THE FORTUNATE FALL • by Peter Tupper

I witnessed the beginning of Creation.

Dee and I both worked at VinCorp. He was a creative developer, and I was the engineer assigned to figure out how to implement his ideas. One day, he said, “I want you to help me with Creation, Mike.”

At first glance, Creation was just another fantasy MMORPG, but what was really different was ETHOS, Dee’s systems for guilds, reputation and karma, based on his decades of social science research, ever since he ran text-only games twenty years ago. If you wanted to kill things and take their stuff in Creation, you could, but the social side of gameplay was vastly more complex and satisfying. If this worked, Creation would do for MMORPGs what Watchmen did for superhero comics.

“I’m doing a startup,” he said, “and I need a Chief Technology Officer.” I quit my job and signed on with him.

Dee brought in a guy named Luke to handle the commercial side. Never liked him. Luke once told me that he was technically hypomanic, but didn’t take mood regulators because he liked it. “This is a business,” he always said. “Never forget that.”

We did our hiring, moved into our new offices and got down to building Creation. Dee and Luke argued constantly, Dee’s Zen calm versus Luke’s manic energy. Dee was a big believer in Socratic dialog, and the arguments generated a lot of ideas and predicted problems that we could then solve. As launch day got closer, I could see that Creation was much more polished and stable than I expected.

One thing Luke wouldn’t budge on was ETHOS. No matter how many time Dee adjusted the system in response to Luke’s criticism, Luke insisted ETHOS was fundamentally flawed.

Just a few weeks before launch, I found out Luke had gone over Dee’s head, and talked directly to the backers. Creation was too weird, too arty to have mass appeal, he told them. And this whole idea about making basic gameplay free and generating revenue from upgrades? Crazy! Put him in charge, and he’d move Dee to creative, scrap ETHOS and make Creation into a nice revenue-engine.

By the time I told Dee, the backers had already called him in for a talk. I waited outside the boardroom, updating my resume.

Twenty minutes later, Dee walked back out. “Everything’s cool, Mike,” he told me. I have no idea what he said to them, but it worked.

We drove back to the Creation office and met with our would-be boss in the bullpen. “Luke,” Dee said, perfectly calm. “Creation is mine. It always will be.”

“ETHOS won’t work, Dee.”

“I still value your contribution.” Dee was just that kind of guy.

“I stabbed you in the back, you hippie, pot-head, Asperger’s freak. Fire me!” Luke was just that kind of guy.

“If you insist. You’re dismissed.” Dee went back into his office.

In the bullpen, I kept an eye on Luke as he cleaned out his desk. “I suppose my user accounts are all disabled,” Luke said, as he packed his action figures.

“Dee told me to do it on the way back here.”

“Always has a plan, doesn’t he, Mike?” Luke stood on his chair and raised his hands. “Dee’s plan for Creation will not work!”

A few employees prairie-dogged over their dividers.

“Sixty days from now,” said Luke, “you will all be looking for work, hampered by the clinging stench of a legendary failure. If you want to run a business instead of save the world, come with me!”

Four people got up and came. I escorted them out and took their security badges away.

Despite all this, Creation launched on time and on budget.

About six months after Luke left, I found out what he was doing. My analysis of the security exploits against Creation showed more than half could eventually be traced back to a site called 4lom. It was a grubby, sleazy message board, dripping with malware and full of pirated porn and software, stolen identity data, bizarre in-jokes, and revolting racist, sexist, homophobic flame wars, where everybody was Anonymous. Guess who the domain name was registered to?

Sometimes I thought of Luke, out there somewhere at the centre of the nightmare that was 4lom, always plotting against Creation. He didn’t even need to do anything himself. He created an environment in which other people would do what he wanted, in ways he’d never think of. I was pretty sure he wouldn’t do anything really dangerous. He wanted to prove that Dee was wrong about Creation, and he couldn’t do that by destroying it. Luke just couldn’t let a point go. He and Dee had that much in common.

Five years later, Creation is tops in MMORPG player numbers and our security and up-time is second to none.

Dee likes to drop into one of the beginner areas incognito. Sometimes I would join him, and we’d help new players figure out the interface and perform their first quests.

I told Dee about the latest intrusion: somebody chipping away at a minor security exploit. I’d worked up a patch to cover it and it would be implemented it in the next upgrade.

“This is a routine part of our business cycle,” Dee messaged back. He was right. Luke or one of his minion-swarm would try something against Creation, Dee and I and the others figured out what to do about it, and we worked it into the new system patches or player agreements. It was predictable.

I private-messaged Dee. “Did you plan all of that? Luke constantly forcing us to make the game better?”

“We don’t even have to pay him,” he sent back. Dee’s avatar turned to face mine and winked.

I never programmed the avatars to wink.

Peter Tupper is a writer and journalist based in Vancouver BC.

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