Richard Powers on human civilization as a computer game

“The player will start in an uninhabited corner of a freshly assembled new Earth. He’ll be able to dig minds, cut down trees, plow fields, construct houses, build churches and markets and schools—anything his heart desires and his legs can reach. He’ll travel down all the spreading branches of an enormous technology tree, researching everything from stone working to space stations, free to follow any ethos, to make whatever culture floats his state-of-the-art boats.

But there’s a kicker: other people, real people, on the other end of modems, will each be furthering their own culture in other parts of this virgin world. And every one of those other actual people will want the land beneath any other player’s empire.”

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