September 11, 2001 - I was awakened at 7:45 this morning by a phone call a call alerting me to the tragic events that were unfolding in New York City and Washington D.C. Hijacked passenger planes had struck each of the World Trade Center towers, collapsing them. Another had struck a section of the Pentagon that was, thankfully, largely unoccupied.
For hours the footage unrolled: the one collision they got on tape; the collapsing buildings; the smoke and ash and debris that continued to billow over New York City half-a-day later. There was shock, disbelief, sadness, and hopelessness...
... and then the recriminations began.
As I start writing this, it's about 3:35 in the afternoon and some type of missile fire is going on in Kabul, Afghanistan. When you read this article, you'll probably know whether the events in Afghanistan are actually connected to the terrorist attacks on America today, or whether they're totally unrelated.
But, right now, I have no idea what the true story is. The newscasters, however, and the politicians, and the pundits, are willing to make their own guesses. They're willing to claim that the terrorist act might have been sponsored by Afghanistan, and some of these people are even willing to laud the possibility that it might be America attacking Afghanistan now.
By the time you read this column, you'll probably know whether there was an actual attack on Afghanistan or whether it was part of their ongoing civil war. You'll probably know whether the United States initiated that attack or whether it was some other country in the Middle East or elsewhere.
You'll know, and frankly it won't matter in the least.
To paraphrase what one of the wiser newscasters said today, our attacking Afghanistan with so little evidence would make us as bad as the terrorists who attacked America. And, to offer my own extension: I believe that the same comparison applies to anyone who thinks that violence for violence, vengeance for blood, is the right answer to any problem.
It doesn't matter who perpetrated the terrorist attack on America today or why. What really matters is how we react to it, and what type of world we decide to build out of this terrible event.
The idea of seeking people to blame rather than seeking ways to fix our problems just separates us from each other. It offers the pretense that we human beings really are aliens to each other. And, it's that separation and the stereotyping and racism and bigotry that goes with it that makes events like the terrorist attack today possible.
Building a Community
It's hard not to talk about what happened today; that's why I'm writing now, rather than in two days like I normally would. But, I'm writing here not because I want a political soap box, but rather because this stuff is important to us: to me; to any Skotos employee; to the StoryBuilders that I write to; and to the players of our games alike. In certain ways what happened today is exactly the type of thing that companies like Skotos Tech and more importantly the Internet as a whole may some day be able to help prevent.
This company, you see, was founded on a pretty strong principle: community. We want to build environments where people can come together and communicate with each other in virtual worlds forming connections for which physical distances are irrelevant. We want to build environments where people can create relationships which can cross any type of political boundary, that some day will even span beyond this planet.
You've seen it in our designs. It's why we based our first game, Castle Marrach, upon a strong system of social interaction. It's why we recently added a Welcome Room, where people from all of our games can come together to interact with each other out-of-character, as people, taking off their masks.
We want to create a community of equals. We want to give the members of our community the ability to interact with each other in real and important ways. And we want to make sure that we don't fragment that community as it grows in size.
And, the events of days are exactly the reason why communities like ours must exist, why they must be a part of the twenty-first century.
I've run mailing lists on the Internet for about a decade now, and through them I've made a variety of acquaintances in places all over the world. Many of them are in the United States, but others are in Britain and Germany and Australia and elsewhere. These are people who I chat with occasionally, and have every once in a while actually met in person. They're people who I've written with and LARPed with and drunk with and sung with. They're real people, not just statistics in a World Almanac.
I know that most players of Castle Marrach and Galactic Emperor: Succession and The Eternal City can relate to my experience. They too have met real people through our games, people from their own countries and from elsewhere in the world.
I strongly believe that by making these personal connections across political boundaries, by forming twenty-first century communities that ignore the old geographical maps, we're taking the first steps toward what may well be required to save our race.
By seeing people from different cultures and different communities as real human beings with their own trials and triumphs, we lose the ability to stereotype them and hate them without reason, and we gain instead the ability to love them unreservedly, to appreciate the glowing ember of humanity that lives within each one of them. We trade ignorance for knowledge, and with knowledge comes understanding.
The events of today highlight the terrible black monsters that live within the human soul. The global communities that we're forming hold out a possibility of hope for the future.
... And You
Do I come to work every day saying, "Boy, we're doing a great thing here, forming global communities that cut across political boundaries and bring understanding and enlightenment to the world"?
Most days I just think that we're creating neat games. But, community is a frequent byword at the office, and on dark, dark days like today I remember why that's a really good thing. I remember that there's actually some slight possibility that we might be doing a genuinely good thing here at Skotos. And, on days like today, I become convinced that you, the players, are definitely doing a good thing, by being the folks actually doing the hard work, and creating relationships that ignore old boundaries.
I usually offer advice here, in this column, to StoryBuilders and players alike, and that's what I'd like to end with today.
My advice for StoryBuilders is quite simple: Build games that encourage community. Think about how the systems in your games will either encourage or discourage people from coming together, and do the former whenever you can.
And, my advice to players of Skotos games, or any online games for that matter, is this: consider the raw power that you have at your fingertips, the ability to actually reach out and touch people from all over the world, of all cultures, religions, races, and nationalities.
It might not seem like much to you, if you come to understand just two or three people who live dramatically different lives from you.
But, if everyone in the world did the same if the promise of a global community was truly fulfilled something like today would never happen again.
And, I don't just mean the terrorist attacks, but also the recriminations that followed, the threats of vengeance and the calls for actions that are even now being parroted by newscasters, politicians and pundits, that are criss-crossing the world at the speed of light and poisoning the very global community that we hope to create.
As a member of that global community you have the ability to contribute to a different future; you can help to create a different world.