A scalable me for scalable times

Geoff Ryman

I hate most games.

I want to look at the wonderful landscapes and somebody shoots me. Or my X-wing fighter crashes into the canyon wall because I'm looking at the pterodactyls.

I want to view the higher levels and landscapes, but I have to engineer the deaths of hundreds of sentient beings to get there. I once saw a young friend of mine work his way into a new James Bond game. To do so, he used the weaponry on defenseless civilians to find out, safely, what the guns did.

"Don't shoot me, I'm only a secretary," begged a woman character. He shot her anyway. It's part of the humor, he explained. Hardy-har-har.

I'm not a miserable git. I want to delight in things. I want games that build things. Many of them do, but few so deliriously as Scalable City, which does several delicious things at once.

It grows at high speed, like life. It expands and becomes more complex and gives me more and more to see. That's how the world seems to me. I go to a new country and suddenly it's as if the world grew a new arm or leg.

It is gratuitously exciting. There is no reason for the cars and architectural elements to form whirlwinds in the sky. They just do. It's neat.

While I'm in the game, I can fly. Flight is freedom.

I can take away different kinds of souvenirs of the game: video or photographic records of the game, or 3D models of the objects within it.

The server and I work in collusion - not against each other, killing each other's avatars. Instead I make choices, and like a spider, it spins its web. What results comes out of both of us. I've long dreamed of working with interactive spiders who liked me and could communicate with me, so that we could make beautiful, dew-soaked cobwebs in new forms to catch the light and be a fresh element in modern decor. This gives me some of that sensation. Next, a process artwork that reminds me of a dolphin, please. We'd swim the seas or stars and make things.

Like all games, Scalable City practices aspects of life and gets us to ask questions. How, really, do we end up devouring landscape? How really do we want cities to grow? If this process, as automatic as the real process of building suburbia, results in things we don't like, the program invites us to consider others. Would we like a process that built upwards? Or that once a saturation point had been achieved, jumped to a new setting and started building there? If this is in fact how things change, only speeded up, what role do I play, how do I change, in this ever re-scalable world?

And all without a single shot being fired.

* Geoff Ryman is a Canadian author of science fiction and mainstream historical novels. His fiction has won 14 awards. His novel WAS, about the people who inspired, created or loved The Wizard of Oz, has been adapted as a play and a musical. His online hypertext novel 253, about 253 people on the London subway, won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award for best novel not published in hardback. Air won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the James W. Tiptree Award, the Sunburst Award and The British Science Fiction Association Award. His latest book, The King's Last Song, about Cambodia's ancient and modern history, is due out any moment.