I think, therefore I game

C Sven Johnson @ 13-05-2009

Sven Johnson returns with another dispatch from the world just around the corner. This month, he’s watching the new ambassadors of transhumanism – wheelchair-bound cyber-centenarians totally pwning the kids in pro video game leagues.

Future Imperfect - Sven Johnson

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Like an increasing number of observers, I’m marveling at the Jerry Hatricks clan’s rise up the professional video gaming league’s competition rankings. Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) have been in use for some time, of course, but seeing healthy, hyper-twitchy twenty-somethings getting their FPS asses handed to them by arthritic, wheelchair-bound centenarians is just jaw-droppingly amazing. That we can tap into the mind and that it can be so impressively nimble so late in life is – to me and to plenty of other people, I’d venture – both reassuring and astounding. It’s also a little troubling.

I don’t often attend digital venue broadcasts, but I’ve made a point to see the Jerry Hatricks games with an audience. I want to see how people are reacting; hear what they’re saying. If there’s a topic with the potential to turn a culture upside-down, it’s transhumanism, and these old gamers are its current ambassadors.

The earlier crowds were mostly teenagers so naturally the comments being shouted at the screen weren’t especially insightful. However, as word is spreading the audience is growing increasingly diverse and the conversation is becoming delightfully provocative. As I suspected, the Jerry Hatricks players are sparking all kinds of debate on a variety of issues; from nursing home “gold farming” to computer-mediated “mindmelds”.

One of the more frequent topics of conversation concerns the obvious disconnect between a failing human body and the brilliantly aware mind otherwise trapped inside it; a disconnect made all the more compelling when viewers are routinely jolted into split-screen reality: young warrior avatar on one side, frail human being on the other. If not for the BCI, most of the old players would be idle; wheeled in front of a passive display without even the ability to change the channel.

Once upon a time, senility was one of those unfortunate facts of life which made death seem just a little less terrible. By their example, the Jerry Hatricks players are instead raising awareness of the body as a potential prison; the realization senility and decrepitude do not necessarily progress at the same rate, and that sitting in front of a television without being physically able to change the channel is some trapped person’s vividly experienced Hell.

It goes without saying this is deeply troubling to plenty of people; not just the older members of the audience but their children as well.

Meanwhile, the conspiracy theorist types have been at work trying to explain how some old geezers are managing to almost casually dispatch well-established teams. The “someone else is connected/playing” excuse made the rounds but was silenced at the live event earlier this month which some of you may have seen. As a consequence, the “brains on ‘roids” explanation is gaining serious traction; not only in gaming circles but on a variety of forums.

Truthfully, I wouldn’t be surprised if some brain-enhancing drugs were responsible for their outstanding performance… or, for that matter, any other team’s.

If you were a hundred years old, wouldn’t you take drugs to help keep your brain functioning and your mind sharp? I would. Unless of course I was trapped inside a non-functioning body.

Or something else terrible could happen.

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Back in the 1980s I used to read an indie comic called Nexus which, among other things, included illustrations of living but decapitated heads wired together in arrays. It used to seem so far-fetched back then.

I wonder if the military is sponsoring this team.

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Sven JohnsonSven Johnson is an unrooted freelance designer increasingly working at the intersection of tangible and virtual goods. His background is varied and includes a fair amount of travel, a pair of undergraduate degrees and a stint with the US military. He’s a passionate wannabe filmmaker, a once-upon-a-time underground comix creator, and – when facilities are available – an enthusiastic ceramicist who is currently attempting to assemble a transmedia, transreality open-source narrative in what remains of his lifetime.

[Future Imperfect header based on an image by Kaunokainen.]

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