Every game needs a story. A pantheon of heroes and villains in order to provide a deeper context, and make it about something bigger than just one player’s actions.
At this point, since it’s just me, there are no heroes or villains. I have no wish to be one of the heroes of the story. Those (along with the villains) will no doubt, come later, and make no mistake – there will be conflict. There will be villains.
I say this because as the PtP Network grows, it’s going to scare the everliving HELL out of entrenched interests. They will not understand it, or its purpose, and we’ve seen countless examples of what happens in those cases.
When something changes, and is not understood, it is reflexively despised.
When it is despised, an attempt is made to destroy it in order to prevent it, and the ideas behind it from spreading.
Whether these attempts ultimately succeed or fail will be up to the heroes who arise from the community to prevent this from happening. Their stories and struggles will come later. Consider this to be the prologue.
Since I am neither hero nor villain, call me the Architect. My lot is simply to build the framework around which the story will grow.
It’s an interesting story, and I’ll tell it to the present day, then keep this post updated periodically until launch day.
Here’s My Story:
The Tale of The Architect
“Is it possible to create a (computer) game that, when played, the simple act of playing the game can cause a variable to change in the real, physical world?”
When my friend Daniel first asked me this question, I had just had my third heart attack.
I was dating a woman named Cindy at the time, and it was she who called the ambulance and took care of me until the EMTs arrived.
I was taken to the hospital, evaluated, and a quadruple bypass planned.
The surgery was delayed for 12 days because I had been on blood thinners, and it took that long for my blood to thicken to the point that the surgery was not a risk. Every day, they’d come in to draw blood in the morning, assuring me that “today was the day,” and every afternoon, they’d come back and tell me we’d have to wait again.
Having that looming like a shadow over my head for the better part of two weeks was pure, nail biting agony.
Eventually, however, the day came.
I told the Anesthesiologist that she’d need to give me quite a lot of anesthesia, and that when I came out of it, it would not be a gradual thing, but a sudden awakening.
She didn’t believe me, but she should have. When I came awake (suddenly, just as I told her I would), I reflexively tried to pull the breathing tube from my throat.
They had to handcuff me to the bed to prevent me from doing so.
My acute pancreatitis scar was now joined by the classic “zipper scar.” The two are separated only by about two inches.
My body is a patchwork of scars. With each new accident or medical malfunction, I look increasingly like Frankenstein’s Monster.
I used to have a hat that said “Scars are tattoos with better stories.” Lost the hat in the “Tragic Bear Incident of 2010,” but still remember the phrase, and I’d agree. I have some pretty good stories.
Anyway, eventually, they let me come home, back to Cindy’s, since I was living with her at the time.
She took care of me.
Nursed me back to health, which was no easy task.
Sleeping sitting up, being unable to draw more than a shallow breath…it wasn’t a picnic, but once physical therapy started, I began to recover more quickly.
It was during this period that Daniel asked me the question that changed the course of my life.
I had lots of spare time to devote to the question then, because I was healing, and this was the thing I poured myself into. This, and regaining my former sense of self. My former strength.
Eventually, I answered Daniel’s question and began working on the first (very early, buggy, crash prone, and hideously ugly) prototype of the website, and had begun conducting my earliest real world experiments. I completed the game’s first “Quests” and measured their effectiveness.
Here were the prototypical quests I designed for myself:
I had been reading about small plot farming techniques, two of which appealed to me. Jeavan’s Biointensive Method, and Bartholomew’s “Square Foot” Method.
There were things I liked about both, so I took the bits I wanted, and combined them to create my own methodology, which I gave the rather unfortunate acronym HYNA (“Hyena”), which stands for High Yield, Natural Agronomy.
Unemployment was still quite high at the beach, and area homeless shelters and soup kitchens were stretched thin.
I found one of these (serving 90 plates a day), and spoke with the people who ran the place.
I offered to help them double their plate capacity, and promised that it would not cost them a dime.
The first thing I did was buy them a greenhouse from Amazon (Shelter Logic, 10’x20′).
Then I learned how to build raised beds for planting out of wood from shipping pallets.
The greenhouse was set up in the rear of their parking lot, and as I began putting it together, something magical and amazing happened.
As the people who ate their meals finished, and exited the building with full bellies, they stopped.
Not all of them, to be sure, but a big percentage.
They asked what I was doing, and why, and when they found out, they pitched in to help me.
They became part of the process.
The soup kitchen stopped being “just a handout,” because they were INVOLVED.
Things went much faster after that.
Once my new helpers were up to speed on my “cutting edge” raised bed production techniques (no measuring – just eyeballing, a sawzal, and a nail gun), I went off to find a guy named Dan.
I had seen Dan’s van around town, and had the first inklings of an idea.
Dan was a small businessman. “Dan the Gutter Man.”
He, predictably enough, installed gutters on the sides of houses.
I asked him what he did with the old ones.
Come to find out, they all wound up in the landfill, so I asked him for some.
He gave them to me, and I took them back to the soup kitchen.
We cleaned them, and I went to Lowe’s to buy some shelf brackets.
We mounted the gutters on the side of the building, and used them as really long planter boxes.
Before long, we had tons of green, growing things, and the people that USED the soup kitchen’s services got into the habit of helping tend to them. Again, they became part of the process.
By itself, this did not double the number of plates served at the soup kitchen, though it did give them a solid increase.
We needed more, so of course, I went home and started watching TV.
One of the shows I came across was the silly “Extreme Couponing” show.
I knew they probably used some off camera cheats that most people couldn’t replicate, but I resolved to replicate the basic process.
Got a methodology to about 85% of what the show promised.
Armed with that information, I went back to the Soup Kitchen.
I discovered that while they get most of their food from food banks, they DO have to go to the grocery store to pick up ingredients that are needed to complete a menu.
I found that they were saving, on average, about 15% per shopping trip, so I offered to teach them my methodology.
We went shopping together, and sure enough, they were able to save an additional 50-70% over and above what they’d been saving before, per trip.
That, coupled with the success of the HYNA beds in the parking lot actually MORE than doubled their number of plates served.
At that point, I knew that Quests could make a real world difference. Make a tangible impact, but there’s more to the story.
Six of the people who regularly ate at the kitchen, and two of the volunteers approached me privately and asked if I could help them set up similar systems at home.
I was happy to help, and we replicated the experiment eight more times.
These Quests were the templates from which the “Home Grown” and “Helping Hands” quests were derived.
Cindy and I had been drifting apart since before the heart attack, but the recovery period only intensified and sped that process along. In the end, we parted ways (my fault and doing), and I packed what few things I had in this world, and left.
That’s when it hit me that I had nowhere to go, but by then, a realization had dawned on me.
Because of the nature of Play the Planet, I realized that the only way I could finish it was from the inside out.
That is to say, I had to become Play the Planet’s “First Citizen.” I had to give myself, and my life, over to the game, and start “Playing the Planet” without the benefit of the system architecture, which I would build as I went.
In order to do that, I also realized that I had to start from literally nothing. It was the only way.
So I became homeless, and lived out of a cheap, rather disgusting hotel for five days until I could figure something out.
Every day, I scanned Craigslist. I had no clear idea what I was looking for, but I trusted my instincts, and that I’d know it when I saw it.
On day four, I found it.
A small animal sanctuary in Georgetown, about 30 miles south.
They needed help.
They specialized in feral cats, and were going to rent a room to help get money to care for the rescued cats.
I called with a counter proposal.
I’d live there and tend to them, writing freelance in my downtime. I’d even create a program to socialize the ones we felt could be adopted out to permanent homes. Having never done anything of the sort before, I had no idea if I even could, but I sold it well, and they accepted.
Now all I had to do was GET there.
I’d sold my car to get the money for the hotel, so I had no idea how I’d manage it, but – I was in the grip of the Planet now, and trusted that it would work out.
The next morning, I was awakened by the sound of music and laughter in the parking lot. “Suzie Q,” by CCR. Nice.
There were five shirtless, filthy, grimy men in the parking lot, cooking chicken and drinking beer at seven o’clock in the morning.
I smiled, thinking “now there’s something you don’t see every day.”
Curious, I went down to find out more.
It turns out, they were from North Carolina.
They worked for a company called “Heavy Metal,” which was a company that specialized in working on heavy things made out of metal.
I liked it.
They were working on one of the ginormous fans in the steel mill in Georgetown, and they’d just gotten off shift. This was dinnertime for them.
They were heading back that way later that night.
I told them my story, and they invited me to have dinner (chicken and beer) with them at eight o’clock in the morning.
Over dinner, they invited me to ride with them to the animal shelter.
I called the place, and told them my plans for getting there, and that was that.
I rode in the “Heavy Metal” work van from Myrtle Beach to Georgetown, where I spent the next ten months living and working, 24/7 with feral cats, and making a name for myself with the freelance writing.
With any spare time I had, I continued working on Play the Planet.
By now, I had a clear vision of where I wanted to start.
Appalachia is the most economically depressed region in the US. If my idea could be made to work there, then it stood to reason that it could be made to work anywhere.
Besides, I figured that land would be cheap in the region, so that’s what I set my sights on.
It took me the better part of a year to develop my freelancing career to the point where I was in a position to move, but in December of 2014, I was ready.
I moved to Galax, VA on January 4th.
It was a balmy 74 degrees when I left Myrtle Beach.
It was snowing when I arrived at the top of the mountain at four o’clock in the morning, with three terrified feral cats in tow (the last three I had been working with).
I knew it would take time to pay off the debts incurred to make the move, so I resolved not to even bother to look for land until I had the money in the bank.
Along the way, I discovered that I could help one of my ferals.
Little Patches had become blind when she was just three months old.
I found a specialist who could perform a surgery that would restore at least some of her sight.
Yes, having the surgery done was going to be expensive, and it would set me back several months where the land acquisition was concerned, but it was also the right thing to do.
I knew that for certain the day I brought Patches back from her surgery.
She spent the first hour groggy.
She spent the second hour ripping off the plastic cone they’d put around her head.
Then she spent the next two hours running all through the house, exploring it for the first time with her eyes.
Every couple of minutes, she’d run up to me, stand on her hind legs, tap my leg and chirp as if to say, “Dad! Dad, come LOOK at this, you’ve gotta see!” then scamper back off to continue her explorations.
And that, my friends, brings us up to date.
Play the Planet was born out of the imagination of an intoxicated homeless man, who currently lives like a hermit on top of a mountain in rural Virginia because people kinda scare him, but who nonetheless has a deep, driving need to take the broken things of this world and make them shine. Its launch was delayed by a blind cat.
More updates as they occur.