduate capsuleer blog post.

The content society 4: the future of income

EN



A world without jobs
In The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (2009), Martin Ford predicts that our society faces systemic mass unemployment within a few decades. He reflects about the necessity to provide people with work-unrelated income in order to preserve the free market, which he deems to be essential.
"In order to preserve the free market system, we will have to come to the realization that while work (at least for most people) may no longer be essential, broad-based consumption is essential."

The economy does not need you
While I disagree on the specifics, I agree with Martin Ford on the general concept of the solution he puts forward.
To me, the free market is not a grail or a beacon in the dark, just one nonexclusive method towards common prosperity. My end goal would rather be to preserve the people's means of living a decent life. Also, I believe that, sadly, the system does not need mass market consumption. When people lose their revenue streams, they get out of the system, which adapts. If everybody loses their job to the machines, the industry will manufacture stuff for the sole remaining customer: the owner of the machines. No, really: on the long term, not only are we all dead but nobody cares. If I sound like I know the future: I don't. But the concepts above need to be said strong and clear because the idea that more "growth" equates with more jobs is still ingrained in many minds. We can wish for more growth, and deal separately with the issue of incomes.

Looking for another way
All people should receive minimum income, enough to survive and never know hunger anymore. Salaries should provide extra revenue and should not be taxed. Actually, the society (or the government, but I want to make a point through the ideological blinders often associated with the word) should pay the salary of everybody, minus an optional, gradually more taxed, premium provided by the company as an incentive to recruit and retain the best personnel. This mass subsidization of the people would be funded with the riches to be found in the system. I do not believe in or long for bloody revolutions. So I want to think about a way to transition to such a system very progressively, iteratively, with opportunities to test if it can function as intended. It might entail, for example, the creation of a parallel, opt-in economic system, with its own money, that could gradually gnaw into the salary-based system. People could belong partially to both systems and, if the alternate system functions, it could grow into the main fabric of the economy. We could also envision multiple economic systems, all vying for the attention and interest of the citizens, until one of them or a combination of them emerges as a stable dominant method for the prosperity of all.


FR



La société du contenu 4 : l'avenir du revenu

Un monde sans emplois
Dans The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (2009), Martin Ford prédit que notre société s’achemine vers un chômage de masse systémique d’ici quelques décennies. Il réfléchit à propos de la nécessité de fournir aux gens un revenu non lié au travail afin de préserver le libre marché, qu’il juge essentiel.
Afin de préserver le système du libre marché, nous devrons aboutir à la réalisation que bien que le travail (en tout cas pour la plupart des gens) ne soit plus indispensable, la consommation de masse est essentielle.

L’économie peut se passer de vous
Je ne suis pas d’accord sur certains points mais je souscris au concept général de la solution proposée.
Pour moi, le libre marché n’est pas un graal ou un phare dans la nuit, juste une méthode parmi d’autres sur le chemin de la prospérité commune. Mon but final serait plutôt de préserver un niveau de vie décent pour tous. De plus, je ne crois pas, hélas, que le système qui se profile nécessite la moindre consommation de masse. Quand les gens perdent leurs sources de revenu et quittent le système, ce dernier s’adapte. Si les machines prennent le travail de tout le monde, l’industrie se réorientera au service du seul client restant : le propriétaire des machines. C’est ma conviction : à long terme, nous sommes tous morts et il n’y a personne pour nous regretter. J’écris comme si je connaissais le futur, ce n’est pas le cas. Mais les concepts ci-dessus méritent une voix claire et forte tant l’idée que la “croissance” équivaut à la baisse du chômage est ancrée dans encore beaucoup d’esprits. Nous pouvons rechercher la croissance tout en traitant séparément la question des revenus.

A la recherche d’une autre voie
Chacun devrait recevoir un revenu minimum, permettant de survivre sans jamais plus connaître la faim. Les salaires devraient fournir un revenu complémentaire et ne devraient pas être taxés. En fait, la société (ou le gouvernement, mais je veux faire passer un message à travers les oeillères idéologiques associées à ce mot) devrait payer le salaire de tous, à l’exception d’une partie optionnelle et supplémentaire, déboursée par l’entreprise pour attirer et retenir les meilleurs employés, et qui serait elle sujette à un impôt progressif. Des ponctions ailleurs dans le système financeraient ce subventionnement massif de la population. Je ne crois pas aux, ni n'espère de, révolutions sanglantes. Je veux donc réfléchir à une façon de transitionner très progressivement vers un tel système, avec des améliorations successives permettant de vérifier qu’il peut fonctionner comme prévu. Cette méthode pourrait comprendre, par exemple, la création d’un système économique parallèle sur une base volontaire, incluant une monnaie, et qui pourrait petit à petit grossir à l’intérieur du système salarial. Les gens pourraient appartenir aux deux systèmes et, si le système alternatif fonctionne, celui-ci pourrait devenir le fondement de l’économie. Nous pourrions aussi envisager de tester plusieurs systèmes économiques, tous en compétition pour l’attention et l’intérêt des citoyens, jusqu’à ce que l’un d’eux ou une combinaison de plusieurs d’entre eux émerge comme une méthode dominante stable vers la prospérité de tous.

Clone monologues 18

Hello, me.
In the past year, I have mostly dealt with logistics, that is, moving ships and assets from one base of operations to another. The carrier has seen repeated use as the Epsilon Lyr capsuleers have traveled space in their quest for a new stronghold to forge their destiny in. My crewmen, like the true space nomads they have become, barely ever leave their jumpsuits. And today, once again, we are on the move. The morale is high, but this is not the life I wanted. I long to experience another time-dilated space battle in my glorious Abaddon, like the one yesterday.

I might receive more than I asked. When you awaken, pray that your life will be violent, and leave out the short part.

Experiences with space democracy

This post is part of the EVE Blog Banter, a monthly Eve Online blogging extravaganza maintained by Seismic Stan. The polls have just opened for the election of candidates to occupy the 14 seats on the 7th Council of Stellar Management. To kick-start a topical CSM-themed banter, CCP Xhagen - fierce champion of freedom of speech and in his words, "the guy that gets yelled at when the CSM dudes do booboos" - has offered this question: "How would you like to see the CSM grow, both in terms of player interaction and CCP interaction?"

Pay to vote
The Council of Stellar Management (CSM) is a group of players elected by the player-base of Eve Online. It originates with the publisher of the game rather than the community itself, and its main mission seems to be to allow players to contribute meaningful ideas to the development and exploitation of the game beyond the playing itself. CCP, the publisher, seems to believe there should be no taxation without representation, so the right to vote is not given to actual persons but to game accounts: players get as many votes as they have accounts (sometimes two or more). Subscribers, not players or characters, have the right to vote.
One of the main hurdles on the digitization of the real life voting process is indeed the necessary verification of the voters's identity. The set of processes devised by the democracies of the 19th century to ensure transparency in elections does not function so well over the Internet. Unlike what happens in South Korea, where players have to provide their Social Security number before they can play online games, CCP cannot know for sure the identity of the players. They have settled for the next best thing, their database of accounts.

Liquid democracy?
CSM members are representatives, they gather physically to hold meetings, they elect a chairman, etc. This part is very traditional, too much for my taste in fact. This game is a sandbox, a space to explore alternatives and boldly go where no elective process has gone before! Thus, one thing I would like to see is something different. I have an example that I intend only as a starting point. The German Pirate Party has implemented within its ranks a system of direct democracy called "liquid democracy". In a nutshell, the word "liquid" refers here to the way you can delegate your vote on a specific topic to somebody you trust on this issue, and this person can in turn delegate his vote to somebody else, etc., in a flow. Search for it and you will find explanations of the concept, such as in this wiki.

Bring on the science fiction
I am not saying it would be a good idea to implement such a system as is, I am saying that Eve Online is a game, not an actual country, and though hundreds of people depend on it for their livelihood, they can also take much riskier stances and innovate like crazy, and it might just work, thanks to all those brilliant minds in the community and in the company.

Check other Eve Blog Banter articles on the same topic:

Further Resources
CSM Vote-Match (candidate/voter compatibility test)
Jita Park Speakers Corner (discussion forum)
Council Candidates Voting Page The Council of Stellar Management - Implementation of Deliberative, Democratically Elected, Council in EVE by Pétur Jóhannes Óskarsson (CCP Xhagen)

Space captain: real-life corporation wants its name back

The players of the online game Eve Online manage many useful websites and services and one of the most significant is Dotlan. Dotlan provides the community with an efficient interface to exploit the game's public API.
Wollari, who runs the site, mentioned on Twitter that a real life company got in touch with him about an in-game corporation, included in his site's database, which was using their trademark. Wollari directed them to CCP, the publisher of the game.

I have no idea about the specifics. The founder of the in-game corporation could have consciously used the name of an existing company. Or it could be a case of making up a random name without knowing it already exists. In both events, the use of an existing trademark and the reaction of the company are of interest.

I was discussing yesterday with a graphic designer about logos. There are untold numbers of them and making sure the one you create is unique is a logistical nightmare. At least, the aforementioned company has plenty of search engines to identify any issue with its name. The world of pictures is not as easy to search as the world of words. A logo, like a name, is supposed to be unique. But everything has already been made. Words, pictures, guitar riffs... and cool-sounding corporation names. It is OK at some level, but not always, and certainly not for the next thousand years. How to deal with the scarcity of the resource?

This situation is exacerbated by the ubiquitous connection that redefines our society. Back in the days, we could bear the same name and nobody would know about it. Today, a real corporation can search its name on the Internet and take issue with a fictitious corporation using its name in an imaginary science-fiction universe.

Perhaps both words and logos could be assigned more insubstantial qualities. Right now, there are legal ways to ascertain your ownership of a name, but no cloaking device, no way to dampen the "signature radius" of a content on the Internet outside of the website you operate, signalling that "this is just for me and my pals, please leave me alone"; also, there is no invisible guardian angel hovering over your content on the Internet, making sure no one misunderstands what it is connected to. There is only the relentless purge of copies of names for dubious benefit to the society.

DUST 514 to be free-to-play: what next?

CCP announced that their online first-person shooter DUST 514 will be free-to-play. It means that we expect any owner of the supported gaming platform (PlayStation3) to be able to experience the game, at release, in a reasonably enjoyable fashion without having to pay an entry fee. Some players will provide revenue to the publisher by acquiring virtual goods to enhance their gaming experience.
Besides the fact that free-to-play is such an established business model nowadays, with huge hits such as League of Legends and World of Tanks, there are specific reasons why this announcement makes sense. The Eve brand is not known in console gaming circles, despite the buzz that has been growing around the development of DUST 514. CCP needs to diversify its income and there is no easier way to capture the attention outside of its traditional sphere of influence than by giving away the game.
Sony has a disproportionately high stake in this game, since it is both exclusive to their platform and allows them to reach to other gaming communities. If we do not pay the product, I guess we are the product. The competition from Facebook and Apple and who knows what must have Sony desperate to grow their flock and provide a credible alternative. In this world of abundant content, trading the entry fee for future microtransaction revenue makes sense if you are confident in the quality of your game.

Anyway, I am curious to see how the advertised connection between Eve Online and DUST 514 performs and what effect it will have on both gaming communities. Designing it seems like a recipe for headaches.
For Eve, we have one and soon two online games, a few books (my review of The Burning Life), a boardgame (my review), plenty of user generated content... I still think a small game for smartphones would make a nice addition to that.
I hope we can see more meaningful connections like that in the future, within the contexts of the Eve universe and of games in general. I dislike transmedia when its purpose is only to cover all bases.

What next?
There are many other games where I would enjoy this kind of cross-games interaction. For example, month-long play-by-email turn-based strategy games could connect with real time strategy games (for battles) or infiltration games (for espionage), etc. It would make some kind of long gaming continuum. This possible trend might mean some feature-rich games could drop features and those features would become complete games on the most relevant platform. Games might focus on what they do best and connect with complementary games based on previous features. MMOs are very feature-rich so I would not be surprised to see other announcements about games connected to MMOs. Wargaming.net (World of Tanks) might provide the combat game for Bioware's Star Wars MMO, for example!
Games might be created from the ground up with this connection in mind, like DUST 514, or they could reach to other games later in their career. The "connection feature" could redefine online games and the market of games.
Or DUST 514 could tank. We'll see!

Playing with the Company 8: Raise the Jolly Roger!

You bloody idiot, you know better than to mix yer liquors!
Kage Baker, The Life of the World to Come

Characters in the Company series have a peculiar look at history. The future depicted in the novels is bland. Past times is where interesting stuff happened: cowboys, Indians, and of course pirates. To truly understand pirates, you need to mix yer liquors. To write about pirates, you need to behave like a bloody idiot. You need, to have a HAT.

Pirates or Ninjas?
The clash of these super-memes is one of the most fundamental oppositions in culture, along with Dionysian vs Apollonian, Elves vs Dwarves, Elephant vs Hippopotamus. Kage Baker definitely sided with the pirates. The yarrr she brought into the world is manifest in one of the main characters in the series. For Alec, every day is Talk Like a Pirate Day. (Sadly, one of his twin brothers leans more on the ninja side.) Do you want to play the part of the good little boy, or do you want to be the rebel? Alec tries to be both, but his heart is true to the Jolly Roger.

Pirates have history.
This is not the first stage in life. You become a pirate, you are not born one. And escaping the rule of law, embracing freedom, is a conscious choice; nobody is forced into the pirate life. In a game based on the Company series, I would like to see players questioning rules and choosing to rebel. What would those pirates face? A totalitarian machine based on the most comprehensive surveillance system ever devised.

The decision to raise the Jolly Roger should come from the players; it should not even be introduced as a viable option. If players feel like using the good boy system, let them do it. And if they don't behave, let them be pirates.

Just send ninjas.

Eve Online has shards

The single most vaunted feature of Eve Online, along with the focus on sandbox gameplay, has to be its single shard universe. All players are able to interact with each other in the context of the game. The single shard leverages the full potential of the community.

This is a marketing lie. Another shard of Eve Online has existed for years in China. My understanding is that this quasi-clone of the original version was created to comply with Chinese rules. Some of these rules are about the nature of content, e.g., the possibility to destroy a capsule ("podding") has been removed. Other rules are about capital ownership. CCP just announced a new partnership with TianCity to publish Eve Online in China. I thought this press release would be a good occasion to reflect about the Chinese shard.

Right now, the Chinese players explore a world that is but a copy of the one explored by the global players. They cannot interact with other players. In my opinion, being exclusive in such a way betrays the ethos of Eve Online. This is obviously a business compromise, but the role of content creators is to accommodate business and technical impediments.

What would have made sense, if the law compels CCP to prevent Chinese customers to interact with non-Chinese, would have been having the Chinese customers play in a different part of the game universe. Trouble is, this will not happen. The background is intricately burrowed into the game system as in, a massive quantity of game objects are not background-neutral. Ships are obviously the result of the industry of specific civilizations. The same for Captain's Quarters, faces, plenty of skills, etc. A whole new series of stars and planets would have to be generated and named. The expansions have been built around a peculiar narrative, etc.

But still, it bugs me. I need to rationalize this other shard because, in the back of my mind, I still hope that at some point a grand unification of the Eve universe will happen.

Then again, maybe an entirely different set of human empires is located on the other side of the Jovian empire. The Joves are not talking, but have been feeding these empires with technology originating from Dodixie and Amarr. Or it could be a case of the parallel universes.

In the future, I hope this situation gets solved. Perhaps TianCity will go beyond publishing a clone. To keep with the spirit of Eve Online, they ought to make sure that their customers can explore a world that is truly theirs and not a carbon copy of the first one, minus some stuff that the Chinese government dislikes. This way, the fantasy that there is only one instance of the Eve cluster will be maintained.

The content society 3: value in a world of copiers

EN



The digital environment makes the old content economy obsolescent. This provides us with a chance to re-assess what is the value of content and, further, what is the purpose of value. Once again, I am trying to make sense of what is a very public debate in the 2010's.

Content is everywhere
Content is the purposeful product of intelligence. It's what gets out of brains.
The digitization of content has begun with easy, static content (pictures, music) and is slowly moving to less tangible, more complex outputs of human activity (automatized). Once digitized, content can appear as an unchanging series of 0s and 1s or as something more complex and dynamic.
Computers copy (digitized) content. That is what they do. Putting limits to the copying has been the policy of many organizations in the past few years. They do so because they extract value from the controlled distribution of content. Thus, they focus their efforts on the copy and not on the creation.

Value is relative
Value is a social feature. It has meaning within a society and, as such, it is bound. Value holds within these social bounds and disappears without.
The concept of value is linked to those of money and income. All of these concepts enable the social phenomenon of exchange. But what do we want to achieve as a society by exchanging? What should civilization be about? The answer informs all present and future policies and strategies about content.

A long way from spinning jennys
Let's say we become able to digitize the skill of a surgeon. Computers copy this content. In every place equipped with the proper tools, this skill becomes available. In those places and times, being a surgeon brings no value. If the digital surgeon becomes commonplace, perhaps all of a sudden all those medicine students will feel like they learned something akin to humanities, like French literature or Latin. Maybe medicine schools will get empty. Medicine will not become something you learn to heal people and get rich in the process. Being a doctor will be less about execution and more about research and innovation -there would still be room for thinkers about ways to improve the digital surgeon.
Using the old content industry model, the owner of the digital surgeon in an all-digital surgeon environment should receive a little less than all the money that is currently spent paying all the surgeons today. (That is a lot of money for dubious effects on society.) The current economic system rewards copies.
The doctor who likes surgery would not, in normal circumstances, be able to extract payment for an operation, provided anybody even accepts to undergo an operation with a human surgeon by then. He would be like a 20th century factory worker faced with the rise of the machines. He would fail to find proper employment.
The example is meant to make a point and not to predict the future. If anybody can copy at no cost on his or her computer the digital surgeon, does it mean that the copy has no value? Yes. Let us all recognize the fact. Does it mean that the content is worthless and civilization would not be diminished were it to become unavailable? No. We still need to be healed and this contribution to the welfare of the society needs to be rewarded and encouraged.
If we really insist on rewarding content with money, we should stop counting copies as the sole way to set value, and focus on rewarding content creation itself, or whatever gets known to us after transition to digital status.


FR



La société du contenu 3 : la valeur dans un monde de copieurs
L’environnement numérique rend obsolescente la vieille économie du contenu. C’est l’occasion de réétudier à la fois la valeur du contenu et la finalité de la valeur. Je tente ici de comprendre les éléments d’un débat devenu très public depuis quelques années.

Le contenu est partout
Le contenu est le produit de l’intelligence au service d’une intention. C’est ce qui sort de nos têtes.
La numérisation du contenu a commencé par le plus facile, le contenu statique (images, sons), et concerne désormais des contenus de moins en moins tangibles (par exemple, l’automatisation d’activités humaines complexes). Une fois numérisé, le contenu peut prendre la forme d’une série immuable de 0 et de 1 ou celle d’une structure plus élaborée et dynamique.
Les ordinateurs copient le contenu (numérisé). C’est leur nature. Beaucoup d’organisations promeuvent ces dernières années la fixation de limites au copiage. Elles le font parce qu’elles tirent profit de la maîtrise de la distribution du contenu. Pour cette raison, leurs efforts portent sur la copie plutôt que sur la création.

La valeur est relative
La valeur est intrinsèquement sociale. Elle a un sens dans le cadre de la société et pas au-delà de ses limites.
Le concept de valeur est lié à ceux d’argent et de revenu. Tous ces concepts rendent possible le phénomène social de l’échange. Mais que cherchons-nous à accomplir en tant que société en échangeant ? Que devrions-nous assigner comme objectif à la civilisation ? De la réponse dépendent les politiques et stratégies du contenu présentes et futures.

Le chemin parcouru depuis les métiers à tisser
Imaginons que nous devenions capables de numériser les compétences d’un chirurgien. Les ordinateurs copient ce contenu. Dans chaque lieu dûment équipé, ces compétences deviennent disponibles. Dans ce contexte, être un chirurgien n’a aucune valeur. Si un jour ce programme médical devient la norme, peut-être tous les étudiants en médecine se retrouveront-ils tout d’un coup avec l’impression d’avoir appris quelque chose qui relève plus des humanités, comme la littérature anglaise ou le latin. Les facultés de médecine pourraient se dépeupler. Ce cursus serait suivi pour d’autres raisons que juste soigner des gens et s’enrichir par la même occasion. La pratique de la médecine serait moins une question d’exécution et plus une démarche de recherche et d’innovation - le programme devrait encore pouvoir être amélioré.
Avec le vieux modèle de l’industrie du contenu, le propriétaire du chirurgien numérique, dans l’environnement couvert par son programme, devrait recevoir un petit peu moins d’argent que celui actuellement versé à tous les chirurgiens dans ce périmètre. (Cela représente beaucoup d’argent, avec des effets douteux sur la société.) Le système économique actuel récompense la copie.
Le médecin qui souhaite pratiquer une opération de chirurgie ne serait pas, dans des circonstances normales, capable de se faire payer, à supposer que quiconque à ce stade accepte de se faire opérer par un être humain. Il partagerait le destin des ouvriers d’usines confrontés à la mécanisation au vingtième siècle. Il ne pourrait pas trouver d’emploi relatif à sa formation.
Cet exemple est purement démonstratif et pas prédictif. Si n’importe qui peut copier sur son ordinateur le programme du chirurgien sans débourser un centime, cela signifie-t-il que cette copie n’a aucune valeur ? Oui. Reconnaissons ce fait. Pour autant, le contenu n’a-t-il aucune valeur et la civilisation gagnerait-elle à sa disparition ? Non. Nous avons encore besoin d’être soignés et cette contribution au bien-être collectif doit être récompensée et encouragée.
Si nous insistons sur le fait de récompenser un contenu avec de l’argent, nous devrions arrêter de considérer le nombre de copies comme le seul moyen de déterminer sa valeur, et récompenser avant tout la création du contenu lui-même, ou en tout cas ce qui nous devient connu après sa transition vers un format numérique.

The content society 2: the new faces of meaning

EN



I might have titled this article "the slow march to irrelevancy of language as we know it" because that is all I am going to talk about here (using, incidentally, the English language - quelle ironie !).

Language, if anything, is meaning. (The sentence "you know what I mean" actually signals "I" have reached the limits of my ability to use language to formulate thoughts.) For us social animals, it is the key to power and the way we organize our acquisition of the products we need in our everyday life. Language is the debt that allows the capital venture of human society to exist.
It first evolved from its primitive origins, to fill the medium of air with sound then, much later, paper with letters. In quantitative terms, language is now delivered primarily through electronics. And this new medium is now formatting, changing it in ways that go beyond the rise of the SMS style.
An entire class of professionals has dedicated itself to maximizing the use of language, exploring its limits and abusing it for different purposes. Words are many. Sometimes, words are removed from their origins as implements of human intellect. Robots speak.
As a result, words have lost their power. You cannot trust them anymore to tell what they used to tell.

Darwin happens
Our brains are adapting. In this world of advertisements, we see the majority of the words for the lies they are. We try to counter attack, to fool the system.
The system adapts. The algorithms that power Internet pay attention to my clicks as well as to my words. In the future, the search engine will analyze what my eyes look at, my body expression, whatever telltale clues it can identify.
The core components of written language are giving way. What use do we have for proper spelling nowadays? We keep it because of the back catalogue. Other elements of language are also going the way of the dodo or, at least, becoming secondary to other signals. If robots can take grammar in charge, surely we have no further use for it.
Articulated language has not been with us forever. Is syntax but an impermanent stage in our cognitive history? Will it disappear at some point in the future?

The rise and fall of voice
We are still cavemen. Nothing beats spoken language to teach or to convey emotions. There is an enormous potential space for voice recognition-based technology to fill.
But the world is crowded and, given our physiology, emitting sounds is not unobtrusive. I don't believe people would wear masks to speak (perhaps more to filter input). Your electronic mailbox or keyboard affords you a level of intimacy in public places that voice will have trouble matching.
People do give instructions to their phones in public places, but they speak more often to other people at this stage. It could change, somehow. Paradoxically, the next decades could be the swan song of voice. This form of language would become the primary way to extend our will by interacting with technology, but it would still face the same ever growing limitations when you would try to communicate with another human being.

Mind to mind
The endgame of language is too alien for me to picture. I can imagine the ersatz of telepathy that uses electronics as the pipeline between two minds, but not the extra medium-specific layer of language that might develop around the connection of two intelligent minds.

A battle that takes place
In the content society, finding ways to make sense has never been more important because our brain has been educated to disbelieve language as we knew it. In some places, Newspeak triumphs. In other ones, people reclaim words or, even better, les mots.


FR



La société du contenu 2 : les nouveaux visages du sens
Cet article pourrait aussi bien être titré “le lent voyage vers l’obsolescence du langage tel que nous le connaissons” car je ne vais pas parler d’autre chose ici (d’abord en anglais ci-dessus, ce qui ne manque pas d’ironie).

Le langage, avant tout, c’est du sens. (La phrase “tu vois ce que je veux dire” signale d’ailleurs que j’ai atteint les limites de ma capacité à utiliser le langage pour formuler des pensées.) Pour les animaux sociaux que nous sommes, c’est la clé du pouvoir et notre méthode pour organiser notre acquisition des produits nécessaires au quotidien. Le langage est la dette qui autorise l’existence du grand projet qu’est la société humaine.
Il a quitté ses marais primitifs pour remplir le médium de l’air avec du son puis, plus tard, celui du papier avec des signes. De nos jours, en termes de quantités, le langage utilise surtout des moyens électroniques. Et ce nouveau médium le formate, le change d’une façon qui va au-delà de l’émergence du style SMS.
Des professions entières consacrent leurs énergies, pour divers motifs, à maximiser l’exploitation du langage, explorant ses limites jusqu’à l’abus. Les mots sont nombreux. Parfois, ils n’ont plus beaucoup de rapport avec leur fonction originale au service de l’intellect humain. Les robots parlent. En conséquence, les mots ont perdu leur pouvoir. Vous ne pouvez plus leur faire confiance pour signifier ce qu’ils avaient l’habitude de signifier.

L’évolution continue
Nos cerveaux s’adaptent. Dans ce monde de publicités, nous reconnaissons la majorité des mots pour les mensonges qu’ils sont. Nous essayons de contre-attaquer, de bluffer le système.
Le système s’adapte. Les algorithmes qui font tourner Internet étudient mes clics aussi bien que mes mots. Bientôt, le moteur de recherche analysera ce que mes yeux regardent, mon expression corporelle, et tout autre indice qu’il sera susceptible d’identifier.
Les éléments fondamentaux du langage semblent perdre de leur substance. A quoi bon s’attacher à l’orthographe, de nos jours ? Nous la conservons à cause du catalogue existant. D’autres éléments du langage vont disparaître ou, en tout cas, devenir secondaires à d’autres signaux. Si les robots peuvent s’occuper de la grammaire, sûrement nous n’en avons plus l’usage.
Le langage articulé ne nous a pas toujours tenu compagnie. La syntaxe n’est-elle qu’une étape transitoire dans notre histoire cognitive ? Disparaîtra-t-elle un jour, dans le futur ?

Grandeur et déclin de la voix
Nous sommes encore des hommes des cavernes. Rien ne transmet mieux les émotions ou les connaissances que le langage oral. La technologie basée sur la reconnaissance de la voix dispose d’un potentiel d’applications énorme.
Mais le monde est une foule et notre physiologie ne nous permet pas d’émettre de sons sur un canal limité. Je ne crois pas que des masques pour parler pourraient être populaires (peut-être plus pour filtrer la réception audio). Nos boîtes aux lettres électroniques et nos claviers nous procurent un degré de discrétion dans des endroits publics que la voix peut difficilement concurrencer.
Les gens donnent déjà des instructions à leurs téléphones dans des endroits publics, mais ils parlent plus souvent à d’autres personnes à ce stade. Il n’est pas interdit d’imaginer que cela puisse changer. Paradoxalement, les décennies à venir pourraient être pour la voix celles du chant du cygne. Cette forme de langage deviendrait l’outil d’interaction privilégié avec la technologie, mais continuerait à rencontrer, lorsqu’il faudrait communiquer avec un autre être humain, les mêmes limitations toujours plus fortes.

D’esprit à esprit
Mon expérience limitée ne me permet pas de concevoir l’aboutissement final du langage. Je peux imaginer un ersatz de télépathie connectant deux esprits grâce à l’électronique, mais pas la couche de langage propre au médium et susceptible de se développer sur cette base.

Une bataille se déroule
Dans la société du contenu, trouver un moyen de faire du sens est plus important que jamais parce que notre cerveau a appris à ne plus faire confiance au langage. Dans certains cas, la novlangue triomphe. Dans d’autres, les gens se réapproprient les mots, y compris ceux de leur langue natale.

The content society 1: 2012

EN



Thoughts about what I call, for lack of a better word, the "content society" keep nagging me lately. Let’s try to spell them out in order to achieve temporary peace of mind.

Content in the news
The news reports are buzzing with content-related conflicts: the “Search Plus Your World” update of the Google search engine fails to include relevant results from sources such as Twitter and Facebook; a movement opposes laws and treaties (Sopa, Pipa, Acta) which aim to protect the old economy revenue of copyright-holders at the expense of creativity and civil rights, the launch in France of a new low-cost mobile network operator; and the destruction of the companies and services revolving around the streaming website Megaupload by police raids prior to the alleged launch of a legal offer that might have changed the face of the content industry.

All these events revolve around the way digitized goods are created, produced, sold and distributed.

Setting priorities
Some of them highlight a worrisome trend of lack of due process. Gloves are off between “Internet” and the powers that be, champions of the “ancien régime” economy. We should strive to differentiate critics against systems of sale/distribution of content and critics against behavior which hurts people. In my book, for example, spying on people is a worse offence than rearranging a bunch of 0s and 1s. Laws and practices of law enforcement do not always reflect that view.

The dominant system
By ancien régime economy, I mean a market built around a value chain including strong intermediaries (distribution component, etc.) between creation and consumption, including social classes and mechanisms, such as laws, to prevent changes in the way these classes interact within the value chain. This caste system can still function well and allow people to live from the content they create, but often by applying ever more friction, as if trying to stop time. It allows some content professionals to benefit from income without providing commensurate value and it excludes, for right or wrong, the vast majority of content creators.
Everybody should be expected to welcome a frictionless chain value which values above all creation of content. This is not the case. Many people and companies have a stake in the ancien régime, from trade organizations to Internet middle men like Amazon. Actually, not trying to trap your customers in some kind of a web still seems counter-intuitive to many.

In the end, though, I hope everybody would benefit from living in a society which would address the twin fundamental issues of content and energy (form and substance, you know) in a less wasteful and unequal way.

Caveat
Our rationality is bound by our knowledge, our experience and our emotions. I am by trade a creator and marketer of content, hence the content-centrism. Also, the well-known pages below are a few of the sources that inspire those ramblings. There is literally nothing new in anything I wrote so far; my purpose here, faced with a superabundance of ideas hurled at my mind, is to make a conscious choice between what to take and what to reject. Also, I noticed that complex concepts, in fact, are best thought when both put in writing and spoken in a live discussion. Last but not least, I am a seeker of truth but do not pretend to own it. Please enlighten me with your comments.

Monday Note, the blog by Jean-Louis Gassée and Frédéric Filloux
Lockdown: The coming war on general purpose computing by Cory Doctorow
Owni, the French website, there is an English language version


FR



La société du contenu : 2012
Des réflexions sur ce que j’appelle, faute de mieux, la “société du contenu”, me trottent par la tête ces temps-ci. Je tâche ici d’articuler ces pensées afin de retrouver pour un temps ma tranquillité d’esprit.

Le contenu dans l’actu
Les conflits en rapport avec le contenu font l’actualité ces temps-ci. Ainsi de la mise à jour “Search Plus Your World” du moteur de recherche Google qui n’inclut pas des résultats pertinents de sources comme Twitter et Facebook ; du mouvement contre les lois et traités (Sopa, Pipa, Acta) qui visent à protéger le revenu traditionnel des ayants-droits au détriment de la créativité et des droits civiques ; du lancement en France d’un nouvel opérateur de téléphone mobile low cost ; et de la destruction des compagnies et services liés au site de streaming Megaupload par la police, la veille de l’hypothétique lancement d’une offre légale qui aurait pu changer la donne au sein de l’industrie du contenu.

Ces événements ont pour point commun de tourner autour de la façon dont les biens numériques sont créés, produits, vendus et distribués.

Prioriser
Dans certains cas, le manque visible de respect du fonctionnement normal de la justice m’inquiète. “Internet”, d’un côté et les pouvoirs en place, champions de l’économie d’ancien régime d’autre part, ne prennent plus de gants. Nous devrions prendre soin de ne pas critiquer sur le même registre des systèmes de vente et distribution de contenu et des comportements qui blessent des gens. Pour moi, par exemple, espionner quelqu’un représente une violation pire du contrat social que de réarranger un tas d’octets. Les lois et les pratiques policières et judiciaires ne reflètent pas toujours cette position.

Le système dominant
Par économie d’ancien régime, j’entends un marché construit autour d’une chaîne de valeur comportant
1) des intermédiaires puissants (distribution, etc.) entre création et consommation, et
2) incluant des classes sociales et des mécanismes (lois, etc.) visant à empêcher de changer la façon dont ces classes interagissent au sein de la chaîne. Ce système de caste peut encore fonctionner avec succès et offrir des moyens de subsistance à des créateurs de contenu, mais souvent au prix d’une friction grandissante, comme s’il s’agissait d’arrêter le temps. Il offre à certains professionnels du contenu un revenu sans rapport avec la valeur de leur travail et il exclut, en bien ou en mal, la vaste majorité des créateurs de contenu.

Tout le monde devrait, semble-t-il, espérer l’arrivée d’une chaîne de valeur sans friction, valorisant avant tout la création de contenu. Ce n’est pas le cas. Bien des gens et des sociétés, des lobbies commerciaux aux boutiques en ligne comme Amazon, profitent de l’ancien régime. Pour beaucoup d’entre eux, il n’est même pas imaginable de ne pas chercher à enfermer ses clients dans des rets d’une sorte ou d’une autre.

Il faut espérer qu’au final, tous gagneraient à vivre dans une société qui gérerait les enjeux fondamentaux du contenu et de l’énergie - la forme et le fond - en générant moins de gâchis et d’inégalités.

Avertissement
Notre rationalité est limitée par notre connaissance, notre expérience et nos émotions. Je suis un créateur et un marketeur de contenu, d’où mon tropisme en ce sens. Les références citées ci-dessous, entre autres, inspirent ces réflexions désordonnées. Je n’ai rien écrit de neuf ; noyé par la surabondance d’idées, mon ambition est de choisir consciemment quoi prendre et quoi rejeter. De plus, les concepts compliqués sont plus faciles à appréhender lorsqu’ils sont aussi bien écrits que discutés à l’oral. Enfin, je cherche la vérité sans prétendre la détenir. Vos commentaires sont bienvenus.

Monday Note, le blog en anglais par Jean-Louis Gassée et Frédéric Filloux
Lockdown: The coming war on general purpose computing par Cory Doctorow (en anglais)
Owni, le site sur la société, les pouvoirs et les cultures numériques, et sa version anglaise

Playing with the Company 7: Dissipating Shadows

"Almost the first thing the Company discovered, when it went into this time travel business so many ages ago, was that history cannot be changed. Recorded history anyway. But if you work within the parameters of recorded history, you actually have quite a bit of leeway, because recorded history is frequently wrong, and there are always event shadows-places and times for which there is no recorded history."
Kage Baker, The Children of the Company

Recorded history is a complex and elaborate thing. The cyborgs of the Company play in its shadows, slither between the footnotes, in the gray area where lack of detail or sheer inaccuracy allows them to operate. Sometimes, the lack of information allows them to enjoy a great deal of freedom. A sense of uncertainty and adventure lurks in the event shadows.

The concept of the event shadow strikes a familiar chord with all authors, but especially those who write derivative fiction, or designers who create games based on existing "properties" (the dirty word for "beautiful worlds"). When you create content within the framework provided by an existing narrative, such as historical records or a science-fiction story, and when you aim to stick to the canon of how everything happens (which is but one possibility), you have to forego some potential interactions. This happens whether the derivative content is created by a filmmaker or co-created by participants in a roleplaying game. Event shadows are those loose ends in the existing narrative you can take over and create meaningful content with, without feeling too much entangled by the existing content. They are spaces of freedom for you to seize and use to express your voice. Whatever is not preordained, can be changed.

Escaping the panopticon
The Company series, brilliantly, highlights the shadows: adventure takes place behind the scenes of History. Event shadows are important events in Kage Baker's novels. In ancient times, they span countries and decades -or millenia. As time passes by, they get smaller and more localized. The advent of the information age narrows these spaces of uncertainty up until the point where almost everything seems to be under supervision. This is the panopticon age.
The Company knows what its employees do, too. Except when, for whatever technical reason, it does not. Those are event shadows of a special kind: turning points, when you can breathe away from the surveillance system of the Company, places and times when you can be a criminal, advance your own plots, tie and untie your knots. They are the beacons of hope in a History crushed by the watchful eye of the 24th century.
In a game set in the Company setting, event shadows should be both feared and hoped, as they provide unique opportunities to change things and settle accounts.

Playing with the Company 6: Kage Baker online

This is an incomplete list of online references about Kage Baker on Internet, to be updated little by little.

Begin your journey on the Kage Baker official website. Then sail to Kathleen's blog. (Kathleen Baker continues her sister's work.)

On your way for further reading, stop by the excellent Wikipedia notices about Kage Baker and the world of the Company. The main references are there and this list is but a complement.

Kage Baker speaks. There is an interview with Green Man Review (2005) and other resources on the Green Man Review site. There is another interview, with Jeff VanderMeer for Clarkesworld Magazine (2008).

Then there are the forums, such as the Kage Baker sub-forum at SFF chronicles.

The Google+ page dedicated to discussion about the gaming potential of the Company novels provides secondhand information.

Demimonde: interview with Justin Achilli

Demimonde is an urban fantasy novel by Justin Achilli, a game designer best known for his contributions to the Vampire roleplaying games by White Wolf. I read some time ago the Clan Novel Saga, a series of intertwined stories by a collective of authors using the setting of Vampire: The Masquerade. I did like Justin Achilli's style in the parts about the Giovanni and I decided to give his latter, completely unrelated novel a try. After reading Demimonde, I wished to better understand what the author had had in mind and he was gracious enough to reply to the questions below. For better and more recent information about the novel, please direct yourself to Justin's blog.
Beware: spoilers.


We don’t learn what the demimonde factions are about until quite late in the story, and many elements are left in the dark (e.g. of a possible interpretation, is it about reincarnation of archetypal figures?). I guess you did it to build a sense of mystery and prevent readers from getting comfortable, blasé and dismissive (oh, that is some Arthurian myth cult). I understand this is a story, not a sourcebook, but did you consciously draw a line between what you wanted to include (e.g. the religion) and what you wanted to leave out in the dark (who are these people)?

J.A.: I specifically wanted to leave some groups in the dark because in horror and fantasy, it's an effective way to achieve horror and wonder by not explaining everything and letting the reader's mind fill in the blanks or create his own details. For a long time, it's been difficult to get a sense of true horror from the World of Darkness because we have so many sourcebooks that give so many answers, it's easy for a play to say, "Oh, I know what that is," like you mention. As well, I think readers feel a sense of ownership over a world when they invest it with their own imagination, as opposed to having the author dictate everything to them.


About the religion. The two factions are quite evocative of the Circle of the Crone and Lancea Sanctum covenants in Vampire: The Requiem, a book you co-authored. Do you think that religious practices are the most successful tools leaders can use to rally and factionalize people in this day and age? Or that the focus on religious frontlines is perhaps a by-product of the sheer longevity of the unvisible feuds, in the same way the Catholic Church is one of the oldest institutions in the world?

While I will certainly acknowledge the excesses of organized religion, I'm not so cynical as to see religion as purely a tool of manipulation. That's really what the book is about: Brandon's struggle with faith and his ultimate failure to be able to make the leap and trust something that he hopes is larger than himself. Vampire trades in those themes as well, and it uses religious institutions in a similar way. No matter what their names or individual dogmas, every organization in the World of Darkness, spiritual or secular, has its earnest adherents and its manipulators. Narcisse represented the worst of those manipulators and Wyckham represented the best of the faithful, and even though Brandon ultimately defeats Narcisse as a person, he fails to overcome her venality spiritually.


The narrator accumulates flaws of character: misogynist, racist, irresponsible. Even though he does not explicitly look to hurt other human beings, his excesses ultimately make at least one true innocent victim. Plus, some parallels could be drawn between the demimonde in the novel and nightlife in our world. Did you want to write a moral tale about the life of a binge drinker/partygoer?

Without getting maudlin, this was a book about things I've done and failures I've had and mistakes I've made more than once, yes. It's not necessarily about the evils of booze and partying specifically, it's about how small and myopic a life can be without the presence of something that offers a greater purpose. It doesn't have to be God or morality that fills that role, but I think everyone has a great existential question at some point, and answering that question with, "Fuck it, let's get loaded" isn't a real answer and invariably results in the abandonment of the self.


Please be the “hipster douche” (*) and tell us what music to listen to while reading the novel.

You know, for a long time, I had kept the playlist in my iTunes, but I think the time for that has gone. Music is a pretty transient thing in terms of this book, and if the story happened now, none of the songs would be the same as they were when I wrote it six years ago. I remember reading an interview with Bret Easton Ellis in which someone asked him why he made so many popular culture and brand name references in his work and wouldn't they end up making the book feel dated. His response was that that was the intent, that there was something beautiful about the book becoming progressively more obsolete as time went by, that it really lent the whole thing a sense of a moment in time. There are a few songs and bands in there called out specifically, but as much as I love music, I didn't want the book to be about music. By contrast to Bret Easton Ellis' comments, I read China Mieville's King Rat a while back and I couldn't ever get into the book itself because it felt like an evangelical pamphlet for drum & bass. Kind of like I want readers to fill in their own factions for the demimonde, I want readers to plug in a lot of their own music, too, so that every reading is different.

(*) quote from the book
Read also this older interview with Justin.

Playing with the Company 5: a World Made by Greed

He held out his hands and added brightly, “And it cuts overhead costs by sixty percent!
Kage Baker, The Sons of Heaven

Greed, not the greater good
The novels of the Company describe a future where capital comes to dominate the whole history of the world, where stock in a company entitles to a share in the plunder of the past, where the events are shaped by greed and other vices. In this world, official History does not reflect the truth. It is but a Potemkine village hiding exploitation; not the worst exploitation, mind you -the members of the board of Dr. Zeus do not revel in the misery of other human beings-, but the farthest-reaching ever devised.
All of it is the result of a business plan: Dr. Zeus Incorporated provides customers with information, items and living things of all origins. Cyborgs are listed as assets and employees. Somewhere, there is a balance sheet where their fate is weighed by accountants. Cyborgs are not supposed to better humanity in the course of their operations. If they help civilization move along, it is only because, doh, at the end of civilization lies the Company, so civilization is the way to go, or so goes corporate logic.
There are not enough checks and balances to prevent the Company from resorting to unethical practices. The Company develops a "production force" without regard for ethics nor sustainable development and, when faced with the human resources equivalent of nuclear waste, picks the wrong choices.

How would greed impact gameplay?
I am no accountant but I think a game based on the Company novels should factorize three elements.

1) The heavy cost of transportation of employees and items into the past, combined with initially limited cashflow, means the Company minimizes time travel at first. Later in narrative time, when the revenue kicks in (exponentially), it can expand its time-traveling operations enormously. However, this is done at the expense of possibilities. This is the entropic trade-off: as the Company gets rich, History calcifies.

2) The procuration of items as social control: the dog does not bite the hand of the master who feeds it. Cyborgs are provided with equipment and delicacies such as alcohol or even Theobromos. At some level, such resources are part of the delicate formula of programming, monitoring and other techniques devised to help control the cyborgs. One can imagine, for example, that the official goal of a game, as the Silence gets closer, would be to accumulate good performance reviews in order to get a big bonus with one's 2355 pension plan.

3) Capital changing hands. Who owns the Company indeed? As time goes by, the system embodified by the Company is less and less motivated by greed. Employees, managers and even stockholders can stop being on top of things.

The process of changing History is like Clausewitzian War; once begun, it takes a life of its own and pursues its own objectives according to its own internal logic. Greed is just the kickstarter.

Playing with the Company 4: Words about the Silence

"[Dr. Zeus] seemed to be blind to whatever might lie beyond 9 July 2355 AD."
Kage Baker, The Sons of Heaven

In the Company novels, the future is off limits; Dr. Zeus can only project its power into the past and the present. No one knows what lies beyond 2355, because no time traveler has come forward to talk about it. This date is known as the Silence.
In narrative terms, the Silence is a singularity, a Planck wall, a quantum frontier: the closer you approach it, the more the rules change and history seems to accelerate, until a narrative big bang that is the single most important moment in History. Everything builds up to the point of maximal entropy, when there is no time left and thus no options to explore.

The Silence is a keeper
I envision two distinct exciting uses of the Silence in a game based on the Company setting: as the horizon (as seen from the past) and as the climax (as experienced in 2355 in the novels).

The horizon
The Silence might be completely absent from the first part of the gaming experience, then creep slowly to the level of player awareness, then loom dreadfully over the last games. The players should experience doubt about this event until it completes. There should be an emotional build-up for the last scenes.
The Silence is also a blank slate which leaves open the future. As long as the future is not written, it can be changed -that is the theory.
As players get close to the Silence, they should:
- know more and more, allowing them to make more informed choices;
- have less and less time to act upon this knowledge to fulfill their endgame objectives.

The climax
When the scenes of the Silence unfold, players might have little real choices (they lack time) while being unable to predict the outcome with 100% accuracy. Everybody, not only cyborgs, is facing the Silence.
I would find it interesting to change the game rules at this last stage to reflect both the diminution of options and the sense of uncertainty. Why not revert to an old school simulationist model for the last epic scenes?

Not the "END" stamp
I guess we can consider that, after the Silence, the future of the world is set. If anybody won, that is not something that can be taken back. This is the end of Company history and the beginning of something else. Perhaps, once you get there, the game is over and an entirely different one begins, with different stakes. For example, the Silence may make it possible for the player characters to pursue different activities, to try to bring their own stories to satisfactory closure by achieving deeply personal goals that could not fit within the grand strategy storyline that culminated with the Silence.

Playing with the Company 3: Taming the Serpent

"Paradox? If you view time as a linear flow, certainly. Not, however, if you finally pay attention to the ancients and regard time (not eternity) as a serpent biting its own tail, or perhaps a spiral."
Kage Baker, The Life of the World to Come

Methodological solipsists vs Area Man
When you write about past events, or when you contemplate them from the vantage of "eternity", you can afford to regard time as a serpent. You can assemble the pieces of the puzzle that is its skin with all the patience in Heaven, safe in the knowledge that it's all a done deal: only interpretation of history is susceptible to change, not the events themselves.
But, in most cases, for us down here in the mud of passing time, crawling through the days, worming our way to the future, you kind of have to experience time as a linear flow.

Stop creating universes please
While I love a good story, my first instinct is to dislike tales of travel in the past - you can travel in the future all you want, no one cares if you disappear, but don't you create a second version of the universe by saving Joan of Arc from her judges or something like that. My brain hurts just thinking about it.
Did the above-quoted ancients delve into the intricacies of time paradoxes? From where I stand, for practical purposes, time is linear and causality needs to be paid its dues, hence the desire to eradicate paradox. This is an endless topic, fit for clear minds like Philosophy Bro, but my goal here is to grasp how time functions in the Company novels and how it can be used in a game.

Unicity and authenticity
There are two redeeming features in the way Kage Baker handles time travel in her novels.
1) There is one world, one continuum, one story and one history; only our knowledge of the past can be changed, though we retain our free will and can exercise it within the boundaries of the story. The Company tells (to itself) the story that the treasures lost to time and now recovered have in fact be made to disappear by them in the first place.
2) History is paid respect. It does not feel like a theme park. There is a sense of difference.

Gameplay around time
Paradox: since only one history does exist in the Company novels, paradoxes that posit fundamental inconsistencies within the story are unstable and prone to disappear once the whole story gets known. Getting to explain how something is not paradoxical (hopefully gearing causality your side in the process) can be a fun and meaningful gaming objective.
Flashbacks: they function differently in real life and in the diverse gaming media. Game mechanics can provide a framework to simulate flashbacks without breaking causality and unicity. Cyborgs do not fear permanent death, so that is one major hurdle out of the way to explain unlikely comebacks away. Every game could be a flashback, or it could be used the way it is used in movies, to highlight significant aspects of the story being told.
Uchrony: the clash of technologies and behaviors is savory and holds both comic and dramatic potential. But History is savored quite differently with a cyborg perspective. It could be interesting to have players and/or characters graduate to the truth of the universe, from simple mortals to cyborgs.

Phew! I almost divided by zero.

Playing with the Company 2: Theobromos

"Our masters were horrified when they discovered that chocolate gets us pleasantly stoned, because they thought they'd designed us to be proof against intoxicants. They even tried to forbid it to us, but must have realized they'd have a revolt on their hands if they did, and settled for strictly regulating our use of the stuff. Or trying to, anyway."
Kage Baker, The Children of the Company

In the Company novels, most cyborgs use and abuse of Theobromos (a.k.a. chocolate) whenever they can get their hands on some. This is at times a difficult proposition, given that operatives are sent in the human world for extended periods of time and in places that can be quite far from Mexico, Central and South America, the places of production of cacao for a large part of recorded history.
Theobromos is one of the more humorous elements in the series. The idea that Company employees get their kicks out of chocolate (not unlike Kage Baker used to herself, so it seems) deflates the testosterone-heavy stereotype of humorless super-agents from the future that springs to mind when you mention the words "immortal cyborgs". This attraction which borders on addiction reminds me, on a smaller scale, of the one of the Newcomers in the movie Alien Nation. Theobromos, when corporate policy does not prohib it entirely, is certainly used as a carrot by the management. And the substance is not entirely harmless. Excess of consumption leads to "theobromine poisoning".
Ironically, the cyborgs, while technically removed from humanity, share more tastes with us than with their 24th century human masters who have given up on cigarettes, alcohol, meat, milk, sex and chocolate.

Does chocolate need game mechanics?
The question is open. Theobromos should remain an element of fun and stay on the periphery of things.
Gameplay could revolve around finding the balance between the thrill of forbidden food / joy of instant gratification and the risk of getting caught / losing status with your immortal employer.
Simulating addiction and pleasure is difficult due to the disconnection between the perception of the player and that of the character and the way our brain is wired to select different options depending on what our stomach tells us. I am tempted to use real chocolate on the gaming table in order to appeal to the real hunger of players. It is a difficult exercise: I would not want to frustrate the players out of proportion with the intended result. Perhaps, like children, they should be able to grab their candy when the management / game master looks the other way.