Originally written by qDot for mmorgy.com

My head is not a nice place sometimes.

Sure, I come up with neat things like hooking video games to sex toys, and exercise bikes that play games. But then there's shit like this that comes up, and I really start to wonder about myself.

This time around, it's Teledildonic Conception.

So, join me and the bottle of wine that I'll be taking pulls off of frequently throughout writing this, and together let's explore one of the most deeply emotionally impacting, gut-wrenching (at least, for me) MMO game design ideas I've come up with in my stint as whatever the hell it is I am these days..

The Concept

As Isabelle already talked about, people are not only interested in, but are actively involved in making pregnancy and the birth process happen in virtual worlds. However, there's a lot of storkage in that process. Sure, the happy couple may bump polys and then send a notecard off to the "Doctor" that they've become pregnant, but really, where's the love? There's a ton of suspension of disbelief happening there, especially when you come out of the process with a baby that looks something like this.

So, what can we do to make this process a little more real? Well, let's take our happy couple, John and Jane VirtuDoe, and their experience with BabyCorp, the ficticious leading company in virtual conception. Everything I state here currently exists in some form, which is why some of it will sound a bit less lackluster than it could if I decided to go all Neal Stephenson on it. This isn't about Sci-fi, this is about the fact that this could happen right now.

  1. John and Jane decide they want to have a baby in their virtual world relationship. They contact BabyCorp.
  2. BabyCorp requests that each of the parent-cusomters send in a real picture of their faces. After this, the more the couple spends, the more they can customize, otherwise it's left to "nature" (Nature being the name of BabyCorp's server farm).
  3. As part of the package, the couple is sent the BabyCorp hardware/software package, consisting of male and female teledildonics equipment. In this context, female teledildonics equipment refers to a vibrator that is controlled by internet communications, while male teledildonics equipment refers to a manual use penetration device, in this case, similar to the Interactive Fleshlight. This device can relay rate and depth of penetration using pressure sensors.
  4. The couple copulates, using the BabyCorp package. The software relays the depth of the male stroking, which controls the speed of the woman's vibrator. For sake of argument, lets say the vibrator also contains a pump, fluid storage unit, and heater. At the time of the John's orgasm, the pump goes to work in Jane's side.
  5. Over at BabyCorp, the servers pick up that conception has happened, and Nature goes to work. Combining the pictures sent in by the couple, along with aging algorithms and a few mutations thrown in for good measure, the baby's facial textures are formed.
  6. After the gestation time selected by the couple (Once again, depth of immersion in gestation time (ultrasound, virtual la maze classes, etc...) is figured by parental monetary investment), a bouncing virtual baby is born, possibly with mom's nose, or dad's eyes.

So, John and Jane have their child to raise. Of course, aging textures are built into the baby, meaning that the face will age properly as the child grows. This is where our concern about the process, at least in this article, ends.

It's also where the questions begin.

A Personal Investment

What the process above adds to the current virtual baby creation market is the idea of personal investment. In virtual worlds at the moment, babies are as abstract as the characters. There's no biological/chemical links between you and your pixel kid, you just pressed some buttons, possibly wrote an email, and there it was.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I've perfected some sort of sperm or DNA remote transfer protocol, either. There's no biology in the solution I just gave. However, we've just made the jump from Pole Position at the arcade to Forza Motorsport in a full surround sound environment with a really nice steering wheel. It may not be real, but instead of just typing and holding on to suspension of disbelief, we've added two things that will catch even the most mentally balanced of people: the event of physical reproduction and facial recognition.

First off, let's look at the event of physical reproduction. Here comes that term that I love to use so much even though I have no place doing it... BRAIN CHEMISTRY!

Your brain makes up your reality. Emphasis on that second "your". Just 'cause your brain thinks that the stack of waffles on the front of the Village Inn menu is leaking syrup all over the table doesn't mean it actually IS (I can feel every person who's ever done acid and then gone to a Denny/IHOP/Village Inn/etc... nodding sagely with me here). Fuck with your brain enough though, and things can easily become real to you.

Technically, that's what we're doing with the teledildonics part of this. He's really thrusting. She's really feeling the effects. He's really coming, and she's at least feeling inseminated. At the end of this process, they are very aware that they have made a baby, because that was the guarentee that came with the package. They have engaged in the biological act of reproduction, remotely, with each other, and since they're already buying a virtual baby, there's no telling what either of the user's state of mind is. They could be realizing that this is all fake, but it takes a MUCH higher level of cognisance to deal with the fact that the fakeness just made you orgasm, versus the old days of the fakeness having you fill out a form and then manually stimulate yourself while watching your avatar crudely bump into the other's avatar.

Then, there's facial recognition for parent to virtual child. When you look at the picture I posted above, well, I'm not really aware of anyone that looks a lot like that. However, if you look at a avatar that's been textured with a lgorithmically generated image having your face as a base, then you're going to be able to pick out things about you in it, somewhere. This will lead to a whole new feeling of ownership, because unlike your light saber or your teacup car or whatever other crazy shit is in your inventory, part of this will really be YOU.

One could question why the user couldn't just do this themselves in photoshop. Really, they could, but it wouldn't be the same. You don't get to send your kid back 'cause his nose didn't turn out right. Having BabyCorp use Nature (the servers) randomize the generation means that it feels like a real conception, like they let nature (the nebulous idea) take its own course.

Now, to take a quick tangent into the "Boy wouldn't it be cool" world, assuming you're in a world that allows webcam support, you could, technically, have the baby recognize the face of its owner, possibly their emotions.

-- Sounds weird, don't it? Even being caught up in these terms shows you how powerful this idea is. Remember, we're talking a virtual baby here, this is not a parent<->organic being relationship, this is a code on a server somewhere<->customer relationship. Not an easy thing to abstract. --

Anyways, this means that if the user leaves the computer for too long, their image will not show up on the webcam, and the server triggers the baby's crying event. If you thought Everquest was bad for addictions, just think: it didn't cry for you when you left.

The Company's Investment

What about BabyCorp, though? What's their business plan?

Let's say they want to stay specially a baby maker. No deal with baby furniture or raising issues or anything else, they just make babies, ship them out, do warrenty support on them until some predetermined age (When ToddlerCorp, a sister company of BabyCorp, takes over), and that's it.

In the baby building process, this is going to follow the same idea as buying a car. Some people will want a baby with air conditioning and all leather interior, while others will want the economy model. This is what I was refering to earlier as the Gattaca concept. Basically, the more you can pay, the more you can customize. There's also the "Go onto the lot, close your eyes, point, and pick a random car" option, which is basically letting Nature/nature take its course. I'd honestly be interested in seeing statistics of what people would take between these two choices.

Now then, recurring income. There's a nice way to do this, and a naughty way to do this.

Let's go with the nice way first. It's pretty simple, really. Provide a good service, and people will come back for more. If BabyCorp plays their cards right, people will want the experience again, creating virtual brothers and sisters. It's going to be all about making the age range a good experience, though, otherwise people will go BabyTech or BabyTrdoe, or hell, straight to ToddlerCorp and start at the age they enjoyed more and already have experience with. Yes, popularity could have us birthing instant 3 year olds.

Now, the naughty. Kids die. It's that simple. I'm not trying to make light of anyone's real, personal situation by stating this, but it does happen. The question is, do we want to build that into our utopia? There's a few different mechanics for this.

The first I will refer to as the Cigarette Excutive Solution. The more the pay, the less chance the baby has of catching a virtual disease (virtual diseases manufactured and distributed by BabyCorp). Not ethically cool, at all, but we haven't gotten to the ethics part yet, so we're just gonna ignore that.

Moving from questioning ethics to questioning sanity, there's the Customer's Choice Solution. A customer could, at no difference in cost, actually /choose/ to be part of the Natural Cycle. They could do this to add to the immersion and reality quotient of the situation. They could do this because they're the type that likes to grieve.

I dunno, I don't analyze the people, just the ideas.


This section should technically be the longest, but it's probably not going to be, simply because I don't have the experience to even begin to analyze the ethics of all the situations this brings up. I'm hoping this will light up the forums. I'll go over my thoughts on it, though.

The major question here is, when do we stop doing the Dungeons and Dragons blame game (The "D&D turned my kid satanic, even though he was listening to metal and carving pentagrams into his arms 2 years before I bought him his first D&D book, but I was too busy watching TV to notice" argument), and start saying "Ok, this is too much". When we start actively playing with events that we know trigger chemical reactions of ownership and emotion (but, unlike our tenuous grasp on that idea with medication, we have no way to tell how they will effect everyone, no clinical tests), does it become the product/manufacturers fault?

From the corperate perspective, BabyCorp can't offer psych evaluations to every customer, and even then, telling someone they're too nutty to have a virtual baby is just not something anyone can easily judge. With product prices expected in a virtual world (We're talking maybe $200-250 for the whole kit here, most of the cost being eaten by the hardware), there'd be no way to fund that in the first place. The stakes here are obviously lower, but instead of terms of human life, BabyCorp will be considering the terms of emotional damage and ensuing litigation from a baby that doesn't work out "right".

From the player's side, well, just because you can physically immerse someone in a game involving baseball bat beatings doesn't mean you should (I've taken to refering to ideas like this as "Baseball Bat Immersion" because of that analogy). While game companies work on graphics and poly counts and OHHHH SHINY, the idea I've just talked about will take people farther into a world constructed on bits and databases and processors than the prettiest, reflectiest car game you can whip onto an HDTV at 1080p. Unfortunatly, until pretty graphics, this has more side effects than epilepsy. The game that cries for you idea is just one of them. This isn't just something you want to play, it is programmed to want you to play it. The same could be said for something like Nintendogs. Games are now presenting situations that, if not taken care of in a timely manner, will degenerate your standing. No one wants a dirty dog, or a hungry baby.

Not what. Not how. When.

Everything I've mentioned here could probably be implemented in the next 6 months for a current MMO by a team of decently knowledgable people. We've already got the hardware (minus the pump idea, that's a Aerowolf/qDot special right there), so it'd be mostly software and scripting.

That's it.

Now that you've read this, go back and read isabelle's article on why someone would want a virtual baby in the first place, with this idea in your head. God, it's scary.

Thanks to that thought, I'm going to go spend the rest of my evening in the bathtub, crying. This is a crazy world we live in, and it's just getting crazier. It's hard to deal with this shit when other people do it, much less be the one coming up with it.

I'd quit this stuff and go make flying cars, but people would just crash them.