Nineteen Eighty Seven. My first year at university. One evening I was having a beer with a boy in the same hall of residence when he he turned to me in a conspiratorial way and said:
“If you go over to the computers in East Block at two o’clock in the morning and log in, you can connect up with other universities. You can play MIST”
MIST turned out to be a Multi-user dungeon game. The Wikipedia entry describes it thus:
“MIST was notorious for its “dog eat dog” and “anything goes so long as some more powerful character doesn’t decide otherwise” philosophy, as well as its unparalleled bloodthirstiness. Wanton killing, deception, and using magic powers to compel players to attack others without warning, were common and acceptable”
That pretty much sums it up, although I would replace the word ‘acceptable’ in the above sentence with ‘encouraged’. There were no graphics but even though it was all text based it was incredibly fast moving, because if you didn’t move fast you died. I got so I could type certain commands very fast indeed. Looking back its hard to explain why, but it was seriously addictive. It got to the point where I was staying up all night, every night just to play. I had a virtual map of the whole MIST world in my head so that I could navigate around without having to read the text descriptions of every place. I knew where all the treasure was and where all the best weapons were. I would go to the bar until eleven a clock and then kill time until two so I could log in and start playing against people from all over the UK. I didn’t know it at the time but I was taking part in an early manifestation of the Internet. Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web four years later. I didn’t see the Internet being used until 1996, didn’t have it at home until 1998.
William Gibson’s Neuromancer was published in 1984. It’s about Case, a burned out, drug addicted hacker, who gets picked up and then cleaned up for a very special ‘run’ into cyberspace. Recruited with him is Molly, a leather clad bodyguard with extendable razor finger nails and enhanced mirrored eyes who effectively acts as his minder.
I read it for the first time in 1988 and the opening line (pictured above) grabbed me straight away. It was one of those books that drops you straight into another world so that when you stop reading you feel like you’ve come up for air. I also think my experiences on the embryonic Internet gave me a tiny glimpse of the possibilities which made the cyberspace of Gibson’s book seem all the more possible. I read it again last year and loved it just as much. It has been called visionary, introducing the word cyberspace and practically inventing the cyberpunk genre. This may well be true, but most of all its just a great story.
Anthony Vicino posted a good article on cyberpunk on his blog here