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The Esoteric Beat: Virtual Spaces, MMO Viruses, Thompson Unbound

Welcome to 'The Esoteric Beat', the news report that provides new and unusual ways to think about games and culture. This week's column looks at virtual spaces, MMO virus...
Welcome to 'The Esoteric Beat', the news report that provides new and unusual ways to think about games and culture. This week's column looks at virtual spaces, MMO viruses, and Jack Thompson's dark places. - First up this week, we have a competition for the design of virtual spaces, in an event related to the New York-based State of Play 'virtual world' conference. The MMORPG Public Space Design Competition asks entrants to design an example of "public, democratic or civic architecture" for use in an MMO. Applicants need only send digital film and pictures of their virtual space, along with an explanation of how their space serves the (virtual) public good, to win a trip to the conference and a $500 prize. There are plenty of architects and level designers out there who are designing incredible virtual spaces, so this competition (which ends September 28th) celebrates their abilities, while at the same time acknowledging the need for public forums in online worlds. - Next up, the story of the week gives thousands of gamers a good reason to avoid any public spaces in one virtual world, thanks to an apparently accidental 'plague' in PC MMO World of WarCraft. A recently added high-level debuff effect (which is able to jump back and forth between players) has spread across many WoW servers, acting as a kind of inadvertant (and hugely annoying) epidemic in the lands of Azeroth. Lower level players are quickly killed, while higher level players spread the plague as they return from questing to the densely populated town and city areas. After some speculation that it was a hoax, or even a 'world event' designed by Blizzard themselves, word of a hotfix patch seems to indicate that it really is an emergent problem, with miscalculated feature implementations spreading digital diseases in a virtual world. This videogame thing - it only ever gets weirder... - Finally, in biting back at the media news this week, Rockstar's PSP title Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories seems to be going in for a little satirizing of anti-game lawyer Jack Thompson, according to messages found on the game's preview website. The site contains spoof emails from a lawyer named 'JT', which caricature Thompson's own vociferous attacks on GTA and many other violent video games, as part of the Citizens United Negating Technology network, whose acronym is also apparently some kind of joke. As the mysterious 'JT' suggests of the Internet on the Rockstar-hosted site: "It's getting mankind in a hideous and vice-like grip and before you know it, our lives, which were once perfect, will be reduced to nothing but cyber sex and learning things we have no business knowing, like the fact the government lies, or you can safely go on vacation outside the old 48 contiguous. It's revolting, and we're all suffering." Thompson himself has responded to Rockstar's satire with lightning-fast wit, commenting: "Jack Thompson can assure the world that the only thing to which he is "addicted" is eating entertainment industry scofflaws for breakfast." And that, folks, is entertainment. [Jim Rossignol is a freelance journalist based in the UK – his game journalism has appeared in PC Gamer UK, Edge and The London Times. Simon Carless also contributed to this report.]

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