Milo, the virtual boy, was introduced to the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in Oxford by UK games designer Peter Molyneux. Calling films and books a “sea of blandness” and “rubbish” because “they don’t involve me,” Molyneux has created what he calls a revolution in storytelling through a virtual boy who feels “real.” (I can’t help wondering if the name Milo was borrowed from Norton Juster’s Phantom Tollbooth, with a Milo who has always felt very real to me.)
Remember David in Steven Spielberg’s brilliant AI? That film also took up the question of becoming real (shades of The Velveteen Rabbit) and drew on the story of Pinocchio to flesh out (as it were) its premise. AI resurrected the cinematic fantasy of animating characters and giving them a soul even as it told a riveting story about the desire to become real.
Whatever Milo, the virtual boy, has going for him, it does not diminish the power of stories told on screen or in print. Most of those stories do not “involve me” (as Molyneux claims is the case for Milo) and instead create “what if”s” that take us into the lives of others. I’m not sure that Milo has much to do with storytelling at all. He is a virtual boy who has been programmed to respond to human inquiries and demands. He will grow, develop, and stretch, but I don’t see him becoming real in the same way that Robert Louis Stevenson animated Jim Hawkins, E.B. White gave Charlotte a soul, and Philip Pullman breathed life into Lyra.
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