No Sympathy for Colorado Wildfires Victims

The image above, which has been published in dozens of newspapers across the U.S. the past few weeks, depicts a suburban subdivision in Black Forest, CO that was devastated by a wildfire. You can see that the fire spared three older homes that were built on higher ground. Around them are the ruins of newer, larger homes. Judging from the size of the houses foundations and the lots they were sitting on, this was a very affluent neighborhood.

I live in Colorado, and every summer since I’ve been here there have been large, destructive fires in the mountains. News sources play up the human tragedy element of these stories and tally property loss. The real story, that Colorado is undergoing an environmental catastrophe and is transitioning to desert, is generally ignored. I personally find it difficult to sympathize with people who lose their homes in the wildfires. I think they are selfish and arrogant for living where they do. There are thousands of people up and down the Front Range who have built McMansions up in the hills, away from consolidated water utilities and quick-response emergency services. Black Forest, you’ll see that it’s miles away from Colorado Springs. If you look at the satellite image below of Black Forest, you’ll see that development sprawls throughout the forest and individual residences are distant from one another. The average lot is more than 5 acres in size. Except for a small water district to the south, everyone digs their own wells, has their own septic systems, and they are probably paying extra coin to Xcel Energy to get electricity and gas up there. If people are going to insist in on living relatively lavish lives in these remote places, I don’t see how I should be expected to have compassion for them when the inevitable wildfire comes to punish them for their hubris.

I was in Colorado Springs last week for a meeting. The air was hazy from two new wildfires and the smell of charcoal was everywhere. I was talking to a few of my colleagues who lived in town. They told me stories of people who had lost their homes in the Waldo Canyon fire around this time last year and who moved to Black Forest only to lose their new houses to a new fire. I held my tongue, but all I could think is that these were people who didn’t learn their lesson. It’s the oldest rule of the species: if you isolate yourself from the tribe, the world will crush you. Why couldn’t they just live in town?

Mass Excavation of Curiosity Cube

Curiosity is, or was, a massively multiplayer online game/social experiment published by a UK indie studio called 22Cans. Its premise is stupid simple: players are presented with an enormous cube which itself is made up of about 69 billion little cubes. Using the touch screen interface of a mobile device or tablet, players tap at the individual cublets to break them. With each broken cube, the player is given coins which he or she can redeem for various tools and devices that can aid in the excavation process. The game was released November 6, 2012, and over the winter it became immensely popular. Over 4 million individual free-to-play accounts were registered over the course of the game’s entire rub. It is difficult to know what it was about the Curiosity that motivated so many people to dump so many hours into such a simple and seemingly inconsequential activity. As you can see from the video above, which offers a time lapse of the cube’s excavation, individuals and groups would carve designs and messages into the cube’s surface (players could only dig at one layer of the cube at a time). Participants doubtless found some satisfaction in being able to make markings which everyone in the community could see and admire, but even this seems like a flimsy motivation. It appears that most of the people who played the game regularly were invested in the idea of getting to the cube’s center, and they were pleased to work with others to accomplish that goal. And so Curiosity became this amazing collaborative effort to tackle the cube and obliterate it. Played at the micro-level, the game is dull and repetitive, but the macro effort was captivating. The act of making even a minor contribution to what turned out to be an enormous, worldwide enterprise was gratifying in and of itself, even in the absence of any substantial individualized reward.

But there was another compelling factor behind Curiosity’s success: curiosity. Everyone wanted to know what as at the center of the cube. Whenever Peter Molyneux, the head of 22Cans, spoke publicly about the game, he would offer tantalizing hints about what the game was about and what might be inside the cube. Most memorably, he was quoted in Wired saying, “what is inside the cube is life-changingly amazing by any definition.” Many viewed this as hyperbole, but it actually turned out to be quite true for one person at lease: the person who cracked open the last cublet in the cube. On May 26th, 2013, 22Cans announced that the final layer had been removed and that the cube had been opened. A young man from Edinburgh, Scotland named Bryan Henderson had broken the block, and upon completing the game, he was shown the video which I’ve embedded above. In the recording, Peter Molyneux walks into the frame and informs the player that he has been chosen to play a central role in 22Cans’ next MMOG. In this new game, which many believe will attract an even larger community than any of 22Cans’ games, the winner of Curiosity placed in the position of a god and will reign over all the other players. He will create the rules and conditions under which the rest of the community will struggle and play against. The new game is called Godus and will function something like a religion simulator. As an incentive to be a benevolent ruler and to help make the game a success, Bryan Henderson will be given a portion of the game’s revenues. So far 22Cans has raised $732,510 via Kickstarter to cover Godus’s development . No date has been announced for its release. No one can guess what sort of a game will emerge under Henderson’s direction, but it will very likely be the case that participants in the game will treat him as something akin to a god, perhaps bribing him or ingratiating themselves in other ways to win his favor and gain an upper hand in the game. Those of us who follow 22Cans are very eager to see what will happen.

What it would look like if you combined all the iPhone screens ever sold into one screen. []