I’ve Seen the Future and it’s Furry

Here’s a look at the two characters (and the world in background) used for the Everquest Next preview.

Character renderings from Everquest Next

Their names are Jalena, who is a human female who does magic casting thingys, which is all I can call them because, as we shall see, there aren’t supposed to be character classes as such. The big one is Kesar, who is a Kerran male, wears armor and he likes getting in the face of bad guys and smashing them. Here’s another shot of the two of them. This one comes courtesy of mmosite.com.

Everquest next characters rendered in underground scene with lava.

This is a far cry from both Everquest and EQ2. There are several things to note here.

The art style backs off on Everquest 2′s attempt to be “realistic”. Lots of aspects of the characters are exaggerated. Kesar’s armor is reminiscent of WoW armor. The size difference between human and Kerran is much, much more than it ever used to be. Everything looks just a little bit like it’s been painted. I think there’s both a practical reason for this and an artistic one.

The practical reason is that, as we discovered with Blizzard, low system requirements mean that more people can play your game, and thus, more people will play your game. Also, the game is going to be free-to-play, though it’s far from clear whether “free-to-play” will mean like Guild Wars 2 and DDO, which I like, or like Everquest 2′s FTP model, which I hate. And a more painted-like style allows for lower polygon count, lower res textures, etc. On top of that, computers and graphics cards are much, much more powerful now than at EQ2′s launch.

The artistic reason is drama. For people who want to play someone who’s big and strong and wears heavy armor, you have to make them look big and strong and like they are wearing heavy armor. If you were in the same room with someone who was big and strong and wore heavy armor, you would have lots of cues that are missing from a videogame. The armor would creak a little. It would affect how someone moves, even the biggest and strongest. It would affect how their footsteps sound, even when they are sort of standing still. Lots of that sense is lost when you have to look through a glass monitor at the character, so the artists exaggerate other aspects to signal that truth about the character.

Which gets us to Jalena’s boob window.

Let’s not kid ourselves, SOE is not above providing a little fan service. But of course, this is concerning to any woman who plays the game, who all must be wondering, “Will I be able to wear something that doesn’t have a boob window?” I think we are all aware that most women, at some time or another, want to show off a bit, and show some skin. In point of fact, there are some men who want to do that, too. Just how often and how much varies a lot with the individual. But I think the primary concern is “Will I have a choice about how I look?” I sincerely hope so. Guild Wars 2 doesn’t always do so well with all races and classes. Some of them have very limited options when it comes to deciding how much skin a female avatar will show.

That said, artists who make figures of women are presented with a problem. I think most people playing a female character want other players to notice that they are female. Just as people playing a male want that to be noticed. There are a few races in a few games where the difference is subtle (Lizardmen come to mind, just as in RL). And that’s a thing too. Sometimes we have people in the mundane world who don’t want to present either male or female but something else They might want you to use the pronouns “they” and “them”. The key is that they want you to recognize what they perceive about themselves. They want to signal their gender.

And like with being big and strong, a lot of gender signals get dropped on the floor when you are dealing with a virtual world character. Pheremones, to pick one. The subtle differences in posture and mannerism, too. I’ve observed this in miniatures for a long time. When you are dealing with a figure an inch high, if you give it accurate proportions, the gender signal becomes drowned out. And so they get exaggerated.

Now historically, most sculptors and artists have been male, and have focused on two or three physical characteristics to signal gender: breast size, hip width, and length of legs. The length of legs thing is odd, since it isn’t a gender signal in the real world at all. Women do not have proportionally longer legs than men, as far as I know. But women often, as a fashion choice, do things to make their legs appear longer. Things like wearing heels, and wearing things that draw attention to the line of the legs.

But there are other ways to signal gender. The cat race of Guild Wars 2, the Charr, uses very unorthodox methods to signal gender. The rumor goes that the lead designer refused to put breasts on female Charr, noting that if they forced her, she would put six of them on, since that’s how it works for cats. Nevertheless, there are gender-signalling differences, just not the normal ones.

Back to Everquest Next, one other signal seen in the character design above is size. We think of men as being larger than women, and in a statistical sense, this is true. The largest humans on the planet are, by and, um, large, male. But the smallest humans? Not necessarily female. And there is considerable overlap. Mmos have actually given a lot of scope for men to express this variability. You could be a giant barbarian or a tiny gnome, or a sturdy dwarf or a slender half-elf. (Also, you could be an elf with a keen sense of fashion and fabulous red hair, but I digress.)

So costumers and character designers of Everquest Next please give people a choice about how they look in the game. Players are not scenery. In many ways, this game appears to be granting far more agency to players than we have seen in MMO’s before, don’t neglect the agency of people playing female toons.

The Success of Bioshock Infinite: Games aren’t Movies

Having managed to win Civ 5 with every civ available (with an assist from Spawn of Tolly 2), I went looking for a different gaming experience.  Since Spawn of Tolly 1 had suggested Bioshock Infinite, and my Google+ feed had also been positive, I jumped on Steam and started it downloading for the weekend.

I ran through the game in something like 10 hours – it might have been 12.  I really like that experience, but I’m unlikely to play it much more.  Which puts in a very different category from a game like Civ 5.  The narrative portion of the game is very important, and there are many big surprises along the way.

I’m probably going to end up spoiling the crap out of the game, so you have been warned!

Now, the thing is, I just read this interesting review of the game by Peter Bright.   He titled it “The Failure of Bioshock Infinite:  Writing games like movies”  You might guess from the title that I don’t quite agree with him.  Nevertheless, I think overall it’s a good review.

What makes this game so different from Civ 5 is the near-absence of what Raph Koster has called ludic choice  (Ok, I’m not really sure if he made the term or just brought it to my attention. But onward.)

The gameplay of BI is pretty standard FPS.   You have weapon choices, upgrades, reloads, and hunting for stuff.  You have a variety of opponents, and a variety of terrain.  You have some special powers that are granted by finding things, and upgrades that can be purchased with money that’s found.

Fights are in setpieces, which sit between more pure story bits.  One point that Bright makes is that the hatred of QuickTimeEvent (click on this flashing thingy to keep something bad from happening) is very strong in the gaming audience, and BI avoids them.  Even when the game goes into storytelling mode, and there’s only one action you can do to avance the game, the mechanic to do so is pressing the ‘F’ key, which is what you’ve been using all along to do a variety of things.  It’s the all purpose “do the obvious with this thing” key.   This turns out to be important, I think.

I have to agree that the “game” component of BI is somewhat weak.  Not that I don’t like shooting things, I think that’s pretty clearly a universal sort of thing people love.  Remember Duck Hunt (and that obnoxious dog)?  Nevertheless, this is a far, far cry from Civ 5.  The choices I make in Civ 5 affect what the outcome is, it is quite easy to point to the map at the end of the game and see the consequences of one’s decisions.  You put a city there, but not there.  You burned down this city when you conquered it, but not that one.

This is not the case with Bioshock Infinite.  There is only one outcome, and all choices boil down to one choice – keep playing or stop.  Yes, you will end up with dead bodies, but they were always going to end up dead, because you can’t progress without killing them.  The scope for choices exists, but is much more limited.  There are, for each fight, multiple tactics that can be effective.  There are multiple weapons available.  You can choose which upgrades to buy, and there are audio recordings called “voxophones” scattered about the game that you can pick up and listen to.  These explain bits of world setting and backstory.  These are second-order, because there’s a predetermined story, and all paths converge to the same endpoint.

I feel I must mention that I hate definitional squabbles and for all purposes I’m happy to accept that Bioshock Infinite is a game, a video game.  It’s quite different from Civ 5, though, and I need a way to talk about those differences, that’s all.

There is a powerful story in BI, and it’s placed in a powerful setting.  And one of the messages of that story is that some points in life seem like choices, but they don’t change anything.  In one of the final scenes, you walk along boardwalks that branch before you, seemingly infinitely.  But the branches are probably meaningless, they would lead to the same outcome.  So the medium aligns with the message, it seems.  I think this is an important point that Bright misses utterly.

But I get ahead of myself.  I was talking about pacing.

The game is a game.  It is not a movie.  It is not supposed to have movie pacing.  Bright is trying to make applesauce with oranges.  The mechanic of “press F to let the story progress” has analogs in other computer-enabled art.  For instance, if you go over to Thrillbent.com  you will see lots and lots of “comics” – serial art that tells a story – in a particular format that has the reader clicking a next button to reveal the next panel in an overlay fashion.  This is not at all like the paper comic book, or even like many of my favorite online comics (Order of the Stick, I’m looking at you.)  The theory behind this format is discussed by John Rogers here, particularly the quote “The reader controls the flow of information”.

Rogers develops this them in this piece at comicbook.com:

“The cool and tempting thing, is that ability to hold back or to make the stuff that he and Stuart [Immonen] did in the [AvX: Infinite] initiative, where you’re able to have different people changing faces on the same page and changing reactions,” Rogers said. “Once you turn the page in a physical comic, that page vomits up everything on it. Even now, I’ll be writing something and I’ll realize, ‘Nah, that’s an odd-numbers page; it’s going to be sitting right there on the opposite side. I have to change this reveal over to an even-numbered page or else it’s not a reveal.’ There are certain storytelling advantages to this experiment that we think are going to be cool and exciting.”

This thing that Bright complains about, is, in fact a story-telling advantage.  That advantage, it turns out, is critical to the emotional impact of Bioshock Infinite.

Suffice it to say that the first-person character, Booker DeWitt, is not a nice person.  We meet him at the end of a long string of unfortunate choices, and in the course of the story, we travel in time and try to undo some of those choices.  We find this difficult.  At one point Elizabeth, your plucky sidekick, and the girl you are supposed to “rescue” (This relationship gets really complicated by the end), tells us, “You’re not going to get out of this room until you do this.”  It’s something that, I think, most players will not want to do, but the choice is:  tap the F key and do it, or stop playing the game.

This is powerful.  It makes the player complicit in the action, rather than a detached spectator.  This is exactly what Marshall McLuhan talked about when he distinguished “hot” from “cold” media.  This happens many times in the game.

So that’s one answer to the question, “why isn’t this story told as a film instead of as a game?”  I think there are some other answers, too:

  • The story is complex, and very dark.  Hollywood probably would never touch it, given the amount of SFX that it would take to make it happen.  But the gaming audience is far more accepting of things like strange steampunk floating cities with temporo-spatial rifts in 1912.
  • The story is longer than the usual film 2-3 hours.  
  • Other game mechanics can be used to evoke particular feelings.  For example, your sidekick Elizabeth will find things like ammo, health kits, and salts (think of them as mana potions) during fights and toss them to you (when you press the F key).  But there’s a critical point in the game where you are separated, and you set out to find her again.  You must fight your way past some people in an environment where ammunition and salts are not really available, so the loss of Elizabeth’s help gives you a sense of loss on the level of the game mechanics, not just the story.
It’s not a film. It’s not supposed to be.  Complaining that it doesn’t have the pacing of a film misses the point.  I think Bright actually missed where the game is, because of comments like this:

When playing Infinite there’s an uneasy tension. You can either respect the pace and plotting ofBioShock Infinite‘s story, or you can set the story to one side, killing any sense of urgency but giving you the time to explore.

And this:

For example, I discovered one minor secret “backwards”; I came across a locked chest after visiting the area in which its key could be found.
The first time I went through the location with the key, things were relatively quiet and peaceful—the perfect mood for hunting for items. However, between finding the chest and backtracking to retrieve the key, I unleashed hell in the service of advancing the plot. The result was that rather than hunting for the key in a quiet lull, I was opening boxes and searching the floor in the middle of all-out warfare.
It was incongruous. This was meant to be an exciting, action-packed part of the game, with significant implications for the game universe, and I was walking around looking for a key, completely disregarding the mayhem around me. 

So the issue is that Bright was never really in character.

I have a long, long history of tabletop RPG (some might say a 3000-year history!).  One of the fundamentals of tabletop RPG is “playing in character”.  Speak in first person.  Tell the GM “I search the room” or “I shoot the sniper on the rooftop”, not “My character searches the room” or “Booker shoots the sniper on the rooftop”.   Sometimes, I have to ignore the fact that I have fabulous red hair, and be in character as someone with short, ordinary black hair.

Likewise, when you say things to the other players, you do your best to speak in the characters voice.  More importantly for our purposes here, you do your best to do things that seem consistent with what your character’s motivations are, or to find a way to solve problems in-game.

This makes all the difference, even though it doesn’t necessarily dictate any other action.  If you felt anxious about advancing the plot, then don’t drop everything to search for secrets.  Ignore them.  (This is pretty much what I did, I got stuff when I saw it or could, and mostly just kept going forward.)

But if you want to search around for stuff, then perhaps, in character, you can find a motivation for that.  Perhaps you, Booker, are really curious about what happened and you want to find as many voxophones as you can to solve the mystery.   (By the way, contrary to what Bright says, you don’t need to find all of these recordings for the plot to make any sense.  I found many, but by no means all of them.  And the plot made sense.  Well, as much as it can.)

Or perhaps you, Booker, are really worried about whether you’ll have enough resources to make it through (it quickly looks like you’ll have to battle an entire city) and so he will stop and search out other resources.   There’s nothing that says you can’t first kill the guys shooting at you and then search for more loot, after all.

Those kinds of considerations are something that I consider fun, which is perhaps an odd word for such a dark-hued game.

So I’m afraid that some of the immaturity that he complains about is not in the games, but in the gamers.  There are still choices that matter here – but they matter to your experience of the game, not so much to it’s in-game outcome.   And getting into character, identifying with Booker and his past, is what makes this game work so powerfully.

Ancient Greek Punishment, The Game

The science blogger Jennifer Ouellette linked this on Google+ and I just had to share.

Pippin Barr, a lecturer and researcher at Center for Computer Game Research at IT University of Copenhagen in Denmark studying “video game values,” created this devious little game. Players take on the role of different characters from Greek myths (and, oddly, the non-mythological philosopher Zeno) and act out their punishments: Prometheus shakes off the vulture that tries to eat his liver; Tantalus reaches for fruit and water pulled just out of his reach; Sisyphus rolls a rock up a hill. It seems winning is dependent on your masochism — or your ability to write an auto-playing script.

However, I have read claims that an auto-play script doesn’t, in fact, help. Still, I’m getting really, really close on the Sisyphus level.

If that isn’t art, I’m not red headed…

Toldain Darkwater, Skyrim Edition

On Christmas Eve, someone on my Google+ stream mentioned that Skyrim was on sale for 33% off. (For the next 3 hours or something). I was lost at that moment.

The rest of my family had already been playing it on their gaming computers. Lobilya and Thing2 had been playing it since launch. (And swapping stories about it at shared mealtimes, too.) Thing1 spent her savings on an XBox360 and the game. Given she plays her XBox on the TV in the same room where my gaming computer is, I could hardly not stop and watch her while flying cross-country on Randolph the Reindeer in Vanguard doing the latest Unicorn Rescue.

So I was primed. It took most of the evening to download, which was fine, because Christmas Eve was otherwise taken up with presents and food and general celebration. At your left you see the PC version of Toldain Darkwater, Skyrim Edition. Unfortunately my fabulous red hair is covered by that hood. It’s cold, you see…

The game is achingly beautiful. For example, the lighting effects. That shot was taken at the top of the mountain on a cloudy, stormy day. The light is very white, and very dim. It’s different at other times and places. The walk up the 7000 steps made me very nostalgic for the backpacking trips I took as a teenager.


One of my favorite novels by Roger Zelazny is Roadmarks. It describes a road that is a time travel mechanism, traveling along it moves one through time and space and there are exits at many interesting places in history. Chapters are labelled either One or Two. Here’s what Roger said about it:

“I did not decide until I was well into the book that since there was really two time-situations being dealt with (on-Road and off-Road—with off-Road being anywhen in history), I needed only two chapter headings, One and Two, to let the reader know where we are. And since the Twos were non-linear, anyway, I clipped each Two chapter into a discrete packet, stacked them and then shuffled them before reinserting them between the Ones. It shouldn’t have made any difference, though I wouldn’t have had the guts to try doing that without my experience with my other experimental books and the faith it had given me in the feelings I’d developed toward narrative.”

Bethesda is no newcomer to making Fantasy RPG games, and the world of their games has been developed over several titles. Skyrim’s full name is Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim after all.

Skyrim reminds me of Roadmarks for two reasons: First, it’s full of non-linear storytelling. There is a Main Plot, much like chapters labeled One in Roadmarks. But that is such a small, small part of what makes the game interesting and engaging. It’s not so much that there are a lot of side quests to choose from as there are entire lifestyles to choose between. You can develop and express your character by joining the Empire or the Rebels (they are called Stormcloaks). You can marry someone and set up a household (or many!)[EDIT: You can have many houses, not many spouses. You only get one of the latter, but it can be of whatever gender you wish.] You can aspire to political power, stay in an ivory tower or be a hermit, it would seem. You can aspire to be a master smith or enchanter. You can try to collect all the books in the game. There’s no reward for it particularly save for the satisfaction.

The other similarity with Roadmarks? Dragons. In the case of Skyrim, lots of them. I’m hoping to write another post about the battle I had with a Dragon this morning.

But this post is about the sandboxiness of Skyrim. After the initial stuff, which is pretty linear, I went over to a den of bandits to clear it out on behalf of the Jarl of Whiterun. When I finished it, I looked up at the mountain it was on and thought, “Hey, that sort of looks like a path up that mountain, I wonder if I can go up it.” I could.

I climbed to the absolute top of that mountain. On the way up, I ran across a Vigilant of Stendarr (The God of Mercy). He invited me to visit their lodge on the other side of the mountain. When I got near the top of the mountain, there was a little shrine there, with fires burning and offerings made. I’m not sure to whom. The peak was nearby. I climbed to the top of the rocky outcrop, just because it was there. Just below the outcrop was none other than Talsgar the Wanderer, a bard who likes to get out of the inn and have adventures, dammit! He had apparently just bested two bandits. On that mountaintop.

Continuing down the other side I found a temple to Mehrunes Dagon, which was locked. And well it should be, since, as I found out later (through reading in-game books!) that Dagon was at the center of the Oblivion Crisis (Elder Scrolls IV, I think), and must needs be safely locked away. I kept walking.

I visited the lodge of the Vigilants of Stendarr (The God of Mercy). Their slogan is “May Stendarr have Mercy on you, because the Vigil will not!” Yes, they’re crazy. But they were nice enough to me.

I kept walking. I fought a few creatures and ended up on the northern coast in Dawnstar. The Jarl there was Skald the Elder, but he acts like a child, and everyone says so. When they aren’t talking about the nightmares they are having. There was a priest of Mara there, and Toldain is a follower of the Goddess of Compassion, regardless of her name, so I helped him. We set things right at the Nightcaller Temple, but he had a habit of saying, “Oh, did I forget to mention…?” In the end, the nightmares were ended.

There are so many more adventures. Those all were Two. Eventually I got back to One.

When the Nintendo64 came out, it brought 3D graphics into everyone’s living room. Miyamoto Shigeru, in making Mario64 demonstrated that 3D meant a lot more than something looking nice. That game had a lot of non-linearity in it, along with a dose of “whatever works, works.” There were known solutions, but not prescribed ones.

Skyrim adheres to this and makes it so much bigger. Combat isn’t about memorizing a sequence of button pushes to get you through a game level. But it does have a fair bit of “fast-twitch” to it, more so than DDO. It’s definitely heir to FPS games. Aiming matters, unless you aren’t an aimer but a summoner or a basher. Then it doesn’t matter. Much.

I’m nowhere near an expert on this kind of game, I’ve focused mainly on MMO’s and economic sims. But it seems that the accomplishment of Bethesda on this game can be summed up in three maxims:

1. If you can see it, you can go there.
2. When you go there, there will be something to do.
3. If you can do it, it will work.

Most of my very considerable RPG experience has been with other people. My only wish is that I could do this, or something like this, with other people.

(UPDATE: “Morrowind” corrected to “Oblivion” Crisis in reference to Mehrunes Dagon, a very Lovecraftian name, by the way).

An Elf’s Best Friend

Recently, Michael Abbot of Brainy Gamer posted that “Games Aren’t Clocks”.

The thesis is:

The primary function of a clock is to tell time. We may admire its appearance or the intricacy of its inner-workings, but the moment it ceases to function, its value diminishes for most of us. What good is a clock that can’t tell time?

What is the primary function of a video game?

He decries criticism of video games based solely on gameplay:

I say it’s time to let go of our preoccupation with gameplay as the primary criterion upon which to evaluate a game’s merits. It’s time to stop fetishizing mechanics as the defining aspect of game design. Designers must be free to arrange their priorities as they wish – and, increasingly, they are. Critics, too, must be nimble and open-minded enough to consider gameplay as one among many other useful criteria on which to judge a game’s quality and aspirations.

I can’t say that I can endorse this. More later.

In response, Dennis Scimeca of Punching Snakes retorts, “Games ARE Clocks”. After bemoaning the state of terminology for games, and quickly touring the breadth of video games (going from art games like Jason Rohrer’s Passage, to The Sims, he concludes:

Where I agree with Abbott absolutely is in our need to view games holistically. Mechanics are not the end-all of appreciating video games, but asking critics to divorce such a defining characteristic from our appraisal of the medium seems untenable to me. The better course of action is to help identify and define new genres and forms for creators to work in which are similar to, but different than, video games, such that said creators have the choice to focus on design aspects they are interested or skilled in, without the burden of also having to deal with the aspects they aren’t.

Yeah, I’m pretty much there. Kate Cox, of Your Critic is in Another Castle, adds to the discussion with the observation that failure (and success) is an important, maybe even essential component of what makes a video game.

At its most basic, a game is something playable. Whether it’s got a story or not, no matter the genre, system, or type, a game is something that requires player input. You, the consumer, are in some way integral to this experience. Whether you push one button or speak a word into a microphone, whether you wave your arms at a motion sensor or deliberately hold still when you could act — a game requires you to contribute. That’s the sum total of the agreement on our current definition of “gaming,” and really that’s quite a low bar. Small wonder, then, that we keep looping through these arguments.
We don’t just have a win / lose dichotomy anymore. We do have completion and backlog; we have sandbox and short story. But every title I can think of — every title I’ve ever played and a thousand more I haven’t — has either a failure state or a success metric, and some have both. Our metrics aren’t necessarily competitive, and they might be imposed by the player rather than intrinsically by the game. There are little successes and big ones, game-ending failures and completely surmountable ones, but every pixellated problem I’ve ever pounced on has at least one or the other.

I can’t really disagree. But the clock metaphor is all wrong. You wind up a clock and then never touch it. Well, you used to. Now you just put the batteries in. Or plug it in. Maybe you adjust the time every once in a while, or you have to set the clock when there’s been a power outage, say, from a big hurricane that blew through. Just as a random example.

No, video games aren’t clocks. A video game that worked like a clock would be boring. Clocks are useful, but they aren’t exactly engaging or exciting, or interactive. There is certainly clock failure. (See above hurricane mention).

No, video games are dogs. And I mean that in a good way. Dogs are always happy to see you. Dogs, at least your dog, is more interested in you than anyone else on the planet, including your spouse. A dog will gaze deep into your eyes with the question, “What are we going to do now?”

I often play fetch with a pit bull named Doughnut. She’s adorable and she likes me. I take the chewed up tennis ball and I tease her with it. I might throw it high in the air or against the fence or just a bounce on the ground. I might try to fake her out and she might go for it or not (there’s the failure, Kate!). She has her own agenda, but it’s always in response to me. (Dougnut might not read this blog, but her master does. Hi Doughnut!)

Yes, that’s what’s important about a video game – there’s space in the game for me. The experience reacts to what I, the player do. Not always in a good, or desired way, but it reacts. When gameplay components seem to players to be afterthoughts, or poorly developed, the message to players is: You don’t matter. Your choices and/or skill aren’t important. This computer program is a vehicle for me to demonstrate my awesomeness to you, so bow down!

Understandably, players don’t respond well to this. How would you like it if your dog suddenly started acting like a cat? And the snootiest, haughtiest cat around, to boot.

(Once upon a time, our neighbors had a cat that was the most dog-like cat I’ve ever seen. She would fetch and had that same “what are we going to do now?” gaze that dogs do. But I digress.)

Games are not something you watch, they are something you participate in. If that participation seems an afterthought, a little pushback is understandable, maybe even in order.

There Must be Some Taxes in There Somewhere…

K. Cox has been ruminating about death in video games. It got me thinking about Chain World, the introduction of which, by its designer Jason Rohrer, is below

Simply put, the Chain World idea is: Play a game of Minecraft (modded somehow). When you die, pass the game (on a USB stick) to someone else. Tell them nothing about what you were doing.

This idea gives death in a video game a real meaning, and creates mystery and history and anticipation. A brilliant idea.

But things took a strange turn. Or maybe it wasn’t strange, considering the topic of the game, which was to create a game about religion. The person Jason gave the game to, in the above video, decided to use the game as a charity fundraiser. There’s lots more weird tidbits, such as this: He made a video which purports to show him throwing the stick into a lava pit. Wired Magazine calls the whole mess a holy war, which I think is apt.

“This was totally not something I would have wanted to happen at all,” Rohrer says. “On the other hand, it’s interesting that [Ji] would take something that I had done and irritate me with it.” If religion is about customs and rituals, not sacred text, Ji was a gift to Chain World, enriching it beyond the means of its creator.

Art imitates life, but not in the way you think.