Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Atwood Ville: Margaret Atwood Turns to an Internet Game Called Frontier Ville to Describe Our Disintegrating Relationship with Nature and What the Greenbelt Movement Can Do to Improve It

Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Atwood Ville: Margaret Atwood Turns to an Internet Game Called Frontier Ville to Describe Our Disintegrating Relationship with Nature and What the Greenbelt Movement Can Do to Improve It

Article excerpt

AS I SEE IT, the greenbelt effort, an antithesis to the 1970 Joni Mitchell song line, "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot," is connected to something we call sustain ability. By sustain ability, I mean-in the short term-the ability to keep on doing what we have been doing without having everything fall apart completely, and-in the long term-maintaining the viability of human beings as a mid-sized but unusual mammalian species.

In other words, how much nature does human nature require in order to keep breathing-and what sort of nature? Now that we can rearrange the Earth in major ways, this is one of the most pressing issues of our time. Indeed it may be the most pressing one. If we don't get this equation right, we may be looking down a dark and ever-narrowing tunnel, with human oblivion at the far end.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Things were once more cheerful. On the Internet-that latest version of the smoke signal, the talking drum, the telephone and the newspaper-you can find a Wiki game called Frontier Ville. Most games of this kind on the internet mimic things we believe we'd like to do, and many are exercises in nostalgia and/or wishful thinking-two things we human beings seem to particularly crave. Frontier Ville is no exception.

In this game, you pretend to be a "pioneer," and are given a plot of land called a "homestead," which is covered with something called "debris." The forms of debris are six in number: grass, cacti, rocks, thorns, wildflowers and skulls. The aim of the game is to clear the homestead of this debris in order to build buildings; care for domestic animals, such as chickens, cows and so forth; plant trees and crops; and "place decorations." I don't see why you can't just leave the skulls around for the decorations-they're picturesque-but that's not. One of the rules of this game.

One of the decorations is a whiskey still, which I hope is functional rather than merely decorative-a pioneer's life is a hard one, what with all the debris, which just keeps piling up, and a good stiff drink at the end of the day might be in order. You can also acquire a "spouse" and a "kid;" buy things at the "market" using pretend money; visit your neighbours and help them with their own buildings, debris-clearing and decoration-placing; and then together you can build a town. And put up, presumably, a parking lot.

Oh, and you also get to kill a class of animals called "varmints." However, it is not called "killing" in this game; it is called "clobbering." The varmints are bear, groundhog, snake, fox and coyote. And lest you think I'm going to go mushy over this-no, I wouldn't want those varmints on my homestead either, messing up my crops and decorations, and yes, I have done a fair whack of potato-beetle clobbering in my time.

In my Frontier Ville, you'd eat the varmints too, removing their scent glands first. But never mind, this is a cleaned-up version-constructing buildings in which you and your spouse and kid can live, adding decorations and hooking up with other pioneers to build towns and extend the human domain.

In Frontier Ville, you never go as far as constructing cities, the population never outgrows the carrying capacity of the land, no environmentalists yell at you when you clobber varmints, you don't have a water-shortage problem-you just acquire a decorative fountain. Several esthetically pleasing models are available at the market, all with great-tasting water.

But in real life, things are a bit different.

In fact, in real life, Frontier Ville just kept growing. It became Town Ville and Agribusiness Ville and Commuter Ville and Urban Sprawl Ville and Big Box Mega Mall Ville, and along with this growth came varmints of a different kind: Water Pollution Varmint, Air Pollution Varmint, Pesticide Side Effects Varmint, Cancer-Ville, Worries About Good Food Ville, and Things Going-Wrong With The Kids Ville. …

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