“Computer Entertainment, Thirty-Five Years From Today: A Solo Spoken Word Performance.” By Bruce Sterling. In the latest issue of Rudy Rucker’s terrific webzine Flurb.
The conceit of the story is that a time traveller from 2043 is addressing a gathering of computer game designers in 2008.
The other question they ask—if they’re smart—is, what is that I did not see? What was I NOT thinking about? What is that blindsided me? What is that I couldn’t see in my industry? The future development I just didn’t understand. The wild card, the black swan.
Well, I can tell you about that problem. Although this is going to be kind of hard for you to get your heads around. Because, you know, if you could see it coming, then I wouldn’t have to tell you that you couldn’t see it coming. Right? It’s one of those time- travel paradox things. I’ll try to make it simple.
First, “computer entertainment.” What is it, what does it mean? Well, it’s got computers, and it’s got entertainment. That’s your chosen line of work, that’s what you call it. That’s how you define what you do.
Well, that’s not, in fact, what you do. Those are just two old-fashioned words that you still use, about what you do. First, you can forget the computers. The word “computer,” in the future, that just holds you back. Some of you already get this. Sort of. You get it that it means not just computers but also console systems. Or handheld systems. Or phones. Or desktops and laptops and palmtops. So you almost escaped from your mental computer bottle. You escaped that computer bottle and you went and hid inside a bunch of other little bottles.
Really, it’s not about the bottles. I don’t have any bottles. As you can see, I have a towel here. You’d be better off if you started thinking hard about other phenomena. Here’s some hints: interactive billboards…traffic systems…satellites…cars…street-lights…credit cards…drones…street video…doorknobs…Do you know how many embedded chips there are, already built into doorknobs?
Try to think really hard about just how many embedded chips there are, already, now, all around you. Then stop thinking about chips, because chips mean computers. You must transcend that. You must think about a very different kind of far-out hippie Zen computational paradigm, like paint, and smoke, and clouds. (Speaker blows cigarette smoke.) And ambient, and pervasive, and ubiquitous. And then put your hands together, like this. And say “Om.”
Why? Because that makes you look stupid. You see how stupid that looks? How gullible and kind of hopeless we all look, going “Ommmmmm…?” Well, that’s how stupid EVERYBODY looks, in historical hindsight, after 35 years. How stupid can people be? “Gosh, Mr Nolan Bushnell—why would anyone want to play PingPong, on a TV?” That’s how stupid some people looked thirty-five years ago. When your industry was born.
Read it all.