Even though they’re probably online right at this moment, a healthy portion of internet users secretly believe the place is rotten to the core. It’s not difficult to imagine why – life without the net can seem pretty attractive. No stupid fanboy flamewars. No more instant duplication of urban legends or dubious political stories as fact. No lolcats. It’s easy to paint a happier, internet-free world.
Others know this is naive. Idiocy will always find an outlet. Whispering campaigns have existed longer than politics itself, and there’s never any accounting for taste. A lack of internet means no online gaming, slower distribution of information and a shameful return to hunting for discarded pages of pornography in the woods. Pretty bad news all around. But no, dear reader, it’s even worse than that. The repercussions of a world without internet would be far more serious than the need to dust off our filthy raincoats. It could hold dire consequences for the entire planet.
Let us now gaze into the crystal ball and witness an internet-free timeline that is as revealing as it is disturbing.
Decades of technological experimentation with the transference of data packets suddenly comes to an end when Tim Berners-Lee, an independent contractor at CERN in Switzerland, is distracted by a wasp. Hypertext Transfer Protocol is never developed, and everybody forgets about other ways of sharing data. It was a really fascinating wasp.
Fueled by the progress in computing made in the 1970s, videogaming evolves largely as normal. Yet as gaming technology becomes increasingly advanced, the complexity of games produced increases exponentially. The need for tips, cheats and walkthroughs expands at pace with this increase in sophistication. In the beginning, print publications attempt to meet the public’s new demand for help in their gaming adventures. However, it rapidly becomes clear that the traditional monthly release schedule of most magazines is insufficient for delivering on-demand tips in the volume and detail craved by the gaming public. Experiments with weekly publications end in failure as overworked freelance staff, forced by budgetary constraints into doing their own copyediting, exhibit a 95-percent inaccuracy rate when transcribing cheat codes. Tip’s Weakly closes in 1999. It is not missed.
Tip hotlines begin to grow in number and size at an alarming pace. A record-breaking merger deal between the three main providers of mainland and offshore tips (EasyTips, CheatMaster and SelfLoathing) results in the multi-billion dollar formation of the SuperTips Conglomerate. Hopes for an enquiry into the trading legalities of this business venture are quickly dashed, as world governments are keen to announce new employment opportunities for their citizens in the thousands of Deluxe Working Environments promised by SuperTips executives.
By 2001, a World Trade Organization report places the worldwide number of SuperTips Call Centers at 56,000. The same report estimates that growth will continue at a steady 22 percent per annum, peaking at 87 percent when a new version of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is released. In the same year, an independent study concludes that one in five people in developing nations now work for SuperTips. The majority of workers register feelings of “fatigue,” “depression” and “hatred of every living soul.”
Tragedy slaps the world across the face with her gloomy glove as New York’s thriving Tips District goes up in flames. Early claims from a group of Syndicate retro-cosplayers that they did it “for the good of the corporation” are dismissed as unlikely and rather tasteless. Details soon emerge of a much darker tale, involving a disgruntled gamer driven mad by being left on hold with SuperTips for four days straight with only the theme from Jet Set Willy for company. The FBI find several charred scraps of paper at the scene and are able to piece together a phone bill totalling thousands of dollars. At the suspects’ house, memory sticks stuffed with saved games from hundreds of half-finished titles are discovered. World governments act decisively in reaction to this outrage. In an effort to prevent such an event from ever happening again, rapid legislation outlaws all forms of videogaming. Almost overnight, SuperTips stock is wiped out. Fears of mass unemployment gather credence as gamers are driven underground.
Tensions spill over in cities across the world as people hungry for work hold demonstrations and rallies outside government buildings. Embassy windows are smashed as unruly gaming-sympathizers hurl Xboxes. Ex-CEO of SuperTips, Handin Thetill, rejects calls to honor workers’ pensions. “I’m just a regular guy making a regular living,” he says from the Imperial Palace in Thetillistan (formerly the State of California). Elsewhere, disturbing newspaper reports allege that members of the public have been quietly flown to locations outside the reach of the Geneva Convention and tortured. Horrific details of casual gamers being forced at gunpoint to play complex PC strategy games for hours on end shock the world.
Mysterious documents come to light suggesting that several Middle Eastern nations have been secretly working together on a next-gen console of incredible power, breaking multiple international treaties which aim to prevent the proliferation of gaming technology. Even more mysterious is the fact that the documents appear to have been written in crayon and signed by “the totally ominous Middle Eastern coalition.” Nonetheless, the exposé ignites nationalist anti-gaming fervor and unites disgruntled populations against this clear and dangerous threat. Rumors spread that this secret console has the potential to get an entire nation hooked in just 45 minutes. This chilling statistic is enough to seal the case for a massive military campaign to free the Middle East from the evil clutches of videogames. All opposition to the invasion is decried as pro-gamer sympathizers. Extraordinary renditions triple as the use of tedious, button-heavy flight sims to torture prisoners becomes official government policy.
As war in the Middle East drags on beyond the length of World War II, politicized militiamen representing Guerrilla Armies Mobilizing Extremely Radical Strategies (or G.A.M.E.R.S) enflame tensions by sending a letter to the Russian President purporting to be from the U.S. Secretary of State. In it, the claim is made that Eastern Europe is still responsible for the mass-production of games and gaming products, specifically “a bunch of crappy first-person shooters” and “vodka-themed rhythm games.” Outraged, Russia respond by releasing shaky-cam footage of U.S. troops participating in an ad-hoc Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament. East and West teeter on the brink of war. Meanwhile, several fringe lunatics begin to assert that the initial clampdown on gaming was nothing more than a sinister government plot. They question whether a gamer was truly responsible for the destruction in New York and issue a statement: “If Looking Glass Studios was so great, then how come they didn’t sell enough games to survive, huh? Makes you think doesn’t it? We’re just asking questions, man.” Alarming numbers of people listen to them.
Internal and external pressures on a crumbling economy lead to total collapse, as several banks are forced to admit they have been keeping deficits from a lack of gaming sales off their books for at least 10 years. The world population is asked to pick up the tab. It politely declines, and several countries fall into revolt, led by angry strategy gamers who find themselves naturally predisposed to this sort of thing. Soon, a cabal of DEFCON addicts find themselves at the controls of nuclear arsenals across the globe. The inevitable occurs.
All human life is extinguished by thermonuclear war. History as we know it is no longer recorded, and an awful lot of games remain uncompleted. Looks like the Mayans were right after all.
And thus our glimpse into the gaseous abyss of a world without Hypertext transfer protocol draws to a close. Let this serve as a grim warning, readers. Give praise to all aspects of the internet, lest their disappearance bring ruin upon us all. Except for YouTube comments, of course – I think we’d all just prefer death to reading more of those.
Peter Parrish is a writer and part-time soothsayer.