Hi everyone, it’s Matt from the Ailuros design team here. Today, I wanted to talk a little about my role in the current process. In other words, the creative side.
Now, if you’ve ever looked at the bits of art I’ve put out online, you’ll know that I’m probably best described as ‘average’ when it comes to drawing. What I do have a lot of experience in though is writing. I have multiple novels available, I’m in a bunch of anthologies, and I run a pop culture blog. On top of that, I’ve worked freelance on a number of writing projects, writing everything from corporate e-mails and instructions manuals to scripts for radio ads and shows.
If you’ve paid attention to the mini-guide on this site – that’s another of my pieces, by the way – you’ll know that the Alleviation Sim you use at the end of each Neg-Vac cycle is populated by you. That naturally leads to an important question: “If the world is populated by the mind of the user, and the conversations and events that take place are also controlled in this way, what exactly does a writer do on the project?”
Well, there is actually still a role for me. First of all, the original title of the project was a string of numbers. The term ‘Ailuros Project’ didn’t come from me directly, but I did, sort of, cause it. You see, the key to making these Sims work is a combination of consistency and freedom of expression. That sound strange given the Neg-Vacs suppress emotions that could, in some ways, be linked to expressing yourself, doesn’t it? That’s the point though; we don’t stop you from expressing yourself entirely, we just lower the likelihood of a negative emotion causing an even more negative behaviour. When it comes to letting those more dangerous emotional responses out, we needed a setting that would allow you to do whatever your brain felt like it needed to.
What you need to understand is that this system is designed to act as a preventative for a lot of base responses to things. If you reduce them down to their core terms, it actually sounds far more controlling than it is. In particular, early interviews with research groups expressed concerns about the Government wanting to reduce things like sex and aggression. Of course, reducing it to this level of simplicity makes it all sound wrong. Look at it like this: Neg-Vacs stop you attacking someone due to an overreaction caused by anger that had already built up. They don’t stop you from taking part in combat sports or defending yourself if attacked. Neg-Vacs stop you from cheating on a partner as a snap reaction to feeling jealousy about how they interact with a friend. They don’t stop you from enjoying intimacy with a consenting adult.
When it came to creating an environment that you could release these suppressed emotional responses without the chance of breaking laws (both ministerially sanctioned and moral), we needed to meet two criteria. The first was for the setting to be the same for all those using the system, and the second was for it to be one conducive to releasing the emotions.
When the planning began, I suggested that a degree of fantasy needed to be present too. Something familiar enough for our brains to recognise it, but far enough removed from daily life to allow the brain to see it as fictional, and so feel free to let things out uninhibited. What we came up with was a micro-gravity holiday resort. We all know space exists, and most of us will have seen footage from rocket launches or the International Space Station. We also all know about wild holiday destinations. The microgravity aspect is what makes the brain identify it as ‘unreal’, as this is the part we are less familiar with.
How the setting plays out will vary, depending on the person. It could be teeming with life, it could be derelict. Using the examples above, the people you meet there could be violent, or representations of pure temptation. The main thing is that the physical setting will always be the same. The reason for that is it gives the AI far less work to do in reading and creating an entirely new world with each Alleviation Sim. You could think of it as we supply the box, but you fill it.
When it came to naming the virtual destination, we toyed with a few different ideas. Originally, we’d settled on Bast, a shortened version of Bastet. The logic behind this was that the cat-headed figure was the Egyptian goddess of fertility, arts, children, fertility, music, and warfare. All of this made sense both in terms of what you could do in the setting, and what sort of activities the system is designed to stop you from enacting in the real world. Bastet was also the goddess of protection, which ties in with the overall goal of the project. Somewhere down the line, one of the project heads decided to change the name to Ailuros. This was the Greek name for Bastet. Honestly, I forget his reasoning. I think he just preferred Greek deities to Egyptian ones. To be fair, it does sound more like a place name than Bast to me, so it kinda makes sense.