Rick is probably referring to basilisks or something similar, which are legendary creatures that can kill a person with a glance. The basilisk is said to be the King of Serpents, and is often shown in medieval art as a reptile with the head of a cockerel or dragon, with a crest on its head. The basilisk appeared in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as an enormous serpent that could kill with its stare, or petrify a person if seen indirectly, such as in a reflection. Turning a person to stone with a glance is a power that belongs to Medusa, a monster of Greek mythology who appeared as a woman with snakes for hair. The monsters described in the Maze are probably some kind of combination of the two.
As MMOs make their money through monthly subscriptions, the game companies have an interest in keeping people playing forever. As such, unlike almost all other games, the focus of an MMO is not to get to the end or to win. The most common goal for players is to be the best, which means collecting everything that can be collected, gaining more and more reputation or honour, being the best at player versus player combat, etc. These goals cannot simply be achieved by getting to the end of the game. This means that almost all MMOs are designed with no actual ‘end’ at all, as the game content will need to be repeated continually in order for the player to achieve his or her goals. Some games also introduce daily quests, which can be repeated each day. Finally, when it looks like players are getting too close to accomplishing everything they can possibly do in the game, the game will simply release an expansion, introducing higher levels to be reached, new instances and areas, and new items to be collected.
The name iTank is an obvious reference to the products of the Apple company, such as the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, and the iTunes media browser, iLife multimedia suite, and iWork software. Apple is an extremely successful electronics and computer corporation, whose products are associated with sleek, trendy, minimalist design.
This book envisions a future in which humans have destroyed the planet through chemical emissions and radiation. The ‘Alternative Energy Source’ century probably refers to a time when people were forced to look for alternative energy sources because fossil fuels had run out (a situation looming in our own not too distant future). The mention of radiation suggests that one of the solutions followed was nuclear power. Nuclear power stations provide energy from nuclear fission (splitting the nucleus of an atom). Nuclear power is used today, but its safety is hotly debated. Nuclear stations produce nuclear waste that remains radioactive for a very long time, and so requires permanent and safe storage. If this nuclear waste leaks or is not stored responsibly it can be very dangerous to humans, animals and the environment. Serious nuclear power plant accidents have also occurred, releasing huge amounts of dangerous radiation into the atmosphere. Rick also refers to ‘Old World chemicals,’ which are most likely the chemical emissions released from coal power plants, cars, factories and other sources of pollution today. These all have damaging effects on the environment, and will cause many problems for future generations unless they are reduced. The world that Rick lives in is not an unbelievable future for our own world.
Much of the criticism that surrounds online gaming claims that the games are damaging and addictive. Players spend so much time in the online world, interacting with computer generated people and environments, that they become socially inept and do not know how to act in the real world. Others will argue that most MMO players know that they are just playing a game and do not take it too seriously, and that it is only a very small minority who become so addicted that they actually live their lives online. Besides this, MMOs have a strong social element and players can find themselves making friends with people all over the world. However, it is perhaps this social element that makes the games so addictive. It can lead to a kind of ‘peer pressure,’ in which a player feels the need to log in regularly because of commitments to help their team or guild complete certain group missions. Arguably, though, completing group missions does help people to learn certain skills such as working together in a team, and how to be a good leader.
This is possibly a reference to Cerberus, the three headed dog who guarded the underworld in Greek mythology.