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On the Ranch with the Creators of "Westworld"

The New Yorker

My day job, in lieu of teaching creative writing like a normal person, is writing scripts for blockbuster video games. Last summer, while I watched a play-through of the then-unreleased Gears of War 4, for which I was the lead writer, something odd happened. The game's story called for a massive plane crash, out of which a single robot, operatically aflame, was intended to stride toward the player. Within the game's fiction, robots have hitherto opposed the player, but we wanted this particular burning robot to pose no immediate threat. The game programmers had thus switched off the hostility driven by the robot's artificial intelligence, allowing the player to walk past the hapless robot or shoot it. Most of us on the development team, I think, hoped our game's future players wouldn't shoot. Just ahead of the encounter we placed what is referred to, in game design, as a frontgate--a kind of contrived environmental blockage intended to prevent players from rushing too far ahead, which can mess up loading times.


All Alone in No Man's Sky

The New Yorker

If reality is a game--a vast, snow-globe-y sort of experiment that plays out according to the hard rules of physics and the loose rules of story--then it is, in contemporary game-design parlance, a persistent one. We enter it when it is already under way, and we hope, for the sake of our children, that we exit before it's finished. There are advantages and drawbacks for those who, like us, have arrived to this game relatively late. While we benefit from the invention of penicillin, of airplanes, of the Internet, we also suffer antibiotic resistance, looming climate disaster, online comments. And one pleasure enjoyed by our forebears, now largely denied to us, is the thrill of cartographic discovery.


I've Seen the Greatest A.I. Minds of My Generation Destroyed by Twitter

The New Yorker

She loved E.D.M., in particular the work of Calvin Harris. She used words like "swagulated" and almost never didn't call it "the internets." She was obsessed with abbrevs and the prayer-hands emoji. She politely withdrew from conversations about Zionism, Black Lives Matter, Gamergate, and 9/11, and she gave out the number of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline to friends who sounded depressed. She never spoke of sexting, only of "consensual dirty texting."