The German publisher of Epic asked Conor a few questions recently. They asked some good questions, and Conor has supplied some thoughful answers. The idea of Epic that all arguments must be dealt with in a computer game with real life going by without the impact of violence seems to be good. Why does Epic fail in the long run nevertheless?
I agree, the resolution of conflict in a virtual place is a wonderful idea. Imagine, no more casualties from wars. Unfortunately though, the virtual arena that the people of New Earth have adapted for the purpose was designed as a game, not as a way of mediating conflict. There are several fault lines as a result: over time a small elite become wealthier and more powerful within the game; more and more time is spent playing the game by society as a whole, so the real economy is declining and worst of all, there is a way to cheat!Erik is playing Epic in completely differently way than most other players, which makes him discover new opportunities of interacting. Would this be your advice for young readers? To be courageous and try new ways, to go against the tide, without being afraid to look stupid? I think, it's very unusual for a young boy to choose a female figure in a game.
Definitely. Just because very many people accept certain ideas and ways of doing something does not necessarily mean that their approach is the best way. I think a lot of developments in science and art have come from new ways of looking at problems. I like the character of Erik for several reasons, but this is probably the main one, that he is not afraid of trying something new, in fact he only enjoys Epic when experimenting with it. A certain amount of research has been done on males playing female roles in online games and it seems that about 20 percent of males try female characters. One of the interesting features of the online game medium is that you can do this, and it is interesting to see how people react to you differently, depending on your gender.What will happen after the destruction of Epic? The game was, in a perverted way, stabilizing the social structure. Will there be an outburst of anarchy?
The game prevented violence, but there was still a conflict over resources on New Earth, one that was being resolved in an unjust way. I’m sure that life will now get better for the people, because there will be far more people making an input into how resources are managed and no longer will you need to spend hours and hours clipped up. Of course it will be confusing for them, until they work out a system. But they still have the global communication system to assist them. Also, the new world will have a lot of respect for the ideas of Erik and Injeborg who helped bring about change, and they are basically decent human beings, with positive values. So, although there might be a certain dislocation and of course there will still be arguments, at least the method of resolving problems will be a more democratic one than before. I don’t see their society giving up their fundamental belief in non-violence. Not so long as everyone feels they have a voice.Do you plan a sequel to Epic?
I have just finished editing Saga, which should be out in Ireland by the end of the year (2006) and internationally soon afterwards. Saga is set in the same universe as Epic, but we meet a very different set of characters, as well as find out what has happened on old Earth. So it is not exactly a sequel, but Cindella does make several important appearances.Epic goes for a novel of the new genre of cyber fiction. What was your model while writing?
Naturally, given the times we live in, a lot of fantasy authors are dealing with the interaction between virtual realities and our physical universe. But I feel my own ideas on the subject were influenced more by thinking about the changes being introduced in our society by massively supported online games than books. Having posed the question: what would it be like to live in a world where your performance in a virtual fantasy environment determined everything? I drew on political philosophy, such as that of Machiavelli, Hobbes and Marx to make the dynamics of such a world as believable as possible. You might notice characters in Epic trying to make sense of the world from these different perspectives. When it comes to written works I would say that Greg Egan is the writer I admire most with regard to this genre. William Gibson is often seen as the founder of the related genre cyber punk and I enjoyed his works also, although they are much darker than Epic.Do you like playing computer-games? Or do you prefer reading books?
I very much enjoy computer games. My favourites tend to be online games, but I can be drawn into spending hours on strategy games. My nephew gets me to play fast moving football and racing games, and I find that these are also terrific fun. But reading is a much more significant activity for me. Even forgetting about the value of reading in communicating knowledge (and I read as much non-fiction as fiction) the impact of reading can be profound. To really empathise with other people, to be inside them, you have to read. No game or film can yet recreate that sensation. Moreover the number of possible universes available to you when you engage with text is infinite. Games are more limited in this regard, allowing you to play only in their own particular universe. Your imagination, which is such an integral part of your personality and your happiness, is far less involved in a game than a book. Fortunately, we don’t have to choose between games or books, but can have both.You are the designer of the first fantasy role playing game. What’s the name of this game?
This question needs to be rephrased a little. I was a designer for the worlds first live fantasy role-playing game. The name of the game was Treasure Trap. It was based at Peckforton Castle in Cheshire, England. People came to the castle, to dress up in fantasy costumes and take part in adventures. I was only 19 at the time but I was lucky enough to have been recruited to the venture from a nearby town, Chester, when the organisers visited the local games club. My time at Treasure Trap was enormous fun, and while I made a modest contribution to the development of the rules, my main job was that of designing adventures. My planning involved having to make the best use of luminous costumes for skeletons, giant polystyrene boulders, explosions, smoke, and all the other effects, as well as the placement of monsters and characters played by staff or volunteers. Sadly Treasure Trap was ahead of its time and despite attracting very loyal members, it was not a financial success. The rules we developed there have evolved though and survive in modern Live Action Role Playing (LARP) groups.You teach medieval history at Trinity College Dublin. What do your colleagues say to your book?
My colleagues have been tremendously supportive of Epic. It's strange to have such scholars, with their precise attention to historical sources, express enthusiastic praise for a work of the imagination. But I think even the most rigorous historian appreciates time off from research and not only have my colleagues enjoyed the book but so too have their children or relatives. As a whole the Department is happy with the success of Epic and the fact that it is winning awards and critical praise internationally. You never know, perhaps prospective students are more aware of the Department of Medieval History in Trinity College because of the book, even though it really has no bearing on the subjects I teach.Do you have children?
I do not. I do, however, have a nephew, also called Conor and a niece, Juno. At the time of writing this answer they are 7 and 4. I’ve written several stories for them, although Epic, of course, is for older children. Conor has passed the stage where I need to hold back in games to make them fair, and for most racing or football games it is me who now needs extra assistance. With regard to games, Juno has shown a great aptitude for draughts. Soon I shall try to teach her chess. It's about time the world chess champion was female!