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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Catch-23 from "Superlove"

Ultimate Hustle's new hardware/software combo proved to be extremely controversial. Imajination was a fully immersive recreation of the real world via a combination of augmented and virtual realities. It represented a convergence of decades of research in a wide variety of disciplines.

Bleeding edge technology at its finest, Janique beat her nearest competitors to market by years. The division's slogan was "Imagine Ultimate Reality". The product wasn't released until each and every aspect was personally approved by both Chris and Janique. And only they could enter the sim in tandem.

This was a business and design decision fostered by the open-ended, open-world nature of their software. The initial design documents stated simply "Total realism." It was an elaborate extension of "Cumshot or Gunshot", but with a much wider scope.

Imajination was the most elite gaming system ever devised. The end user had complete freedom of movement, and inhabited a virtual world in which their actions were restricted only by their imaginations themselves, and their ability to pay. Only a hundred thousand installations were sold per year, and resale was prohibited. In fact, the system came tied to the most restrictive licensing imaginable.

If you violated the terms of what legal scholars considered the most iron clad contracts in the world, apart from those that governed Forever Foundation, goons would physically repossess your system, and you were banned from ever purchasing another. The contract actually specified goons in the wording, taking a half page to define the term.

On top of the exorbitant purchase and installation costs, access was metered, tied to a bank account that the system owner was obligated to create specifically for billing purposes, maintaining a million dollar minimum balance. Furthermore, the billing agreement, while scrupulously defined, was entirely at Ultimate Hustle's discretion.

In essence, the purchasers were told that they would be billed on a sliding scale according to usage. Upon logging on, you were presented with a single menu option, allowing you to select an experience lasting from one to four hours.

After reaching the four hour maximum, the system would be inaccessible for a twenty-four hour period. Overnight, psychoanalysts and reality technicians would further tailor the environment based on a complex set of input data that was mined from the previous experience.

Aside from preventing the system from becoming a retreat from the real world, the scheduling system insured each venture into the system would unfold properly throughout the allotted session, ending at a satisfying conclusion, rather than abruptly.

The custom installations insured that the end user's transition between the real and virtual worlds was seamless. No matter the scenario, each began in the room where the Imajination hardware was located. The end user sat in a chair, donned a headset, and entered the system. The only apparent difference was that once logged on, you no longer wore the headset.

There were no instructions available, and registered owners were not allowed to communicate with each other. In fact, in an unprecedented legal move, they were forbidden from talking about it publicly or privately. A few scofflaws lost ownership of their systems before the private discussion clause was taken seriously by the year's remaining clients.

Even with the exorbitant costs and no restrictions on usage, there was no instant gratification. Beginners were gently led to discover basic features by tutorial expressed as subtle clues arranged by the installation and gaming techs.

The overarching theme expressed by Imajination was the end user as ruler of the territory of their minds. Ultimate Hustle retained no data on usage, apart from abstracted and anonymized information relayed to the artisans who helped further customize experiences.

This was despite attempts at legislation that would allow government inquisitors to monitor what users did in the simulation. Janique quashed these ill-conceived attempts in short order. Because the only way to gather first-hand evidence of virtual crimes was to commit them yourself.

Early attempts at investigation by the governing bodies of North America and Europe resulted in the arrest of the government agents in question. Janique's code name for the system was Catch-23.