Suspended / Brilliance

Sometimes there are things of brilliance…

I had been reading up on Joseph McElroy, a nearly forgotten, or fully neglected, writer of postmodern subtlety, same gen as Pynchon and DeLillo and crew.  One of his books is Plus, as much about the origination of consciousness than a novel, per se, from the vantage of a brain-in-a-vat perceiving his new circumstance in an orbiting satellite.  I am daunted to read it (having a copy).

Someone compared it to a 1983 Infocom computer game called Suspended, the idea of which still has me gobsmacked. 

Basically, the player is a coma-case, someone whose brain has been controlling a set of robots in general maintenance of an earth-like environment in space.  There has been an earthquake, everything has gone wrong, some of the robots are damaged, and people are dying.  Worse, if the player doesn’t fix everything within a time frame, he may be shut down once help arrives.

The genius is in the set-up.  The character can interface with the robots verbally (this is a text adventure).  Each robot can perceive the world around it in only single perceptual ways.  They often have strange ways of communicating the results.  One robot perceives only electromagnetic pulses, or in the non-visual spectrum, etc.  The player, using a map physically included with the game, must coordinate their efforts to fix the collapsing system.

I can only say the game is a bit forgotten, the kind of abandonware you can find discussed by fanatics on their message boards but few other places.  Video games simply don’t age well.  But the idea, to me, is tremendous. 



Reading through accounts of game-play, it perhaps stumbles due to an overly severe difficulty, requiring the player to stumble upon a correct sequence of moves under draconian limitation, while the genius of the notion, to me, suggests sandboxing and generous time allowances would better suit.  Because the thrill of this is exploration.

I am struggling so much with a notion to steal the idea, or somewhat.  What a perfect metaphor, what a fascinating way to describe the world, story-telling, narrative, emerging consciousness and manipulation (in the neutral definition of the term) of the world: robots, unseen and detatched, identifying and interpreting the world as they experience it, divulging its nature in rigid ways; combined, their coursing information combining enough times for larger pictures to combine, for contours and differences to emerge, for things, then, to be done.

I’m still star-struck by this idea, by the game, and so vainly wish I could just steal it for a novel.  An interactive novel?  Maybe wait forty years to write it, for some unspoken cultural statute of limitations to expire.  Kudos, game makers.


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