Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What is Gor?

Nearly every user of SecondLife has heard of GOR, but few know what it means.

Gor is a role-play community built around books written by Dr. John Lange (under the nom de plume John Norman).  Lange, a professor of philosophy, wrote 28 books based on his science-fiction/fantasy world of Gor between 1967 and 2009, with the bulk of the books published in the 1970's.

Published directly to pulp paperback, Lange's books tell the story of the planet Gor, an Earth-sized planet ruled by insectoid aliens, who (for reasons of their own) occasionally kidnap humans from Earth and life-forms from other planets to populate their world, but keep them locked into Bronze-Age technology.

Artistically, Lange borrows heavily (rips-off) from better novelists like Edgar Rice-Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, but where Rice-Burroughs and Howard suggested sexual behavior in their novels without ever describing it, the sex scenes are some of the most prominent in Lange's books.

Lange's prose has long been criticized as childish and nearly unreadable, but his willingness to spend so many words on sexual subjects avoided by most other authors probably explain why anyone bothers reading his books in the first place.

The sex in Lange's books focus on dominance, submission and bondage and openly express a misogynistic philosophy that men are naturally dominant and women are naturally subservient as Lange expands on his theory of natural order that forms the backbone of his career as a professor of philosophy.  How Lange survives in the pro-feminist atmosphere in the City University of New York system is something of a mystery.

Two very cheap films were made of Lange's books in the 1970's, neither did very well.  One was bad enough to become an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

For reasons unknown, bondage, dominance and submission were noticeable features of even the first on-line communities in the late 1970's and 1980's.  Since then, millions of virtual collars have been traded among users who seem oblivious to the absurdity of the virtual servitude concept.  With the advent of the internet in the 1990's, this sexually oriented community discovered Lange's books and Gor became one of the more noticible fan groups.

The majority of Lange's books were out of print by then, so fans passed text file copies of them amongst each other.  There were too many pirated copies of the books available to interest any traditional publisher in reprinting them, so to cash in on his revival, Lange wrote three new books between 2000 and 2009, none of which did very well.

E-Reads.com (a self-publishing service) released paperback reprints of several of the books in 2007, but considered the venture too risky to commission new cover art for them.  By and large, Lange has been unable to cash in on his internet-based revival.  He used to rent tables at science fiction conventions to sell signed copies of his books, but he seems to have stopped that activity recently.

The Palace.com was the first virtual world invaded by the fans of Gor.  Largely unknown then, the Goreans were generally ridiculed by the rest of the Palace users so they became very insular and secretive.  Like the furries, goreans made the jump to the third dimension with the advent of SecondLife, which, like Palace, allowed them to create their own content to use in-world. 

Surprisingly, in SecondLife, Gor may be more popular among women than among men.  The implications of Gorean misogyny and slavery aren't immediately evident in a virtual setting where their servitude ends with the click of a mouse and their labors require little real effort.  Perhaps, in the end, it's just a way for fat chicks to get virtually laid and has no real-world implications beyond that. One has to suspect that just one day in real servitude picking cotton or scrubbing floors would change their mind's about slavery pretty quickly.

In SecondLife, most Goreans use restrained-life or restrained-love enabled viewers which allow their masters to restrain the movement of their avatar and remove articles of prim clothing at will which is why much of gorean fashion focuses on just the prim parts instead of the avatar clothing layers.

Their role-play is heavily dependent on the physics capabilities of the SecondLife viewer.  Recently, an upgrade to the physics engine in SecondLife changed the way Gorean weapons worked, freezing arrows in mid-air, only to rain down later, often hitting the avatars that fired them rather than their opponents.

The sexual part of Gor is dependent on success in virtual combat, so with heart of their role-play in danger, Goreans protested the programming change with placards on Help Island and a mass assault on the SecondLife Jira forcing the Lindens to roll back the server upgrade until the offending bit of code could be changed.

For good or for evil, SecondLife has become a meeting place for those who have no place in the real world and, for the moment, that includes the Goreans.  Lange would argue the virtual worlds allow man's true inner nature to come forth, but I suspect the real reason behind the success of Gor in SecondLife is probably the easy virtual sex for people who have trouble hooking up in the real world.

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