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Snow Crash’s Influence On The Internet & Gaming

Here’s what I like about Snow Crash to this point: The novel doesn’t take itself so seriously.

It’s light-hearted and irreverent. The dialogue isn’t so stilted and forced. It’s all the things that Neuromancer wasn’t–at least to this point.

One of the other things I like about the novel is its foresight. Neal Stephenson wrote Snow Crash in 1992. And, in the novel, he basically describes a lot of the aspects of our modern day internet.

For example, the “metaverse” in Snow Crash amounts to what is MMORPG games. That’s Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games for the uniformed. If you’ve heard of online games like EverQuest and World of Warcraft, then you’ve heard of MMORPGs.

Your “avatar”—meaning an online version of you—interacts with other avatars, makes friends, walks down a virtual city block, buys stuff, steals stuff, commits crimes, infects other avatars with viruses, and so on.

For a novel that was written 21 years ago, it’s amazing how dead-on Snow Crash is about this. But Snow Crash’s influence goes way beyond the “metaverse.”

Here’s how the book’s Wikipedia entry explains the novel’s influence on the internet and gaming:

While the 1986 video game Habitat applied the Sanskrit term avatar to online virtual bodies before Stephenson, the success of Snow Crash popularized the term to the extent that avatar is now the accepted term for this concept in computer games and on the World Wide Web.

Many virtual globe programs including NASA World Wind and Google Earth bear a resemblance to the “Earth” software developed by the Central Intelligence Corporation in Snow Crash. One Google Earth co-founder claimed that Google Earth was modeled after Snow Crash, while another co-founder said it was inspired by Powers of Ten.

Software developer Michael Abrash was inspired by Snow Crash’s Metaverse and its networked 3D world. He left Microsoft for Id Software to write something in that direction, the result being Quake.

Did you catch that second paragraph? Google Earth was modeled after Snow Crash—according to one of its founders. That’s, like, a big deal.

The interesting thing is how much detail Stephenson goes into explaining all of these foreign concepts, like the metaverse. In 1992, they would’ve been “out there” ideas and would’ve required a lot of explaining.

But as I read the novel today, in 2013, I almost want to say, “I get it, Neal. I know what the internet is! I know what an avatar is!”

Yet again, another example of fiction influencing real life. Of course you can learn from fiction.

So far, so good with Snow Crash.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. and yet you hated Neuromancer. Granted, the writing in Snow Crash is “light-years” better but Gibson wrote of the internet in ’84, 8 years before Snow Crash.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist. Snow Crash is definitely more polished than Neuromancer. I loved them both for the creativity and thought within the author’s minds.


    February 5, 2013
    • Robert, you are giving me hope on this one. I’m taking Snow Crash with me on my next trip in a few days. Even though I’m not a gamer, it should be fun seeing the gaming references. And I like science fiction.

      @Greg — I keep thinking of Ender’s Game. Anyresemblance to that book?


      February 5, 2013
      • Very different books. I thought “Enders” was more dystopian/futuristic centered on gaming. The story of Snow Crash is the classic power corruption story set in both a virtual and a real world. Also, Hiro is an adult where Ender is a child which is reflected in their stories.

        Funny that you bring up Enders in that I read them both back-to-back over Christmas.


        February 5, 2013
        • Dominick Sabalos #

          In terms of the internet, Ender’s Game does have a rather.. optimistic view of how much you can achieve by arguing on political forums.


          February 6, 2013
    • The foresight in Neuromancer was its lone bright spot for me. The technique and style of his writing, plus the bland plot line and characters were the big drawbacks with that one.


      February 5, 2013
  2. I will so need to read this one. Sounds excellent.


    February 5, 2013
  3. Excellent review, I rally enjoyed reading it. Can I ask you a favour please? you are following my blog on wordpress but I am trying to increase my followers on my new website can you follow me there please, its Thanks


    February 5, 2013
  4. Tilon #

    Actually, the term Avatar was popularized on the internet by the first breakthrough MMO, Ultima Online. UO may have came out in 1996-97, after Snow Crash, but the Ultima series had used the term avatar for the lead character since the mid 80’s, well before Snow Crash.


    December 28, 2014

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