John Suler's The Psychology of Cyberspace
This article dated June 96 (v1.0)
On Being a God
An Interview with
Jim Bumgardner is the creator of the Palace, the graphical chat environment that is one of the most unique community-building software on the internet. I first met Jim up at Nrutas, the room at the Mansion site that looks like the surface of a moon orbiting Saturn. I was hovering up among the stars, while jbum was down on the surface of the moon, apparently whispering to one of the wizards.
"Jbum, the Palace is great. Nice work!" I said.
"So jbum, what's it like walking around inside your own creation?
"Like being God, only worse. I don't get to visit any nuns."
I LOLed. Well, I thought, this jbum certainly has wit and a sense of humor. Later I discovered that Bumgardner is renown for these attributes. He's the kind of guy who shows up at Harry's Bar wearing the name and avatar of the Pope; who is partial to his prop of a 1950s female model wearing a white dress and playing accordion; who, when asked if Palace is a cult, switches his username to "Jbum Jones" and says "Does anyone want some cool-aid?"; who puts on an impressively mystical display of scripts at the Valentines Party, and then tops off this demonstration by turning everyone's avatar into the Three Stooges; who enumerates to the Palace listserv the various possible reasons for lag, ending his list of serious explanations with these items:
your modem sucksAsk anyone and they also will tell you that Jbum is bright and creative. One member, who apparently met him in person, said he is "gorgeous" too. Not a bad combination of attributes. Hoping to find out more, I would scan the list of usernames when I signed on to see if he was around. More often than not, he wasn't there (gods are busy people). A few times, when the userlist did show me that he was present in one of the rooms, I'd pop over to that room only to discover that he was no longer there. I'd check the userlist again, find out what room he had moved to, and then popped over to that room. Again, he was gone. I'd check the list once more, locate his new position, and follow him. Again, gone. Only now the userlist indicated that he had disconnected from the site... A very mercurial guy. Perhaps he was just strolling through and surveying the territory.
your computer sucks
Too much caffeine
I finally decided to e-mail Jim. I told him about my research on the Palace and invited him to participate in an interview to be conducted over the course of a series of e-mail messages. He replied right away, and agreed. I was glad, for I now had the opportunity to find out about the man behind the Palace... to find out what it's like to be a "god."
What follows are excerpts from that e-mail correspondence. I began the interview with what seemed to be a logical place to start:
* * Jim, could you tell me a little about yourself and what led you to designing the Palace? * *I studied music composition at California Institute of the Arts from 1980-84. As far as computers go I'm self taught. I've always been a creative individual and this has occasionally been a problem since in the multimedia community there is often a clear demarcation between "creative" and "technical" people.
I'm going to quote here from a document I wrote about the origins of the Palace. No one else has seen this yet, I've been saving it for such a time when someone asks for an in-depth explanation of the origins of the Palace.
--- begin quote --- Palace Origins
A number of people have asked how the Palace came to be, and I thought I would write about some of the ideas that went into it. There were basically three main influences - text based MUDs, 3D VR systems, and multimedia authoring systems.
Text Based MUDs
In the mid-80s I worked on a personal project called "Mansion". At this timeI had used Compuserve CB, a text-based chatting system, and wanted to create an object-oriented environment for chatting. The mansion would be a collection of rooms that users could wander around in. Each room had different kinds of objects in it - tables, pictures, etc. There was also a provision for creating computer-controlled agents - butlers, bartenders, prostitutes, etc. Here's the beginning of a sample session:
You are standing in front of an ornately carved heavy oak door.
>> knock on the door
The door is opened by the Butler. He says "How may I help you?"
>> say "I would like to come in"
The Butler lets you inside.
You are in a the lobby of the mansion. There are 2 other people waiting here. A cocktail waitress appears and asks if you would like a drink.
>> say "May I have a bourbon on the rocks"
I never completed Mansion, in fact, I barely started it. What happened was that I found that I had to make a fairly sophisticated natural language parser in order for it to work. The system had to be able to understand that a vase could go ON the table, that a picture could go ON the wall, but that a vase couldn't go ON the wall. I found myself spending much more time learning about the intricacies of English grammar, then making a fun multi-user environment. I found that many people in the AI community were banging there heads on the natural language problem, and that it was not an easy nut to crack.
A few years later, when I first came across MUDs and MOOs on the Internet, I realized that others had had the same idea, and had gotten much further along in realizing it. And looking at the command sets for a few different such systems, I realized that much of the engineering still takes the form of processing grammar. Although MUD parsers aren't as sophisticated as I wanted Mansion to be, they still do a great job of creating virtual environments for people to have fun in.
3D VR Systems
In the late 80s, I first read about virtual reality systems in an issue of Scientific American. By the early 90's virtual reality was a buzzword that was heard everywhere, and was already turning up in video arcades, TV and movies.
The few virtual reality systems I tried left me feeling strange and frustrated, however. First of all, the stereo-video headsets don't work very well for me. I have always had a problem fusing stereo images - for example, when I look through a child's Viewmaster toy, I see double images, and it takes a certain amount of effort for me to fuse the images into one. The VR headsets had the added problem of having a too narrow field of view - so it was as if I were looking at a viewmaster through two mailing tubes.
Then there's the movement problem. In most virtual reality systems, you don't actual move your legs and feet to walk (although you may be standing on a treadmill), instead you use a joystick or trigger to move. This is not so much like walking as it is like using a motorized wheelchair. Also, there's often a delay between head movements and image scrolling, due to poor response time which can even induce nausea. So the virtual reality you are experiencing is the reality of a myopic, drunk quadriplegic.
It seemed to me that the designers of virtual reality systems are spending too much effort trying to mimic our reality. These systems require considerable horsepower, not to mention programmer power, in order to work. Yet the most interesting thing about virtual worlds, from my perspective, is not that they are 3D, but that they provide an alternate experience - a different way of interacting with the world, and most importantly - with other people.
It occurred to me that a "2D Virtual Reality" system would allow me to combine some of the best features of a text-based MUD and a 3D VR system. I could concentrate on what, to me, were the interesting facets of a virtual world - interpersonal communication, creation of new spaces & scripting, while still having an environment which was interesting to look at, and easy to use.
I started working on such a system, "The Palace" in September of 94. A basic version was up and running on our macintosh network by early October, and it was immediately clear that other people found it fun and addictive.
In addition to 3D, there were many other aspects of "real reality" that I dispensed with. From the beginning, people didn't have bodies, but were simply heads. The heads weren't realistic representations of human faces, but were abstract "smiley" heads. Around this time I was reading "Understanding Comics" by Scott McCloud, and was influenced by McClouds notion of "masking". I felt that by using a more abstract representation, we would create a higher level of anonymity that would allow people to be more uninhibited and would require them to express themselves via ideas, rather than appearance. The Palace was to be a "great equalizer". The later addition of custom faces basically obliterated this idea, but it was clear that the users were having a good time making new faces and showing them off, so it seemed too good to omit.
In other ways, the Palace borrows heavily from the world of Comics, which are also simplified 2D worlds. For example, most people immediately recognize the difference between a "talk" and a "thought" balloon.
There is no attempt to mimic real world physics in the Palace. As far as I am concerned, Physics basically present obstacles, and I wanted to create a world with few obstacles. There is no gravity, nor is there a real sense of location. You can get from one place to another simply by clicking on the destination - you don't have to "walk" to get from place to another. Early attempts by myself to create "real world constraints", such as limiting a person's movement to the "floor" area of the room, were quickly removed, because they were perceived by myself and the other users as unnecessary obstacles.
There is also no conservation of matter or energy. For example, I can create a Martini out of thin air, and just as easily make 10 or 20 copies of it. There is no penalty for doing this. There is no money either, or any attempt to create a monetary system of checks and balances. If such a system develops, it will have to be at the users own initiative, and not due to any attempt to engineer it into the software.
Multimedia Authoring Systems
There is one other important influence on the Palace, and that's "Idaho". Idaho was a multimedia authoring system I designed for my employer, Time Warner Interactive (then Warner New Media) in 1991. Idaho was superficially similar to Apple's HyperCard (it was originally called Hyper-Spud), but was geared towards churning out the multimedia CD-ROMS we were making at the time (Desert Storm, 7 Days in August, How Computers Work and others).
From the beginning, the Palace had an authoring component built in to it. I wanted the users to be able to extend it - to create entirely new environments using the Palace software for the basic architecture. The easiest way to accomplish this was to include much of the code and ideas from "Idaho". The basic notion of the world being a collection of screens (now "rooms") with buttons (now "doors") comes from Idaho, and indirectly from Hypercard. Another feature borrowed from Idaho is the iptScrae scripting language, a relatively recent addition to Idaho that is still being used to author Interactive Television applications.
One of the most novel things about the Palace, from a software architecture point of view is how the scripts are executed. The Palace, like a MUD or MOO, is based on client/server technology. Unlike a MUD or MOO all the scripts are executed by the clients, not the server. The server actually does very little work, other than directing traffic. The division of labor is heavily weighted towards the clients, allowing the servers to run on relatively low-powered PCs.
The servers are designed to be linked together, creating a large distributed web of connected spaces, similar to the world wide web. Unlike the web, all these spaces can support direct interactivity with the other people who are in the same space. The Palace isn't meant to replace the web, however, but to compliment it. You can put web links into your Palace world, and you can create links to palaces on the web.
--- end quote ---
As a budding computer and internet geek, I was fascinated to hear this technical explanation of the origins of Palace. As an interminable psychologist, I also wanted to hear about the underlying psychological forces that had shaped its development. Jbum addressed this in his reply to my next question:
* * When you first started designing the Palace environment, what vision was guiding you? In other words, what impact did you want the environment to have on the individual user, on how people would interact with each other, and on the kind of "community" that would evolve there? * *I wanted the Palace to be extremely easy to use, and mildly subversive in content. It is my belief that people like the feeling that they are "getting away" with something. Initially I thought the Palace would be used in office networks (not on the Internet) and I thought we could distribute it to offices by sending disks to the lowest level employees that had computers - secretaries, for example. I wanted to create the feeling that here was something to do that was extremely simple and fun, and perhaps a little bit naughty. It was my hope that the Palace would get banned at one or more large corporations, thus putting the stamp of approval on its "fun-ness" and generating some press.
I assumed from the beginning that people would play games on it, and that a large part of the activity would be sexual in nature. Although it was apparent that kids liked using it, the original Palace was definitely intended as a product for adults, with perhaps a kids-only spinoff down the road.
I believed that a cultish Palace community would arise - that since the software is highly addictive - a lot of people would spend a lot of time there and develop their own grammars - their own slang - both text based and visual (and this has happened more or less - as time goes by it gets more complex).
* * Do you think social norms have evolved about what behavior is TOO naughty or subversive? Has it been necessary to develop restrictions on inappropriate behavior? (and how do you think the telecommunications bill will affect behavior at the Palace?). * *Well, this is semantic in nature - but I don't think you can be too naughty. You can be too obnoxious and/or hateful. There are clearcut cases where we kick people off the server. Saying "suck my dick" to a crowded room 5 or 6 times will certainly get you kicked. So will sitting on top of someone's face and refusing to get off. As far as SANCTIONS go - yeah, the security features (`ban `gag and `pin) have evolved since the palace opened.
Where it gets interesting are the borderline situations and there are many of those. We tend to ask people to remove naked breasts and other nude props, but at the moment we're seeing a lot of partially clad props which are probably sexier for what is not shown... I can't pretend that society's ideas of what is proper and improper make any sense at all, but when a prop is clearly inappropriate for the palace, I usually know it.... (in a more recent e-mail Jim said) I would add at this later date that I've since learned (relearned?) that *everyone* feels certain they know what constitutes inappropriate behavior, and they all disagree. This has been one of the main sources of disputes among wizards. Personally I tend to err on the side of leniency.
I think it'll be some time before anyone gets around to prosecuting us using the telecommuncations bill as a weapon - there are bigger fish out there - and since the bill is largely unenforceable, I'm hoping those early cases will make it even harder to prosecute us. We'll see.
* * Let's suppose that you heard through the grapevine that a group of skinheads were meeting in private at the Palace, and there were some vague reports about them discussing explosives. Would you investigate or intervene somehow? * *I'd probably kick 'em off, but I probably wouldn't report them. Although I'm a big believer in federally protected free speech, the principle simply doesn't apply in "my house". I'm assuming you mean that the skinheads were using the main server, and this is the equivalent of folks coming into my restaurant and peeing on the carpet. If they used their own server, I wouldn't intervene (and probably wouldn't know any).
I was reading an article in the LA Times yesterday about the differences between German and American views of censorship (in regard to the recent Compuserve controversy regarding censored Usenet newsgroups).
The article basically stated that both the Germans and the Americans feel that theirs is the more open society, the German's pointing to the fundamental Christian groups in the US (and freer sexual expression in Germany), and the American's pointing to the German Govt. Censorship of hate speech in Germany, which the German's willingly submit to.
I can understand both sides, however, as far as the main Palace server goes, I'm tending to side with the Germans. All the abstract notion of "free speech" for everybody is a nice ideal, but I can understand the motivation of the German government for censoring hate speech. Civil Rights activists have a tendency to say "today you censor hate speech, tomorrow you censor homosexuals and atheists" - well I think this is a bit absurd. I think one can probably draw a line between the expression of ideas which are violent and harmful to others, and ones which aren't, and the ideas in the first category are destructive and harmful to society - that is they ultimately lead to physical harm and murder. You can't make a case for religion or sexual orientation leading to the same.
* * One of the subcultures at the Palace is a D&S lesbian group. What if a rumor started to spread around the net that the Palace was mostly a hangout for these people. Would you intervene, and what are your thoughts about this subgroup? * *More power to 'em. Yes, I am aware that there are a lot of lesbians on the Palace. If rumors spread would it bother me? Hell no. I'd take it as a badge of honor (just as the current influx of lesbians pleases me). I'd advertise it. Interestingly Microsoft's competing "V-Chat" has, in their press releases promoted a 3rd party Gay/Lesbian server (Planet Out), and since then a few Gay/Lesbian palace servers have appeared, and I've taken to joking around the office "More gay than Microsoft".
* * You seem to have a very patient, almost "hands off" approach to letting Palace move in the direction it will inevitably move. But do you ever feel you need to intervene and structure it's development? * *I was talking about this to someone the other day - we were comparing Compuserve's Worlds Away to the Palace. Randy Farmer and Chip Morningstar, who worked on Habitat/Worlds Away took a much more hands on approach to the economic and social structures of their world. In my opinion they went too far (see their white papers which describe the results at www.communities.com) and that has influenced my decision to not build those kinds of features in (a monetary system for example, is not built in to the Palace). Randy discovered that the unit of money they created quickly became worthless, and a "true" monetary system evolved in it's place. None of us are qualified to be Alan Greenspan (not even Alan Greenspan!).
Randy is now an honarary wizard at the Palace. Some of the other wizards, including Randy, are more structure-oriented than I am. They tend to push for new features and procedures like:
1) Established voting procedures
2) Rules of Order
3) Specific punishments for crimes
etc.Most of the folks I've talked to are happy that the Palace doesn't have this kind of stuff. I *do* agree with Randy that as the Palace evolves, it will eventually need more of this kind of stuff, but I'm not as anxious to add it and am trying hard to resist it.
As I said the other day, "You include just enough reality (but no more) to give People a handle so they can understand what's going on, after that let them take it from there." A lot of the physics and social modeling (e.g. "ownership" of stuff) that people are building into other virtual worlds are unnecessary. Just because I must travel thru Point B to get from Point A to Point C in real life doesn't mean I should have to do so in a virtual world. After all, I'm going there to *escape* reality, not to reexperience it.
* * Do you think the decision NOT to structure/direct the evolution of Palace is still an act of omission that affects its evolution? * *Probably - but I feel I have no choice. I think the efforts of those who are more "hands on" is ultimately futile, and therefore, by taking that approach, they are much more likely to fuck things up, or at least introduce a hell of a lot red tape. I'm reminded of a comment by P.J. O'Roarke about how the Government should just "stick a fork in it - it's done", rather than keep adding new laws, in an attempt to fix the old ones.
* * How are decisions made about changes in the software and social policy? * *There are different answers for software vs. social policy.
Decisions about changes in the software are made by myself and other members of the Palace group (Me, Mark Jeffrey and Eddie Rohwedder - the windows programmer). Most changes are made by Eddie and I, with Eddie concentrating on the Windows client while I concentrate on the Mac Client and the Unix Server. There is a body of code shared by all three platforms (Mac, Unix and Windows) which was written and is maintained by myself.
Many socially-related features (e.g. security stuff & wizard stuff) is implemented on the server, which I control. Often changes are made which are instigated by user requests, although more often I tend to view user requests as "symptoms" of an underlying problem which needs to be fixed - I very rarely take them at face value. This is something a good software engineer learns to do with time.
As far as social policy goes, things are more murky. Unlike the software features, there isn't really any established social policy. The closest thing we have is the Wizards Manual - a document I wrote a couple months ago when the number of wizards grew large enough that disagreements about how to deal with specific situations became more common.
* * Where do you think the Palace is heading as a community? * *This is one of those questions that requires a novel in response. I guess that's my way of saying I don't have an immediate answer I can tick off, I have to spend some time thinking about it :). Let's see... (deep think).
I can't give you a specific answer, but can give you some specific trends I've noticed. For one thing, I've noticed a new clique forming in the chess room, of a group of women, and a few men who seem to hang out together. The wizards form another clique of course, and I'm sure there are more in existence that I'm not aware of. I assume the number of cliques is a proportional to the average number of concurrent users, which is rising. Most of these cliques seem to be centered around 1-3 key individuals. So some trends I'm seeing:
--> More cliques
--> More politics
--> More complexity (features)
--> More complexity (rules of etiquette)
--> More stratification of castes (guests-members-wizards-gods). For example, there are some users who I would place somewhere between a member and a wizard on the social scale.
At this point in our correspondence, we talked about whether the Palace was a true "community," (we agreed it was), what kind of community it is, and the role of wizards. The discussion became quite intellectual at times, which I enjoyed. At one point Bumgardner even took out a dictionary to look up the meanings of "community." I'll save these ideas for other articles rather than describe them here. As a result of these discussions, I was very impressed with the thoughtfulness and insight Bumgardner applies to both the technical and social aspects of Palace.
* * I think it's great that you're thinking about all these issues. Does it sometimes feel like a big responsibility? * *The social issues don't feel like a big responsibility to me as compared to the software engineering issues which do. Part of this I think is that I expect myself to perform my programming tasks with a certain degree of perfection and in a timely manner, whereas the social stuff, I assume right up front that I'm as clueless as anybody else in this manner and that to a certain degree, we're all gonna be buffeted like a canoe by the currents of social forces at work which are to some degree beyond our control. So on the social side, I'm just enjoying the ride, and doing what I can here and there to direct the canoe, but I don't feel the degree of responsibility that I do on the engineering side. At the end of the paragraph that ends "I don't feel the degree of responsibility that I do on the engineering side." (trying to correct a possible miscommunication here) This doesn't mean that I feel that the social issues are less important. They are paramount! I just don't kick myself so hard if I screw up in the social arena because these people issues are tough! The tougher it gets - the more likely I am to take a hands off approach. I suppose that's one possible explanation for why God doesn't interfere as much as he did in the Old Testament: "Damn these humans are gnarley little things! I'm gonna do some crossword puzzles for a while..."
In a later message he had this to say about working with the wizards, which seems to be one of the more challenging social tasks he faces within the world of Palace:
I recently had a phone conversation with one of the gods at another fairly active site, and it was interesting. It turns out we both had some of the same experiences and we spent some time commiserating with each other (about the bickering amongst our respective wizards), which was a novelty. It made me realize that my problems are not necessarily unique.
We both seem to be experiencing divisiveness amongst our wizards in which they are splitting into two polar camps, which I call the "bleeding hearts" and the "Nazis". The "Nazis" are in favor of tighter controls on abusive members (and favor outright permanent bans on one or two of them) and the "bleeding hearts" are in favor of being less controlling. Mirroring this is the feedback from the members, some of whom say the wizards don't do enough, and others who say the wizards do too much.
Towards the end of our correspondence, I wanted to return to one of the issues that initially sparked my interest in doing this interview. What is it like being a "god" who creates a virtual world? How does it feel to walk around in that world? How do the other inhabitants react to your incarnation there? As a psychologist, I knew that people often have "transference" reactions to authority figures. They may idealize and worship them, attempt to get their acceptance and praise, try to emulate them, fear them, or feel jealous, competitive, and rebellious - all reactions that may make the authority figure feel a bit misunderstood or "set apart." Would these kinds of reactions also exist in a virtual reality where your mind can mingle with the presence of the "creator?" And what's it like being on the receiving end of those reactions?
* * I once asked you up at Nrutas, "Jbum, what's it like walking around in your own creation," and you said, "Like being God, only worse. I don't get to visit any nuns." It was a funny comment. It MUST feel something like being a god, which must be a very strange and fascinating experience. And I guess it must be a little bit......(what word should I use?)....... frustrating or LONELY for you? I'm sure members and guests are projecting all sorts of feelings and thoughts onto you - admiring you, testing you, asking things of you. Do you feel like you are able to just "be yourself" at the Palace? * *Well, I think it's probably similar to what celebrities experience (in a much smaller way, since my level of celebrity is proportionally smaller). As of late, I've been noticing that people tend to always laugh at my jokes, even when they're not all that funny. I'd like to think of myself as a funny person, but I can't help but think that people are filtering what I'm saying thru a "jim" filter and therefore reacting more positively to it than they might from others. I've said some things which are quite rude, that folks laugh at, which coming from a Guest might get a rebuke.
All the things you describe the members doing towards me I've noticed to some degree or another, and again, I think it's similar to the phenomenon of celebrity.
Often folks are very genuflective when seeking my advice. "Jim I know you're terribly busy, but I've been waiting for days to ask you this teensy weensy question". Another phenomenon is folks getting angry because they think I'm ignoring them (I'm not, I'm just not noticing them because my attentions are elsewhere).
I also feel I can't trust strangers. I get a lot of praise all the time, which is good for my ego of course, but I've always been a very self-confident person, so it's not like I need a lot of that. Often, compliments and praise from a stranger are a prelude to asking for a favor, typically "Can I be a wizard?".
So, "FRUSTRATING" yes.
"LONELY", I'd have to say no. The reason is that in real life I'm pretty much a very insular person with few (no?) close friends, so comparatively, my social life on the Palace has a lot more going on. So, in general, the Palace has made me feel less lonely, my wife has said similar things - as a couple we don't have many friends in real life, so to a certain extant, our social life *is* the Palace these days.
I think in some ways I can be *more* myself on the palace than in real life. I think I tend to come off as a bit more intelligent and witty on the Palace, and in reality I *am* indeed more intelligent and witty, but my physical appearance (long hair, beard, sloppily dressed) tends to put some people off. I often use props as a form of visual free association on the Palace which is kind of cool. So if the intent of the question is to say "do you feel you can't relax and just let your hair down and be yourself?" I'd have to say no, I can definitely do that (consider "accordion lady").
However, there are times when the needs and politics of the members prevent me from just being another palace citizen and having fun. Last weekend on a Saturday Night at 3:00 AM one person started asking tech support questions, and then the other folks in the room figured out that I had some answers and suddenly I had 3 pending questions in the air at the same time. I finally said "Look - these pc technical issues are *real* interesting, but it's 3:30 AM my time and I'm wondering if we could perhaps talk about something non palace-related, like pork rinds?" Everyone laughed and was glad to oblige.
I do get tired of folks always wanting to talk about the Palace itself. I'd rather use the Palace as a medium for talking about other stuff. I'm probably being a bit hypocritical here because I *do* spend an awful lot of time (on and off the Palace) talking about the Palace, but sometimes I need a break.
One other thing - you seem to be fascinated by the God & his creation concept, and certainly its a fun one to kick around, and people do tend to play with it on the Palace as well. But what if I hadn't called the system operator "God" - what if it were called the "Sysop"? The net-celeb issues would still be there, but the role wouldn't carry as much symbolic weight, I suspect.
I also wanted to mention a bit about my personal feelings about my small-scale palace celebrityhood. When I was a child and a teenager, my main goal in life was to achieve celebrity. At that time, I wanted to be a rock star. I played piano (still do) and wrote songs, and spent a lot of time fantasizing about performing my songs in Madison Square Garden or Television.
After high school, I went to California Institute of the Arts to study music. I was there 4 years. When I left CalArts, my desire to do music was much diminished, and I was already a budding programmer. I had found that my creative and intellectual impulses were more greatly satisfied by computers than music. As I used to tell people, "I can write a program to write a song. I can also write a program to design a building. But I can't write a song that will design a building". So I considered computer programming to be a *superset* of music composition. And as far as my desire for fame went,I had grown up a bit, and realized that my personal happiness and satisfaction (to be achieved thru creative activity) were the most important things, and if any fame or celebrity were to eventually come, that would be icing on the cake.
Musically, I had also discovered that even the remotest attempt to make a living musically (I had played piano bar a few times) resulted in attempts by others to significantly modify your creative output. Even my own father, when I played some of my music for him once, suggested that I play more stuff that "people want to hear". In other words, musically, I've always felt more strongly that it's bad to "prostitute" myself, so by staying out of the music business, and I've been able to write for myself without diluting or modifying my songs for anybody else.
On the computer side, this has not been a problem for me. I came to programming as a young adult (I started playing music as a child), and have invested less emotional weight in it, so I'm more willing to write programs on request if need be, and I've found the varied kinds of things I've written programs for to be an education in itself.
Anyway, now this thing has come full circle in a way, because, in the Palace, the fruits of my labors are beginning to pay off. As someone who delights in the act of creation - in programming as a creative activity, I have created this world, and there are lot of interesting resonances with my emotional needs to create and have my creations appreciated by others. This is, needless to say, very pleasing for me.
Everyone who operates their own server has the opportunity to be God of a world of their own creation - and that's a great gift I can give to others. But for me personally, it will always be extra meaningful, carry extra weight because I designed and programmed the whole system. To use the God analogy, not only did I indirectly create the trees and the rocks, but I also created physics and determined the digits of the number PI. And similarly, I suppose,the *real* God, if there is one, is getting even deeper satisfaction at having allowed for the creation of all these lesser gods.
That should give you something to chew on, eh?