The Collected and Ephemeral Works of
  Paulina Borsook

A-Life Gamers

copyright 1998, Hollis Entertainment +
Hollis Entertainment is the professional name of my toy-designer friends, John and Christine Hollis (basic concept and images); is me (scenario, story and text).

The backstory
A-Life Gamers sprang from work done by a team of researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratories, home planet for work on chaos and complexity and artificial life. A-Life Gamers are part biological, part electromechanical, and part electronic: they exist both IRL and in cyberspace. They are Raptor, Lobo, Rysalka, and Kodiak --- each with character traits and powers reflective of the scientist that created him or her. And these highly-individualized character traits provide affinities with very special kid playmates --- who the Gamers call their Bio-Mates.

A-Life Gamers came into being as part of an experiment in the mechanics of artifical life, with the hope that the Gamers might be used in information-warfare tactics against Soviet command-and-control installations --- rather like the cyber-equivalents of dolphins trained by the Navy.

In particular, the A-Life Gamers were experiments in exploring the interface between IRL and cyberspace, and the speed and fluidity with which corporeal beings can jack their intelligence in and out of the virtual worlds of software and the Net. From their beginnings, A-Life Gamers play with the boundaries of the real/physical and the logical/virtual.

One day there was a violent electrical storm in the high New Mexican desert, resulting in a power surge/outage that zapped the A-Life Gamers. The surge also rendered inoperable the electronic locks on the door to the A-Life Gamers' well-hidden play/lab-room, blowing the room wide open, admitting wind and floodwaters. As a consequence, a rare green canyon-rattlesnake slithered in and terrorized the Gamers. For the rest of their existence, they would be petrified of the sound of rattles --- or anything that comes close.

Fearing for their lives, the A-Life Gamers used their Radiomail wireless connection to upload their intelligences onto their native Sun SPARC workstation --- preserving their -virtual- lives, even though they felt their -physical- lives were in deadly peril. And through a little-known backdoor in a VRML-optimized version of Unix, the Gamers' avatars escaped onto the Net at large.

Meanwhile, the wind and water in their playroom washed the IRL A-Life Gamers away from the Lab in the worst flashflood the desert had seen in years --- so that each Gamer's physical self ended up in a different safe place: one washed up by a riverside in Albequerque (Kodiak), one blown all the way to a beach in Galveston (Rysalka), one ending up wedged under the chassis of a truck which unloaded in St. Louis (Lobo), and one picked up by a bird and dropped on a mountainside in Wyoming (Raptor).

The geographically-dispersed IRL A-Life Gamers keep in touch with their Net selves through their wireless connection: as the story unfolds, effort is made to rejoin the IRL Gamers with their virtual selves (for example, through the Internet, one of the Bio-Mate/kids finds a pen pal who lives in Wyoming, who telemarks to Raptor's rescue).

Meanwhile, once loose in the Net, the virtual A-Life Gamers were a bit like four-year-olds abandoned by their mother: endowed with native intelligence, self-learning abilities, and tremendous adaptability, they were still too early in their development to understand exactly what had happened to them, or where they had come from.

There are several consequences to this: for one, the A-Life Gamers would always retain a homing instinct towards the Lab. For another, they dimly remember the existence of a -fifth- A-Life Gamer, a second-generation prototype: they don't know if PanHermes survived somewhere in cyberspace, what the characterstic of this A-Life Gamer was, etc etc. But fundamentally, they were left with a feeling of loss and longing for attachment and completion. Which is why they were so eager to attach themselves to human kid Bio-Mates; and why, even when they are not playing (how they were programmed to learn), or going on adventures with their Bio-Mates where they save the world --- they are also, dimly, trying to make their way back Home.

As the A-Life Gamers were -programmed- to be self-learning, they survived in cyberspace, and made their way to Xerox PARC's famous Lambda MOO, feeling at home with the self-contained multiple cyber-universes and play-spaces inhabited by wide varieties of virtual humans, animals, and cyber-organisms. And as the Gamers were designed for self-selection i.e. to go where their attributes/weapons would work best, each was drawn to a different Bio-Mate/kid who in turn was each playing on Lambda MOO --- though at different times and from wildly different geographic locations. Each A-Life Gamer then went to live with a particular Bio-Mate/kid --- though in some cases, true stealth was required, particularly if the Bio-Mate/kid did not have exclusive use of a computer (shared with a sibling or parent or classmate).

At this point in their development, the A-Life Gamers are somewhat like 17-year-old kids: with adult powers, but kids' lack of understanding of the reach and limits of those powers. And again, since the Gamers were programmed to be self-learning, they are always trying to teach other how to be like each other, a useless and comic exercise. For example, Raptor will never be able to teach Lobo to fly, though Raptor doesn't really understand why his friend can't do this; Kodiak, no matter how hard he tries, will never be as fast as Lobo; and Rysalka can't really explain how she shapeshifts --- or why, to her companions, morphing from eel to warrior isn't as elemental as breathing.

As a secondary plot element, the Los Alamos researchers/parents/god-figures would like to retrieve the A-Life Gamers: in part because they have honest concern for their creations (they want no harm to come to them, nor for the A-Life Gamers to -cause- any harm); and in part because the scientists believe the A-Life Gamers might still be useful. The Cold War may be over, but terrorists and terrorist states still exist; and the A-Life Gamers could be useful for -corporate- espionage, too. Like the Greek gods, the researchers (or the threat or intimation of them) pop up at odd times in the A-Life Gamers' adventures --- but whether the scientists' presence has good or ill-intent, is highly variable. The relationship between the scientists and the Gamers, like that between parent and child, is ambiguous and changeable.

The A-Life Gamers themselves
Each of the four researchers created an A-Life Gamer that embodies one of his or her personality traits (just as owls, thought to be wise, were the special companion animal of Minerva); and in turn, each of the four A-Life Gamers has a special connection with one of Bio-Mate/kids.

Pairings with Bio-Mate/kids and scientists.

A-Life Gamer Lobo is paired with:

A-Life Gamer Rysalka is paired with

A-Life Gamer Raptor is paired with

A-Life Gamer Kodiak is paired with