Dream Park- 1981
The Barsoom Project- 1989
and Dream Park:The Voodoo Game 1991.
By Larry Niven and Steven Barnes.
Back in 1981 a brilliant book appeared. Dream Park was set decades into the future (the 2050s) when technology had enabled the creation of real-life role-playing games. It was a wish-fulfillment epic, because back then we were playing D&D on a table, rolling dice, and talking scenarios, and Dream Park took everything we’d ever wanted in this field and offered us a reality. In one way we now have that via computers and virtual reality on-line. But in another way we still don’t. Dream Park was physical. You went there, and in an enormous gaming area, complete with actors, holograms, stage settings, with a Lore Master, huge computer input, and companions, you live out an adventure in physical reality that was augmented by all the other things. In effect it was reality. You sweated, learned, shared the adventure and danger, and came back after 1-10 days, physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted and exhilarated by your achievements. It was something many gamers in the book saved all year to do. That few days was the culmination of their year. And I can see why because if there was a real Dream Park and if I had two good legs I’d be saving my heart out. But the book wasn’t just as some others of this type were; a recounting of one of the D&D-type games. It told the story of a number of characters in depth. You liked some, didn’t much like others, and you shared the adventure with them. You understood why they did it, what they got out of it, and you wished with all your heart that a Dream Park really existed. I remember discussion at the time about how long it might take before we could have that reality. Some of us hoped for it in our life-time. But that was over 30 years ago and we aren’t there yet.
More of us hoped there would be a sequel to this book, and at least we had that because after a gap of 8 years the second one arrived in 1989 The Barsoom Project. This was the mix as before. SF, computers, gaming, and murder. In my opinion it wasn’t quite as good, but that still made it a terrific book. However they had the problem that sometimes happens with a series that’s spread out or long-running and where they’ve used a real background. In the original book it was stated that in 1985 there had been a massive quake in California and the damage was described. Problem was the book two was in the same setting, but now published four years after the claimed quake, and whoops, there hadn’t been one, so they upgraded the quake year in book two, to 1995. This book’s background is still in the 2050s, but it was still looking unlikely that in another 60+ years we’d have a real Dream Park.
Dream Park:The Voodoo Game was back to as good as book one. The mix as before, but with the competitive level ramped up with five teams of gamers competing in a dangerous environment, all of them highly experienced and combative. And back of that was one of the gamers with his/her own agenda – industrial espionage. To my delight there were a number of gamer characters back from book one when this third book was published in 1991. The action was fast, the characters convincing, and the background fascinating. The sad thing is that I’m now writing this at the end of 2012. The original book was written in a well-established setting that was 70+ years in the future but with clear indications that Dream park had been in existance already for a couple of decades.. It’s only another 40+ years to go now, and still no indications that we’ll have a Dream Park any day soon. Of course, California can be grateful that they haven’t had that quake either, but in other ways some of the Dream Park scenario has come true. We do have virtual reality in a number of the ways Niven and Barnes described years before they became (virtual) reality. Our computer wizardry and hologram technology is closing in on that of Dream Park. But I wonder, in the next 30-40 years, if a Dream park was established, would the young gamers of that future be interested in the very physical activity that gaming there entails? I think so, because LARPing (Live Action role-playing) is well established in some places, and I also hope, rather wistfully, that I’ll live to see a Dream Park established and gamers competing there. And if that doesn’t happen, at least there were these three books to show me what might have been and what could still be if someone keeps the Dream alive. I recommend all three books and suggest they be read in order although they can be read as standalones. Copies are still out there. Find them and enjoy.