Now Halwaz is talking to Cam Denton, the micropark designer. He is dressed entirely in black Gu, which extrudes pseudopods that gesture along with his constantly fidgeting hands and morph into little illustrative scenes as he speaks. This makes him look slightly plumper than he actually is.
"Disney? Nah," he says. "Disney was old before the industry even started. My inspirations were fictional. Niven and Barnes's Dream Park books, I read my dad's copies over and over when I was a kid. They were just using holograms, but Dad had the boxed Star Trek series as well on - I think it was DVD in those days. Hard light, like in the holodeck. That's what I dreamed of. And then Callie Arnold, bless her, came along and gave it to us, or just about." Gu creeps up one of his cheeks and turns him briefly into a Borg.
"So Gu, to you, was the fulfillment of a childhood fantasy?"
"Yeah, well, greyware is fantastic, but it's not a mass solution, is it? It's always going to be a minority who can afford to have wires in their head, or who will want to." His head briefly radiates wires. "But to have a mass-entertainment medium where anything can be real... Yeah, it was a dream come true. It was like you're, I don't know, someone who loves music but can't sing, and all of a sudden they invent the guitar. Or the very early computer game designers, who never knew that was what they wanted to do until they saw their first computer. I grew up designing for a platform that didn't exist until I was in my late teens."
"So you designed 3D games using what tools you had, is that right?"
"Yeah, but I always wanted more. Haptic interfaces are where it lives, you know? It's all very well to see things third-person, but to feel, to be in the world where things are touching you and you're touching them - damn." He is abruptly covered with hands, and they all gesture. "I mean, damn."
"You and your friends from college are credited with creating the first micropark."
"Yeah, although we didn't know that's what it was. It was just a cool thing to do, you know? We were at MIT, our professor was this cool guy, only a few years older than us, and his girlfriend at the time just loved theme parks and adventure rides. We all liked her, you know? She was cool. And her 30th birthday was coming up, and we were knocking around ideas for a project, and someone said, Why not build Tyla a theme park out of Gu? And so we looked into it, and arranged to borrow a space and borrow some Gu and spent a few weeks full-on designing, I mean, full on, you know? And she loved it. And all her guests loved it, and, hey, we'd had more fun than we'd ever had before, and so we said, why don't we just do this? I mean, we wrote it up all formal as 'a novel use of haptic morphmass-based interactive something-or-other as an entertainment medium' and we got academic credit for it, but really, man, we were doing it for the buzz. And that's never gone away."
"The money helps?"
Denton's many pseudopods make a gesture dismissing money. "Money's cool. It's nice not to wonder where the rent is coming from, yeah, but it's what you can do with it that's exciting. We're running an early pre-release of eighth-generation Gu on our development project at the moment. The detail on that stuff - you can do thousands of textures, and the new dampness and temperature controls give a whole new dimension of reality." He can't stay seated any longer, his chair - which is part of his Gu - pushes him upright, and his pseudopods writhe until he looks as if he's covered in sea anemones. "Damn, I love my job."
Cut to Tyla McCann, the woman for whom the first micropark was created. She is in her mid-to-late thirties, presumably, but her freckles, the tomboy bob of her sandy hair and her perky energy make her seem much younger.
"Oh, Dent and the guys are great," she says. "They get me in to 'consult', which means I get to play with all their new parks before they're released. The horror ones are still my favourite - that's what the first one was, my birthday is November first so it was kind of inevitable, really. They are doing some truly awesome slime these days."
"What about the combat ones?"
"Hmm, more a guy thing, I know, but sometimes after a bad day, it's good to be able to hit a few virtual mooks, right?" She grins. There is a slight gap in her front teeth and she looks like a 12-year-old who has never had a bad day in her life. "Good self-defence training, too, though of course if you did get mugged it would probably be by someone who's been through a lot of parks as well."
"Do you go to the opposition's parks too?"
"Sometimes, to see what they're doing. But I'm loyal to the boys. Besides, I have a lifetime pass that gets me and a friend in for free any time. I'm my nieces' favorite aunt. And now that they're getting past the purple unicorn petting zoo stage, I have great fun taking them."
"Do you have a home console system?"
"Never felt the need, myself. But I can see why people do. I kind of like the shared experience aspect, though, you know? Being physically in the same space. I know the consoles are getting better and better, and soon you'll hardly be able to tell the difference, but still. There's nothing like being there with a group of your friends. Oh, and hey, do you know what the coolest thing is that the Flexible Dreams guys do? They still let people hire out their spaces and run their own park designs for special occasions, just like they did. I think that's really classy, especially since most of their competitors got their start that way."
"You're aware of their critics, though?"
"Oh, of course. Whatever you build, there'll always be someone to say you're building it wrong." She flashes the crooked front tooth again.
Cut now to Amber Rollins, president of Mothers against Microparks. She is in her late forties, thickening through the middle, serious and emphatic. Her dark-brown hair hangs in a braid down her back.
"We basically have three objections to microparks," she says. "First, the themes of horror, crime, violence, danger and suggestiveness that are their staples. Disney isn't perfect, but they do make an effort to keep the tone light and wholesome. The microparks just aren't careful enough with their material, in our view. And their voluntary classification system - they don't enforce it. We just hear too many stories of young children getting in and being traumatized or influenced into inappropriate behavior.
"Then there's the training that these children are receiving. The so-called first-person fighter games. They're marketed as teaching self-defense, but what you can use to defend yourself you can also use to attack others. We aren't happy that a lot of young people are learning how to fight hand-to-hand and taking that out into the real world, where there are much more serious consequences for hitting someone.
"And then finally there is the cost. These micropark companies, Flexible Dreams and InAdventure and the rest, are making a fortune out of children, siphoning off the money that they could be saving for their future education. And some of them, of course, don't get that money honestly. There are young muggers that have learned their violence in the microparks and steal from honest citizens to fund what has become a habit, almost an addiction."
"The supporters of microparks," you say as Halwaz, "point to the imaginative stimulation they provide, and claim they are a harmless outlet for energy and fantasy. What do you say to that?"
"Nonsense, is what I say. The imaginative stimulation is all from the imagination of the developers - not the participants. You don't need any imagination any more, it's all laid out in front of you. And the direction of that imagination is far from harmless. Much better to have children playing healthy games in the fresh air, or really exercising their imagination in creating something for themselves."