There are two persistent and coexistent metaphors for the Internet: the cloud and the cave. The cloud represents precognition; the cave represents discovery. The cloud possibly originated with J.C.R. Licklider’s 1963 conception of the Intergalactic Network, but the cave dominated the 90’s: the Internet was an uncharted space navigated by contiguous links and lit by the glowing text of other users.
This is the color of grass in The Realm (Sierra On-Line, 1996) an online game I played as a teenager from 1998 to 2001. The Realm was a graphical adaptation of text-only games known as Multi-User Dungeons, which populated the early Internet beginning with Colossal Cave Adventure in 1975.
The Realm was a cave game, but gameplay also happened in forests and towns. Clicking on grass made crunchy footsteps, and this sound represented what my teen‐self saw as phony materialism. Like other games, it was social media: there were private messages and popularity contests tied to digital representations of self. This was a corruption of imagination, and I resented that players had voluntarily reproduced the familiar instead of something new. I felt motivated to challenge the community’s belief in its own structure: I discovered ways to make the game crash, ways to provoke battles, and ways to disrupt the economy. I was banned.
Allen Riley is an artist and teacher. He holds a MFA in Electronic Integrated Arts from the New York State College of Ceramics and designs hands­ on art and technology workshops for kids at Beam Center in Brooklyn, NY.