Forrest Cameranesi: Geek of all Trades

(4x06) The Birth of Another World: Part 2, Episode 3

As the use of magic for combat among the "dark" users of both sides of Virtuality increases, "light" users like Xiuying and friends are continually annoyed by the spillover of that fighting in their nice virtual sandbox, often destroying the things they'be built in collateral damage, not to mention threatening virtual bodily harm as well.

Even users like Tom, who willingly engage in the combat, find that some of the more-skilled users can easily dominate others, and ruin their experience as well.

The handful of more powerful users begin to concentrate power into their own hands and ruin things for everyone else, ruling over the virtual world in an echo of the very same concentration of power and violence that happened in the real world and took tens of thousands of years to tame.

In response to feedback from users growing fed up with this, Joe and the Virtuality development team at Pacifica implement a system of tiered realms. In addition to the realm that everyone has already been roaming, exceptionally well-behaved, "light" users gain special privileged access to "higher" realms, from which less well-behaved, or at least less well-vetted, users are excluded, creating a safe space for those "light" users to engage without disruption. There is more than just one higher realm, but a whole tiered array of them, with the highest tier reserved for the noblest of users who exhibit the lighter qualities of both Fire and Ice, warmth and sympathy but also calm reasonability.

Conversely, an array of "lower" realms are made accessible to users on the basis of not their character but their skill in combat, with the most skilled users fighting their way into the deepest depths of "hell", which is an achievement they find pride in, not a punishment inflicted upon them. The original realm becomes, in a sense, the "first level" of the "game" that is Virtuality, and successive "levels" can be progressed in orthogonal directions, achieved by different means – one by not starting fights, one by winning them – but each considered an achievement by those trying to work their way in that direction. As these scales of tiers are orthogonal to each other, there are still further realms in the space defined by them, and somewhere between "heaven" and "hell", yet even further still from the mundane "first level" realm, are rare realms reserved for those both strong and kind, those who would never start a fight, but also never lose one.

Misbehavior can have a user rejected from the upper realms, while defeat can have a user rejected from the lower realms. This rejection happens automatically, and users can also fall back to "earlier levels" (toward the first realm) at will, fading through one realm into another – which also provides an escape for users like Tom in scenarios like he faced against the monster before – but progression to "later levels" is mediated by a new kind of AI creature, a sort of angelic, winged merperson that can appear from any water surface and open portals to other realms through any water surface.

Tom is not surprised to find he is not the strongest fighter, but quickly resolves himself to practicing until he can win his way into the deepest depths of "hell".

Xiuying, meanwhile, is shocked to find that the algorithm does not consider her good enough to enter the highest reaches of "heaven", because although she is a calm and reasonable person, and gets on well with other "light" users, she has also developed a cold and callous streak, especially toward "darker" users similar to Tom (although still in all this time, the two have never quite met). After much soul-searching, she dedicates herself to a program of sincere self-improvement to try earn her place in "heaven".

But she soon fears that she will not have time to complete that project, however, as real-life medical complications threaten to soon end her time in any world. But to her salvation, Joe offers her the special privilege of being an early tester of the next major feature of Virtuality: mind-uploading, to make the virtual world into something of a virtual afterlife. She gratefully accepts, and the procedure is a success. Her body passes on, but her mind continues in Virtuality.

Next: The Birth of Another World: Part 3, Episode 1