Some Practical Problems of Immortality
Ernest W. Adams
1998 Game Developers' Conference Roadtrip
This is an approximate transcript of my lecture at the Game Developers' Conference Roadtrip, held on November 22, 1998 in South San Francisco, California.
Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Ernest Adams, and this is "Some Practical Problems of Immortality." I should start by saying that this lecture has only the faintest connection to computer game development, and I have no A/V whatsoever, so if you get bored, feel free to leave. I also need to add that what I'm about to say is my own opinion only, and is not that of Electronic Arts.
The genesis of this lecture was that I was thinking one day about the fact the elves in J.R.R. Tolkien's fiction were immortal, and I began to realize that there were some practical problems associated with immortality. People who write fantasy fiction often like to create immortal races, and Tolkien's elves are the prototype. But the more I thought about it, the more problems I realized that there were. So if you're interested in creating a game with an immortal race in it, these are some of the questions you need to address.
Throughout this lecture I'm going to be making references back to Tolkien's elves, partly because they are so prototypical, and partly because they're the race that the majority of you are likely to be familiar with.
Categories and Types of Immortality
First, I'll divide immortality into four types, in two general categories. The first category is "virtual immortality." By virtual immortality I mean those things that we tell ourselves to comfort us when faced with the prospect of our own deaths. One type of virtual immortality is immortality through children. People who have children are often comforted by the fact that they've passed their genes on, that there will be someone who will remember them after they die.
The other type of virtual immortality is immortality through fame, through having done something that causes people to remember you. I'll talk about this one a little later on.
Now the other category of immortality is "literal immortality." And it's divided into two more types: spiritual or supernatural immortality, and what I call practical immortality. By practical immortality I mean the indefinite continuation of the sense of the self. I don't necessarily mean the permanent continuation. Personally, I would be satisfied with just the indefinite continuation.
Spiritual immortality I'm sure we're all familiar with. It's based on the idea that there is an immortal soul which is somehow connected with the body, and which leaves it at death, but continues to survive. In the Judeo/Christian/Islamic tradition and, for that matter, many others, the soul is supernatural, and after death it goes to Heaven, or possibly Hell. Being supernatural, it is beyond nature, not subject to the laws of nature. One of the good things about this is that it is outside of space-time. That means that it isn't affected by things like the Big Crunch or the heat death of the universe. No matter what happens to the universe in the end, Heaven will continue to exist. Spiritual immortality is guaranteed against all disasters.
The problem with supernatural immortality is that there isn't a shred of evidence that it exists. Since it's not detectable by natural processes, we can't search for it by normal scientific means. No one has ever returned from Heaven to confirm that the soul exists, and in fact, there seems to be some evidence that it doesn't exist. We know, for example, that damage to the brain causes damage to the sense of the self. When people suffer damage to their brains, their personality changes as well, and that suggests that the brain is in some way connected with the sense of the self, and when the brain is gone, it also is gone.
So, turning to practical immortality, let's talk for a moment about possible ways of getting there. One way is through "created" immortality – that is, to create a being which is immortal. Unfortunately, this begs the question of where the "sense of the self" comes from. We don't really have an answer to that question, and although the artificial intelligence researchers are working as hard as they can, I don't think that we're ready to concede at this point that they've created anything which has a "sense of itself." At this point, we can't even create life, much less sentient life or immortal life.
Another way that immortality might arise is through evolution, through natural processes. And, in fact, "immortal" is a legitimate term in biology; there are one-celled animals that are referred to as immortal. The reason is that when they divide, the process of division rejuvenates them somehow, and the daughter cells continue to exist in exactly the same way as the parent cell did. The cell has no natural lifespan; as long as something doesn't come along to kill it, it can continue to divide and the daughter cells continue to survive and divide again.
However, this isn't terribly useful for us humans. Higher animals seem to have built-in lifespans, and for them, the odds are very much against evolving immortality.
The reason for this is that natural selection does not select for individual longevity; it selects for reproductive success. The clearest demonstration of this can be found in those spiders where the female eats the male after, or even during, sex. [Laughter.]
It's possible that natural selection could select for a longer period of fertility in human beings, therefore resulting in more reproductive success for individuals, but a short lifespan is really more efficient. A short lifespan means a short length of time between generations, which results in greater mixing of genes, which ultimately results in greater adapatability. For example, there are now strains of tuberculosis bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics. Within the two or three human generations that antibiotics have existed, TB bacteria have undergone thousands of generations, and some of them have adapted to the presence of antibiotics.
In short, evolved immortality doesn't seem very likely because natural selection doesn't select for a longer lifespan; it actually favors a shorter lifespan for greater adapability.
The other way that immortality could arise is by achieving it; that is, the human race could find a way of making it happen. There are two basic approaches we can take.
Achieving Immortality Through Medicine
The first approach is through medicine. By this I mean making learning to understand the human body as it exists, and finding ways to defeat the aging process. There are various theories of aging, which I'll discuss.
Error Theory. According to this theory, aging occurs because errors accumulate in the DNA of the body's cells. As the errors accumulate, they produce a decline in tissue quality, and so the body deteriorates. In some cases, this seems to be selected for. Lampreys, for example, undergo what's called an "error catastrophe" immediately after they've spawned. Once they've spawned, all the DNA in their bodies breaks down very rapidly, and they die within a few hours.
Programmed Death. It's known that cells in the body cease to reproduce after a certain number of divisions, and they die. In fact, it's now believed that certain kinds of cancer are caused by cells which fail to die when they're supposed to, and they go on reproducing and reproducing. Aging could be caused by the accumulative effect of the programmed death of cells.
Immune System Problems. According to this theory, the immune system breaks down over time. Aging occurs and people die because their bodies cease to be able to defend themselves against harmful organisms and toxins.
In short, aging is not a simple problem. No matter what the people who try to sell longevity treatments tell you, there's no one thing that causes aging; it's a wide variety of things. The reason is that natural selection does not weed out people who die of things after they've reproduced. It does weed out people who die of things before they've reproduced, but it doesn't even do that very well, given the infant mortality rate before the beginning of this century.
So medicine has a long way to go before it can achieve immortality. Medicine is good at preventing premature death, but it hasn't actually extended the human lifespan much at all. It occasionally seems that way because life expectancy statistics keep going up, but you have to remember that life expectancy is an average that includes premature mortality due to accident and disease – it's not the same thing as actual lifespan.
Achieving Immortality Through Technology
The other way that we might achieve immortality is through technology – mechanical additions or modifications to the body itself; or even its total replacement. To me, this seems as if it has the best long-term chances of success.
Right now, we're not concentrating a lot of our energy in this direction, however. Current efforts to build machinery focus on its utility, not its longevity. We don't concern ourselves with a machine's ability to fix itself, because we know that we're around to fit it ourselves if necessary. We need to work, in particular, on fault-tolerance, self-repair mechanisms, massive redundancy, and massive parallelism.
Massive parallelism, for example, is how the brain works. There's a common saying that 95% of the human brain is unused. This is often said by people who are trying to sell you gingko extracts and other things that they claim will improve your brain's functioning. If that's true, then it should be possible to remove 95% of their brains without any harm. I'd like to try that on some of those people and see how well they perform. [Laughter.]
Most ordinary machines have zero fault-tolerance. The place where fault-tolerance and self-repair is being studied the most right now is in unmanned spacecraft, because if they break down, there's no one around to fix them.
A common analogy that people make when speaking of spacecraft is one between software and DNA. I'm pretty sure I've read this in the works of both Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke. It was said that the Viking Mars Lander had the same amount of genetic information as a virus, based on the amount of computer code it contained, and that later spacecraft have gotten this up to the level of a bacterium. Personally, I believe this analogy is faulty. The software in a spacecraft doesn't provide a blueprint for building another copy of the spacecraft, the way DNA does. For the Viking Mars Lander to build another Viking Mars Lander, it would have had to have a great deal more program code than it does.
One possibly fruitful direction for research into immortality is nanotechnology, extremely small machines; and another is fractal machinery. Fractal machines are machines which are made up of smaller machines, which are made up of still smaller machines, and so on down to some point. There's a company in England called Robodyne which is experimenting with machines made up of cubes which can slide around and move over each other. The cubes can assemble themselves into larger groups which can do things collectively like walk and climb.
Replacing the body itself is so extreme a step that I'm not going to address it from here on. That would result in such an utter change to the way people live and feel that it's the subject of a whole other lecture – at least. From this point I'm going to assume that we're talking about immortality in our current bodily form, or something close to it.
Two Questions for World-Designers
If we want to discuss immortality in our current bodily form, then there are two questions that a world-designer has to ask.
The Question of Disease
The first question is whether or not this includes eliminating disease. Currently eight diseases are responsible for 75% of all deaths in the United States, although it is difficult to judge statistics on how many deaths were actually premature, since "old age" is not recorded as a cause of death. A person who has cancer and dies at age 92 is still recorded as dying of cancer rather than of old age.
In any case, if you eliminate disease, it has a significant effect on mortality rates and consequently on people's expectations about their lives. Since most deaths are the result of disease rather than aging, eliminating aging alone is not enough to create a sense of immortality.
The Question of Physiological Age
The second question is, "at what physiological point does bodily aging stop?" in an immortal person. If bodily aging progresses much as it does today with the exception that the person does not die, then immortality would be a living horror. The physical limitations of extreme old age are sufficiently unpleasant that nobody would find living on indefinitely in that condition acceptable.
On the other hand, most people would also find it unacceptable to live forever in an adolescent or prepubescent body. Therefore, we would prefer for aging to stop at some point between about 18 and 45, or even more desirably, about 25 and 35. Another related question which significantly affects the population growth issue is whether immortal people remain fertile indefinitely or not. This could lead to a situation in which parents could decide to have one child, and then perhaps another one 500 years later.
Turning now to the specific problems of immortality, I've divided them into three categories: biological, psychological, and social or economic.
The first biological problem, and the one that initially got me started thinking about all this, is the problem of brain capacity. As you live your life, your memories get stored in your brain. But your brain has a finite size. At some point, you must start losing your memories. If you're immortal, this problem could become quite severe. The question then is, how should they be lost? If it's a simple first-in-first-out basis, then as you live, your oldest memories – those of childhood, of course – are forgotten. That doesn't seem desirable. Perhaps they should be lost at random, or perhaps according to a curve whose probability increases the older the memory is.
Most desirable of all, perhaps, would be the ability to selectively forget undesired memories, like removing old files from a hard drive. However, unless we go to a technological body rather than a biological one, it seems unlikely that that's what we'll get – and if we do that, then it would be more desirable still just to increase memory capacity rather than to forget things.
Tolkien did not directly address this issue. His elves could remember things for thousands of years, and he didn't discuss how it was possible.
DNA Information Loss
We know that DNA suffers information loss over time, as I mentioned earlier when I described the error theory of aging. Our DNA contains self-repair mechanisms, but they are not effective enough if we're going to live for thousands or even millions of years. Our DNA repair mechanism has to be many times more accurate and effective than it is now.
Bodily Wear Problems
In addition to errors accumulating in the DNA, there are also problems of simple mechanical wear in the body. Cartilage wears down. The lens of the eye becomes inflexible. Bones become brittle, and so on. We need more effective repair mechanisms for simple mechanical wear as well.
Immune System Problems
All species must adapt in order to adjust to changing conditions in their environment. They accomplish this through genetic mutation and natural selection over a number of generations. Individuals don't have this option, and if they possess characteristics which they are unable to change, they cannot adapt.
Our immune systems are able to deal with most of the threats they are presented with, because the systems and the threats have evolved together. However, if an individual lives for an extremely long time – tens of thousands of years, let's say – the threats will continue evolving while the individual's immune system doesn't change. The threats it was evolved to counter will no longer exist, and new ones will have arisen to take their place. Thus, the longer you live, the more at risk you are of encountering a threat for which you have no defenses. As I mentioned before, the tuberculosis bacterium has adapted within our lifetimes, but we cannot adapt to it. To overcome this problem, we'll have to find a way of artificially modifying our immune systems to deal with new threats.
Tolkien did not address the biological problems of immortality; his was a fantasy world in which biology did not exist. He simply stated that elves where not subject to disease and left it at that.
In addition to the biological problems, we can expect several psychological ones as well.
The Unfairness of Death
Although we often speak of death as "unfair," particularly in the case of the death of someone young, we nevertheless derive some comfort from the fact that everyone must die. Death is fair in that regard. No matter how much money or power or fame or beauty you have, you must still face death. Death is fair where life is not.
But if death were a rare event, occasioned only by an accident, then it would seem far more unfair. If people have a legitimate expectation of living indefinitely, then accidents (and especially homicide) will seem far more unfair, and that may be difficult to live with.
The Sense of Loss
At times when life is cheap, people's reactions to death become muted; they become inured to seeing death around them. The historian Barbara Tuchman noted in A Distant Mirror, her book on the 14th century, that children are seldom shown in the art of the period. She speculates that perhaps because death in childhood was so common, and because women could expect to give birth to many children in the course of a lifetime, people did not expend a great deal of emotional energy on any given child.
On the other hand, if people very rarely die, then the event, when it occurs, will be all the more traumatic. The death of a spouse today is devastating enough. Spouses who were expecting to spend an indefinitely long time together – and who have spent a very long time together already – may be too shattered to cope.
Changes to the Mental State
It's a well-known phenomenon that as people get old, their outlook on life changes. Many become conservative, set in their ways, unwilling to learn new things. They lose their respect for the younger generation. Many drop out of the mainstream of life and lose interest in current events. Some develop eccentric habits or beliefs which they are loath to give up.
Some of this is doubtless due to the lack of physical vitality that accompanies aging. But some must also be due to a lack of mental vitality, a sort of "hardening of the mental arteries" that is taking place. Would this still occur if humans were physically immortal? What would it mean to have a body seemingly 35 years old and a mind 100 years old, or 500? If the mind undergoes significant changes in 70 years, what can we expect in 700? Clearly for immortality to be practical, it must keep the mind as well as the body young… but we are no closer to understanding how to do the former than we are the latter.
Tolkien did not seriously address the psychological problems of immortality. However, his elves were spiritually immortal as well as being practically immortal. They knew exactly where their souls would go if they were killed and what it would be like there, which lent them a serenity not available to humans. In addition, their worldview was very much informed by their battle with the forces of evil. As a result, most of them were pretty psychologically one-dimensional. What they would have been like if they had had no opponents to fight and no guarantees about their spiritual survival, we can only guess.
Social and Economic Problems
Population Growth and Its Consequences
Food and Housing Shortages
The first and most obvious social problem of immortality is connected with population growth. If people do not die, the birth rate is not offset by a death rate, and population growth would be much higher than it is today. This would obviously result in food supply problems and housing problems.
Currently, the growth of food production in the world is sufficient to cover our population growth rate. While there are famines from time to time, they are not generally severe enough to wipe out a significant percentage of the population (although we are putting ourselves at risk by losing the genetic diversity in our seed stocks). Famines today could be completely preventable with more efficient transportation of food, and if food were regarded as a basic right (as many nations regard health care) rather than a commodity which must be purchased. Not that I am a liberal or anything. [Laughter.] In any case it's not clear that our food production growth could meet the demand if nobody ever died. Housing problems would be similar; we would have to develop land for housing at a much faster rate than we do now, and we would certainly have to tolerate higher-density housing.
The "Static Population" Solution
One possible solution to this problem is to have a completely static population in which reproduction is strictly limited, and the birth rate exactly equals the death rate. This scenario appears in various science fiction novels, but it's probably impossible to mandate given basic human desires. It comes with its own problems as well, the main one being that economic growth is dependent upon population growth.
Demand for goods and services is a function of population size; with a fixed population, you would have a fixed demand. Entrepreneurship would die, because you can't start new companies without new people to work in them. The cost of labor, of course, would skyrocket.
Paradoxically, though, everyone would have to continue to work forever. Most of us hope to retire and live off our investments someday; no one wants to be a maid for all eternity. However, you can't live off your investments without economic growth. You have to have something to invest in. Without economic growth, everyone will have to continue to work.
That's the most negative view of the situation. However, it possible that although people would have to continue to work, they might not have to work much. Currently, a small percentage of the human population can create enough food, clothing, and shelter to provide for the rest. That leave the remainder of us free to work on other things: luxuries, education, entertainment, and most importantly, medical, technological and scientific research.
It's the technological research that has made it possible to reduce the length of the work week over the years. The work week (at least for children working!) was restricted to 48 hours in the middle of the last century; it's now 40 hours for Americans, and even lower in some countries in Europe. It's possible that the work week could drop to nearly nothing, so the amount of actual labor everyone would have to do could be very low.
In any static-population scheme, capitalism would almost certainly have to be replaced by some form of a managed economy. In addition, children would be extremely rare. Both would be extremely drastic changes and result in societies significantly different from the one we live in today.
The "Limited Growth" Solution
Another approach would be to artificially limit population growth to what it is today, assuming that we can continue to sustain the current rate indefinitely (which is in reality unlikely). Population growth is the excess of the birth rate over the death rate, and currently stands at 1.7% per year worldwide. The birth rate is currently at about 25 per thousand per year; the death rate at about 8 per thousand per year, yielding a differential of 17 per thousand per year or 1.7%.
If the death rate were reduced to near zero, the birth rate would have to be reduced by an equivalent amount to compensate. This means that it would drop from 25 to 17 per thousand, or by about a third. That would mean that we would be seeing a third fewer children around, which is significant but not drastic.
Tolkien's approach to these problems was to give the elves an extremely slow population growth rate and a pastoral society. They apparently had no interest in making things better for themselves through technological advancement. Since they had seemingly magical powers, perhaps they felt no need of it.
Another problem with immortality occurs in government. Power tends to accumulate in the hands of the powerful, but turnover in government institutions is guaranteed by death if nothing else – Senator Strom Thurmond notwithstanding. [Laughter.]
In a monarchy, if there is no death from old age, then the monarch would continue to reign indefinitely, and death by violence is the likely consequence. As John F. Kennedy said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." In a democracy, it would be necessary either to have term limits or some mechanism to prevent power from accumulating through seniority. We find it desirable to impose term limits today, it would be absolutely essential if people were immortal.
Tolkien was vague about elvish political structure. Their governments were monarchies. The elves had an innate sense of who was noble and who was not, and apparently no ambition. If the elves didn't like their king, it was too bad; they were stuck with him. However, that was never a real issue for them.
About 1978 I had a sudden realization that the segregationists of the 1960's were still alive, many still young, and certainly still voting – but their ideas were completely out of favor. It was an odd thing to think that they were still around, but their world had changed, seemingly forever. Nowadays, the segregationists are starting to die off, and few or no new ones are appearing to take their places. But what would happen if they didn't die? What would happen if all the segregationists were still as young and vigorous as they were in the 1960's?
Can social change take place without death, without turnover in the people who constitute the society? It seems to me that there's the potential for endless turmoil here.
The Working World
The world of work poses problems as well. Unlike government, companies are monarchies, although their leaders are responsible to the shareholders. It's conceivable that the managements of companies would never change, and as a result, there would be no opportunity for promotion up the hierarchy. There might be two mitigating factors: first, boredom might cause senior managers to leave their companies; and second, the shareholders themselves might become bored with the management and want it to change. But in any case, the turnover in senior executives, like kings, is currently guaranteed by death and would certainly be slower if they never aged.
There's a larger issue, though, and that has to do with social dislocation caused by advancing technology. In the Middle Ages, technology changed so slowly that people did not fear losing their jobs to automation. On the whole, most people died before a technology change could have a signficant effect on their lives.
In our lifetimes, however, technological change has been fast enough to cause social problems. People have a hard time adapting to the new technology, and in the worst cases, it results in unemployment. Older people who feel disenfranchised by this retire, retreat from the world, and don't bother to keep up. But what would happen if they never died?
In entertainment, people enjoy covet change, the appearance of something new. Immortality reduces the chance for change.
Immortal entertainers would go on entertaining forever. Ingrid Bergman would still be acting; Enrico Caruso would still be singing. It's possible that public boredom would eventually limit their period in the spotlight, and then they could come back in twenty or fifty years with "nostalgia" tours… but what would they do in the meantime?
Sports figures' careers would be limited not by age but by injury; Joe DiMaggio could still be playing baseball. In many sports, success is determined by physical prowess rather than public popularity. Would people still care about track and field if Carl Lewis were always going to win, for the foreseeable future?
Families represent a problem for immortal people. The family is the strongest influence in a child's life, and those influences continue to affect her relationship with her siblings and parents, and her own children, all her life. That's potentially troublesome if you're expecting to live indefinitely.
Right now, we winnow down potential partners from the total population using a variety of factors, but certainly among the most important is age. As a general thing, everyone wants to have a partner who is within, say, plus-or-minus 10 years of their own age. This means that they have a certain culture in common. They may have watched the same things on television, and so on. But if people are living indefinitely, and there's no way to determine their age by looking, then you have a problem in figuring out if they're a suitable partner. What do a forty-year-old person and a 2000-year-old person have to talk about?
All that needs to be said about this is that if you have in-law problems and you're all immortal, then you're going to have them for the rest of time. One of my cousins said that thinking about this made her feel better about death.
The instinct to pair-bond is very strong. Only a small number of people choose to remain single all their lives. A larger number are unsuited to marriage, but try it anyway, often with several different partners in a row until they either give up or find someone they can live with. And despite the divorce statistics, it's still the case that the majority of people marry and live with the same partner throughout their lives. However, this isn't easy. It's tricky enough to find someone that you want to live with for fifty or sixty years, but how about all eternity? Of course, that's the fairy-tale conception of marriage, but in reality no one has ever had to put it to the test. It seems unlikely that the institution of marriage as it exists today could survive unchanged in a world of immortals. It seems more likely that people will live together for as long as they're content, but will split up more easily if they are not. If we remain permanently in the prime of life, and have no fears about needing someone to look after us in our old age, then the desire to remain together may be based purely on compatibility rather than economic considerations. (As it is, the emancipation of women and their ability to earn their own livings has freed them from bad marriages. This trend would only continue if we were immortal.)
Similarly, parent-child relations will have to change. At the moment, parents continue to exercise an influence over their children for as long as they are alive; and they play a role in the lives of their grandchildren as well. But when there are a great many succeeding generations, they can no longer remain so involved. Nor will their children need to plan for their parents' old age.
With respect to family relations, I think it's safe to say that people will have to grow farther apart. As it is today, people move away from their parents and tend to stay away for twenty or thirty years; until their parents begin to need help, say. But if you have spent 18 years in the company of your parents and another 500 without them, it seems unlikely that you will really have much in common any more.
Immortality for Game Developers
I now want to turn to another issue, a very personal issue: the question of immortality for game developers. Now, some of you may believe in spiritual immortality, through faith. And if so, then I have nothing to say to you, because you've found your answer.
Some of you may have children, and derive serenity from that. Some of you may have found serenity in some other way, and I'm not talking to you either.
I'm talking to those of you who, like me, have not yet come to terms with the prospect of your own deaths. And in particular, I'm talking to those of you who, like me, are starting to hear the sand in the hourglass.
Listen: I have stood in the tomb chamber at the heart of the Great Pyramid. I've looked into the enormous granite sarcophagus there. The body of Pharaoh Khufu is gone. It's been gone for centuries.
But we know his name. We're not sure how to pronounce it, but we do know how to spell it. And we know what he did, because he wrote it down and told us. We can hear the voice of Khufu speaking to us across the millennia.
Now, one of the most common reactions to the Great Pyramid is, "My God! What a ego that guy had, to build such a monument to himself." But there's nothing intrinsically evil about building monuments to yourself. It's not immoral in and of itself. We no longer have to use whips and slaves to get it done. Why shouldn't we get a monument, if we want one?
Well, of course the answer is that there isn't room. If everyone alive today, all 5.3 billion people, were to get a grave five feet wide by ten feet long – room enough for some space between and a headstone – the resulting graveyard would occupy 9,500 square miles, or an area about the size of present-day Macedonia. And with pyramids, the problem is even worse. We can't be covering the planet with pyramids.
So we turn to the question of leaving a legacy in the memory, if not in stone. And for this I want to read you an excerpt from a speech given by Bruce Sterling, the science fiction author, at the 1991 Computer Game Developers' Conference. This was probably the best banquet speech ever given at CGDC. He was talking about the electronic book, and he said:
"Now I'm the farthest thing from a Luddite ladies and gentlemen, but when I contemplate this particular technical marvel my author's blood runs cold... It's really hard for books to compete with multisensory media, with modern electronic media, and this is supposed to be the panacea for withering literature, but from the marrow of my bones I say get that fucking little sarcophagus away from me. For God's sake don't put my books into the Thomas Edison kinetoscope. Don't put me into the stereograph, don't write me on the wax cylinder, don't tie my words and my thoughts to the fate of a piece of hardware, because hardware is even more mortal than I am, and I'm a hell of a lot more mortal than I care to be. Mortality is one good reason why I'm writing books in the first place. For God's sake don't make me keep pace with the hardware, because I'm not really in the business of keeping pace, I'm really in the business of marking place…
"You folks are dwelling in the very maelstrom of Permanent Technological Revolution. And that's a really cool place, but man, it's just not a good place to build monuments."
He's right. We are screwed. Our work is as bright and as beautiful as the wildflowers of a Sierra mountain springtime… and just as ephemeral. Our work cannot serve, unaided, as our monument. When we die, we leave nothing to remember us by.
Now, some of you may say, so what? What are you whining about? The vast majority of the world leaves no legacy. The people who vacuum these floors will leave nothing behind but clean carpet, which will be dirty again in a day. For that matter, the most powerful stockbroker, the richest trader in pork belly futures, leaves nothing behind but slips of paper with meaningless numbers on them. What entitles you to a monument?
I don't know. I feel sorry for the people who clean the carpet, and for the stock traders as well, although not as much… but I don't have an answer to that. So forget about me, and my particular neurosis on this issue.
Danielle Bunten Berry is dead! And in a few years the work of her heart and hands and mind are going to be dead too, and that is not right, my friends. We need a monument. We need… a Computer Game Hall of Fame.
Not a list of names printed every month in Computer Gaming World. We need a permanent site on the World Wide Web (which in my opinion is soon to be the collective cultural memory of mankind). We need a place where the great games are kept, and talked about, and remembered – and studied, for the wonder and the truth that they contain. And we need a place where their designers are honored.
We also need a physical place. A building, a museum, an arcade if nothing better, where people can go and admire, and play, and learn, and remember.
Now some will say, "A museum about outdated video games? Pathetic." But let me tell you something: I work on a game about professional football. Professional football has a hall of fame. Now there's nothing very creative about professional football. There's nothing very innovative about it. Professional football is about the exercise of athletic skill for the purpose of excitement and entertainment.
Excitement and entertainment.
If professional football can have a hall of fame, then by God we're entitled to one.
Who's going to build it? I don't know. I don't have the time. I don't have the money. But it needs to be done, so that our great works can live on. They can be remembered… but only if we choose to remember them.
Thank you for listening.