There was a time when I may or may not have been addicted to Guild Wars. What MMORPGs are you currently playing or did you play in the past?
I used to play a lot of RuneScape and Maple Story. Those were also my introduction to MMORPGs. I don’t play any now, but I still enjoy watching streamers and YouTubers who do. It’s fascinating how socially advanced these kinds of games have gotten, to the point where some people have created jobs providing services in these game worlds—which supplements or even provides their main income. The germ of this story probably came from learning about the recent plight of Venezuelan gold-farmers in Old School RuneScape. I can’t do it justice, but I think this video, in which some of those gold-farmers are interviewed, is a good place to start to learn more: bit.ly/398BHuh
The pretending to be someone else aspect of this story made me think of that Rachel Dolezal fiasco a few years ago. Was there a specific current event or events that led you to write this story and would you say a bit about what inspired you?
Well I want to be clear that this story is not based on any specific person and definitely isn’t meant as a callout to anyone or any community in particular. It came from thinking about how people, especially kids and teenagers, are spending more and more time online, especially during the pandemic. I wondered how this trend would evolve as virtual reality improves and as humans colonize space, separating online friends not just by countries, but by entire planets.
Throughout the history of the internet, there’s been this theme of anonymity, which is extremely empowering and absolutely needed in some cases. However, it has a dark side when people claim identities that aren’t their own and then do a lot of harm. I’m not saying all anons should be automatically distrusted. But I think often people tend to accept anonymous accounts that emotionally appeal to them, or fit into their worldview, while ignoring others. Another problem is that people may be aware of these complex situations, but don’t believe they could exist in their own online community.
For example, on Science Twitter over the summer, a prominent community member chronicled the suffering and eventual death of their friend and colleague from Covid. It turned out that person had completely made up that colleague including, unfortunately, giving this imaginary friend several marginalized identities. However, at the time this person was widely believed. I think the science community is still working through the ramifications of that.
I’m always interested to hear how authors come up with names for people and places in their stories. What people / places / cultures inspired “Whukai” and “Esko”?
The title, “There Are No Hot Topics On Whukai” was actually inspired by a YouTube video by Sarah Z. about the famous My Immortal Harry Potter fanfiction. A section of the video delves into the internet’s attempt to decipher clues about the author’s identity from notes peppered throughout the fanfic and one of the conclusions is, “There are no Hot Topics in Dubai.” I loved the sheer possibility of that quote out of context—especially when the location was moved away from Earth and Terran culture entirely. It was one of those cases where the shape of the title came first, and building blocks of the story came from thinking about what it could mean. You can watch Sarah Z.’s video here: bit.ly/3c8wWTo
For Esko, I’m not really sure where her name came from. I think I associate certain letters and syllables with certain personalities. I see “Esko” as a strong name.
The dynamic between the people of Whukai and the Terrans seems like it might be part of a larger world-building scenario. Any plans to expand this story and/or this setting in other stories or a longer work?
I’m always open to writing more stories set in the same world! There were some dropped plotlines, which I think could be interesting to revisit. For example, originally there was a third gold-farming clan whose leader had to go into hiding due to owing in-game protection mafias, as well as their own clan members money. I also thought about exploring the relationship between Earth and other space colonies. Of course, it also depends on the reception of this story and whether readers want more.
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