Guilt is the urge to blame one’s self for an event. It causes a person to reflect, to self-doubt. It traps the person in futile attempts to change the past or in a fantasy of an alternate present, preventing the person from moving forward in reality. In the live data, guilt most commonly existed as a transient emotion. People tended to forget about their wrong doing or to shift the blame to others. Nonetheless, the effect of guilt could be intense while it lasted.
The in-game archetype of guilt was a blindfolded prisoner. Characters of this archetype would isolate and imprison themselves. At low level, a guilt character would become blindfolded and shackled but gain remote vision. The first two effects would render the character defenseless, while the third effect allow them to observe themselves in third person, and to identify someone else to place their blame. At middle level, when the level of guilt exceeds what could be resolved by the death of the character, a resurrection stigma would manifest on the body of the character. With this stigma, the character would self-resurrect for the character to die multiple times. At high level, the character would have an aura that would indefinitely replay tragic events. Other characters that were caught in the aura would become the reenactors of the tragic loop.
I went to the university library after receiving the delayed message from Jeremy. The text message pointed me to check under my passenger seat, where I found a coaster from the bar we visited last night. On the back of the coaster was a call number pointing to the archive at the basement of the library. In this age where most information had been digitized, printed archives were a thing of the past. Walking through these dense collections of archives predated me by decades, I felt as though I was walking through a catacomb.
The call number pointed to an unmarked leather portfolio hiding behind two sets of archives at the bottom shelf. Inside the portfolio were sheets of documents and manuscripts. I brought it to a private study room to carefully read what Jeremy had left me.
According to the printed documents, another team created a mechanism to allow a player to select which profile to turn into a game character for the game. When we were working on the game, there was no player, there was just the life data repository. Every profile could be turned into a game character. Typically, we searched the repository for profiles we want to test and just activated them.
However in the context of these documents there were players called Activators. Activators could activate the profiles of people they knew. The document did not mention the reason of this activation mechanism, but stated the factors that the mechanism used to tell if a profile should be activated.
- The activator had eye contact with the target person.
- The activator had heard the voice of the target person.
- The activator knew the last name of the target person.
- The activator intended to include the target person.
Using existing content in the life data, an inference engine could identify entities outside the network and try to get them added as new users. Decades ago, such engine would prompt the existing user to send an invitation. As people became more accustomed to social networks, the boundaries between different networks dissolved, and the protocol to add new user also became less discrete. The vast interconnected data network evolved into the life data we had today.
In our development, we had only completed inferring behavior and high level desires of the characters. It appeared that this other team had solved some hurdles we couldn’t, if they could infer a person’s intention at this granularity. When I read to that point, my focus was besides the technology. I was troubled by the context.
The document never mentioned the game or what would be done with the activated profiles. The team that worked on the activation system might not have known anything about the game, just as we knew nothing about this activation system. There was something wrong when the two systems were considered together.
The system we created had no good ending for the characters. They would fight and they would die. There was no goal. It was kill or be killed. If the activation system described and the game were parts of the same system, then the player would be a person trying to add people they knew in real life and to have them kill one another in the game.
That could not be right. That would be sinister.
“Do you mean that it would have been okay if the player added people they did not know instead?” In my mind, I could imagine Jeremy asking so if we were discussing this.
“No, it was the intention to see people killing each other.” I would have said.
“Then regardless whether there was the activation system, what we made was already sinister.” He would have said.
“But most of the game were like that…” I would say. But then I remembered one thing.
It was only us developers who called it a game. Our client never did. Back in our minds, perhaps we knew that something was not right, and the only thing we could do to make it more right, was to call it a game. Calling it a game was our moral excuse.
Jeremy, did not know this all along? Why did you work on the project?
Jeremy was the most righteous person I knew. There must be something good in what we did. He would not have stayed with the project. Even if he was wrong, he was not the type of person who would just leave alone. He would have done what he could to make things right.
There was no point in guessing what Jeremy thought. I held my thoughts and kept reading.
After the documents about the activation were hand-written maps. Having seen his drafts for the battle arena, I was confident that these maps were also drawn by Jeremy. However, unlike the drafts that I had seen, these maps appeared to serve a different function. The lack of a defined perimeter and the numerous corrections suggested that these maps were not drafts of a design, but records of an exploration.
Jeremy got into the game. That was my interpretation.
I followed his records of exploration. The records ran for a couple weeks, and ended in a building labeled ‘The Library'. On the map of the third floor, there was a marked doorway. That was the last of his maps.
The light had turned itself off a while ago as I continued to stare blankly out of a window on the third floor of the library. The uncanny resemblance led me to believe that the library he was mapping was based on our university library. However, the doorway that Jeremy marked did not lead to a room in the actual library. Instead, it led to a window overlooking the courtyard, where a big tree was kept in the center. The dark limbs of the tree stretched over most of the courtyard. With its leaves already shredded in last season, it stood like a scarecrow in the rain.
The room behind that marked door was the most probable place Jeremy went next.
Something beyond that door killed him.
Although the floors of the library was quite high, a fall from this height was probably not be lethal. Besides, Jeremy died in his hotel room. So it was not the case that he sleep walked out of this window thinking that there was room. Why did Jeremy leave the notes for me? What did he try to tell me? What did he do? How did he die?
Even though I knew how a character could die in the game, there was no physical feedback between the data and the corresponding person. To believe that a character death in the game would cause corresponding death in real life would be irrational.
What if there was a third team working on such feedback?
That would be impossible. If there was, everyone I knew would be in danger. But that would explain why Jeremy told me to go to some other place where I knew no one. The portfolio in my hand felt like a biopsy report telling me that I had a transmittable disease. According to it, every developer was an activator.
In the reflection of the window, I saw the librarian who was caught off-guard when a flash of lightning abruptly revealed my presence in the dark aisle. I motioned to turn on the light.
“I'm sorry. I was resting and the light went off…” The thunder that followed muted my words.
For a split second, our eyes met when she was waiting for the thunder to pass for her to speak. I turned away and pretended to be reading my notes.
“The library will be closing in five minutes,” she said.
“Thank you,” I said.
Eye contact, voice, name, intention. If the activation system was using an inference engine, it would not need to know that our eyes had met using an active lens or an implant. The location, time, and her role as the librarian might have already allowed the system to guess that we had met and she had spoken. It was true that an inference engine was a matter of guesswork, but a guess that was 99% correct was no different from a measurement that was 99% accurate. Since its beginning as the backbone of search engines, the word inference had almost become a synonym of intelligence itself.
My concern should not be how accurate the inference engine was, but what thresholds it used. The system was in place only to limit the number of profiles activated by an activator to at most one per day. The required accuracy might not be very high. I closed the portfolio and headed for the elevator at the opposite side.
I had seen her, I had heard her voice. I did not know her name, but I could picture her as a character in the game. I did not know how far the system might have guessed, but I wanted to feed it some data to reject her as a candidate, but without knowing how the system would guess, it was difficult to know how I should act. With my mind going in all directions imagining the possibilities, I could not tell whether I wanted to add her to the game. I was too curious to have no such intention. My only defense was that librarians here did not have name tags. The system should not assume that I knew her name.
As I walked into the elevator and turned around, I saw the rental lockers on the other side of the waiting area for the elevators. I saw that at the ceiling of that waiting area was an omnidirectional security camera. In the dark cover dome of the camera, I could see my reflection. My right hand was reaching for the elevator button. My left hand was holding the black leather portfolio.
As the elevator doors closed, I suddenly remembered that I met another person earlier today. It was Kate the FBI agent.
~ End of Chapter 5 ~