AI Up Mi Duck – interactive fiction game exploring transhumanism

An interactive fiction game exploring transhumanism, poverty, and whether the Broadmarsh Centre will ever get finished.

It’s 2123 and life has got a bit rubbish. Humans are unemployed because AI does everything for them. This means there isn’t much to do other than sit inside and watch telly; Fortunately, there’s l-o-a-d-s of channels.  Lee Vitaht is a youth from Tip Valley, Nottingham, a slum area where the unemployed are forced to live until society can find a use for them. One day he enters a competition to appear on the Reality TV programme Live Island with the chance to win immortality. Lee Vitaht would love to live forever so he can finally witness Forest win the Prem and possibly see the Broadmarsh Centre flattened. But as Reality TV host Android Marr explains, ‘we work in immortality, not miracles.’

AI Up Mi Duck is an interactive fiction game that can be downloaded from It explores the impact of technology on our lives and issues of transhumanism – the idea that we can somehow become untethered from our flesh and live forever. Nobody is quite sure exactly what transhumanism means or how it will work, but it’s got a lot of people interested and generated a load of cults, with Ray Kurzweil, author of The Age of Spiritual Machines (2000), the alpha prophet.

The hope is that emerging technologies such as genetic engineering, AI, cryonics, and nanotechnology can somehow help humans stop ageing and relegate death as a 20th century inconvenience. One of the most extreme versions of this ideal is that our consciousness can be downloaded and rebooted into some kind of external mainframe computer. Let’s just hope the broadband connection is stronger than my Giff Gaff connection. But consciousness is not a tangible thing like a foot or finger and so whether you can download something that is difficult to define or locate is a bit of a challenge.

To help me research the game, I read Matt O’Connell’s To be a Machine (2017), and discovered that the idea of connecting ourselves to a wider network may not be that farfetched. The body, after all, is a series of electrical circuits. If this could be emulated somehow, it would completely redefine what it means to be human. For those who can’t wait for such innovations, fear not. You can get your frozen corpse stored in a massive cryogenic warehouse in the hope that one day medicine and technology will be able to reanimate the brain, thereby providing a second chance at life. Then there’s the hubris of the ‘life hack’ brigade who think that a strict diet and exercise will help prolong life. If getting up at 4a.m every day to do 1,000 press-ups while binging on raw food is the key to eternal life, it’s a no from me. It’s the quality rather than the quantity of life that matters.

In writing this game with animation students from Confetti, one thing became abundantly clear: I don’t want to live forever. It would be tedious. There’s only so many times you can get Homer Simpson socks for Christmas or watch fireworks over Trent Bridge before the novelty wears off. There’s something humbling about coming to terms with your mortality that helps you appreciate your allotted three score years and ten.

We live in precarious times and doom and gloom is everywhere. But nothing depresses me more than a social media post warning ‘watch till the end’. This is the end of civilisation, at least as I know it. The immediate gratification of digital has eroded our attention spans so much that even a fifteen second Tik Tok is too long. If you’re still reading this article, btw, well done. Your head must be absolutely throbbing.

The reason I find this future so alarming is because I have become an alien in my own life – a fate that awaits us all. I’m an analogue kid who grew up in a world of three TV channels, where people talked to each other rather than ‘liked’ each other, and the closest thing to the internet was teletext. The world – as wonderful as it may be – is completely unrecognisable. Imagine that feeling for eternity.

In some respects, we’ve entered a kind of Digital Dark Ages. We no longer know what ‘truth’ is, who is observing us, or what sophisticated algorithms are doing with our data. We now have two lives – a ‘real’ physical life and an online life. Is it any wonder so many people are anxious or suffering from mental health issues when our very being is split in two?

We’re digital pioneers in a Brave New World where AI will radically transform every aspect of life as we know it. This change will be as profound as the invention of fire, the wheel, and the industrial revolution. But future generations will look back on us as digital illiterates, who *scoff* communicated via a phone. Lol.

I may not want to live forever, but I do admire people who will do whatever they can to squeeze out a bit more juice. In this, the transhumanism movement is a symbol of optimism (or delusion) and may very well represent the next stage of evolution. Good luck to them.

Ai Up Mi Duck is free to download but a donation would be nice – just so I can eat.


Anthony Burgess: The Ninety Nine Novels podcast

Photo from Karel Reisk collection at BFI.

Anthony Burgess (25 February 1917 – 22 November 1993) was a prolific writer who produced poetry, plays and broadcasts while also building his reputation as a literary critic and linguist. He came pretty late to fiction, turning 39 when Time for a Tiger was published in 1956. Thirty or so novels later, he is best known for his dystopian satire, A Clockwork Orange, which would gain cult status when Stanley Kubrick adapted it for the screen in 1971. This seems a bit reductive, particularly given that he composed over 250 musical works over 60 years. These varied in genre and style and included symphonies, concertos and opera.

Burgess came from a musical family. His mother was a Music Hall singer and dancer and his father played piano. He once wrote: ‘I wish people would think of me as a musician who writes novels, instead of a novelist who writes music on the side’. In this blog I am going to do neither and instead turn to a very specific piece of his non-fiction published in 1984.

Ninety-Nine Novels: The Best in English since 1939 — A Personal Choice is a pretty self-explanatory title and covers a 44-year span between 1939 and 1983, starting with James Joyce and finishing with Norman Mailer. Some authors get two mentions whereas Aldous Huxley pulls off a hat trick with After Many a Summer (1939), Ape and Essence (1948), and Island (1962).

Burgess was a vociferous reader who famously reviewed 350 novels in just over two years at the Yorkshire Post. Presumably he didn’t sleep or eat during that time. His background in journalism and broad knowledge of literature led him to pen Ninety-Nine novels in two weeks. Like all reading lists, it’s intended to provoke discussion and debate – hence the absence of the hundredth novel. ‘If you disagree violently with some of my choices I shall be pleased. We arrive at values only through dialectic’ he writes.

The International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester are currently running a podcast series, with each episode dedicated to a book on the list. I was invited to talk about Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958). The book was the first Pan paperback to sell a million copies, and like A Clockwork Orange, would forever become synonymous with the author.

In his introduction to Ninety-Nine Novels, Burgess says, ‘I believe that the primary substance I have considered in making my selection is human character. It is the Godlike task of the novelist to create human beings whom we accept as living creatures filled with complexities and armed with free will’. This is certainly true of Arthur Seaton, the charismatic anti-hero of Sillitoe’s debut novel who craves pleasure at every opportunity, no matter who he hurts along the way: “I’m me and nobody else, and whatever people think I am or say I am, that’s what I’m not, because they don’t know a bloody thing about me.”

‘As novels are about the ways in which human beings behave,’ writes Burgess ‘they tend to imply a judgement of behaviour’. What makes Saturday Night and Sunday Morning so authentic is the complete lack of authorial judgement. Sillitoe describes everything as it is. There’s no pandering to sensibilities or fear of moral outrage. This is why publishers originally turned the book down – because they felt the working classes needed a more edifying narrative than the violent environment Sillitoe portrayed. To put this into context, John Braine’s Room at the Top is on Burgess’s list, which Peter Green described as like a ‘vicar’s tea party’ in comparison.

Burgess isn’t completely effusive, describing Sillitoe’s writing as ‘verbose and sprawling, undisciplined’. Although I partly agree with this, I don’t see it as a fault. Sillitoe was a self-taught writer. He didn’t go to university or enrol on a creative writing course. He figured things out for himself. It’s this that gives his writing the rough edges and authenticity.

Some writers are so obsessed with form that you become aware that you’re reading a very well written book. With Sillitoe it’s different. You’re not reading a book. You’re stood at the lathe. You can smell the factory. You can hear people gossiping about you. It’s a different kind of verisimilitude that’s only possible when you write with your ear.

The podcast is hosted by Graham Foster who is the former editor of Transmission. He was one of the first people to publish one of my short stories (The Loneliness of the Dartford Toll Operator) – about a woman who touches 1000’s of hands a day as money is exchanged yet never gets to know anyone on a meaningful level. You can tell it’s an old story (from the mid Noughties) because now there are no toll operators. You have to pay in advance and register your number plate. I found out the hard way last year when I was fined. But that’s another story.

You can listen to the  Ninety-Nine Novels podcast on Soundcloud

International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Engine House, Chorlton Mill, 3 Cambridge Street, Manchester. M1 5BY

This blog was originally published on the Nottingham City of Literature website on 27 June 2022.