Cracking Gibson's Agrippa

Adi Robertson at The Verge:

One of author William Gibson’s more unusual works was an art piece titled Agrippa (a book of the dead.) Agrippa combined a poem with encryption meant to effectively erase it from the floppy disk on which it came after one reading; it was released in 1992. Since then, the text of the poem and the experience of reading it have been replicated, but the code that protects it has still never been broken.

That makes me think of the (fake) game Killswitch[1], purportedly made by some terribly grim Eastern Europeans:

Porto awakens in the dark with wounds in her elbows, confused. Seeking a way out, she ascends through the levels of a coal mine in which it is slowly revealed she was once an employee, investigating its collapse and beset on all sides by demons similar to Ghast, as well as dead foremen, coal-golems, and demonic inspectors from the Sovatik corporation, whose boxy bodies were clothed in red, the only color in the game.

The gimmick being, as you’ve probably guessed, that the game deletes itself upon completion.[2]

It’s a nice thought experiment on impermanence and fleeting memory (though the story of the game itself falls apart under the slightest scrutiny), and when Gibson’s Agrippa was released in 1992, it must have been pretty remarkable for exploring those themes in a way that was highly technical and novel, and not, you know, fake. Although you may have noticed that the full text of Agrippa is now available on the Internet and in fact linked above, and hackers are probably going to make pretty good progress on cracking the poem’s encryption in the next few months. With digital archiving becoming the de facto standard for long-term storage for plebs like you and yt., and so many companies trying to make that their business, with permission or otherwise (COUGH COUGH GOOGLE FACEBOOK), I’m doubtful that the things we create and do can ever be considered impermanent or fleeting ever again. I’m still undecided on how I feel about that.


  1. Not, mind you, Kill Switch, which is the one with the dubious distinction of being the first cover-based shooter.  ↩

  2. Speaking of games by terribly grim Eastern Europeans, that makes me think of the Russian game Pathologic, which was so terrible and grim and full of meat, in more ways than one, that inevitably after each play session I had to shut off my computer and lie down for twice as many hours as I’d played it—yes, really. I never finished it, but it is probably one of the most ambitious games that I’ve ever had the displeasure of playing, and though I’d dearly love to go through all three storylines that it offers, it is terrible and oppressive all the way through, and I have heard very little from people who have managed to complete all three stories, let alone one. It’s in my top ten.  ↩