For Bhardwaj and other true believers, Dark Forest is proof of several new concepts at once. First, it shows how advanced cryptography can be used to add new functionality to online worlds. Developers and computer scientists inspired by Dark Forest are already exploring new games and applications that take advantage of zero-knowledge proofs.
Gubsheep and others even started an R&D organization, called 0xPARC (a reference to PARC, the famous R&D company that Xerox started 40 years ago), to support this work. Bhardwaj recently completed an internship as an 0xPARC intern.
The scope of 0xPARC is not limited to games. For example, an application that interests the group is digital identification. Remember the example of the passport. Zero-knowledge proofs could prove all sorts of things about yourself without revealing anything else. You can prove that you are over a certain age without revealing your actual age, or that you have more than a certain amount of money in your bank account without revealing the actual amount. It might also be possible to use zero-knowledge cryptography to prove that you ran a machine learning algorithm on a sensitive data set while keeping the data private, Gubsheep says.
A new vision of the metaverse?
Nor is zero knowledge the only goal of 0xPARC. Dark Forest’s deepest thinkers seem to agree that while its use of cryptography is truly innovative, an even more compelling proof-of-concept in gaming is its “self-contained” game world – an online environment no one controls that cannot be taken down.
Until now, Dark Forest has existed in temporary instances, called rounds, which last between one and two weeks. But since it exists entirely in blockchain smart contracts — computer programs that the blockchain stores and executes — a dark forest world could be deployed in such a way that no one would have the ability to stop it, says computer scientist Justin Glibert. and co-founder of 0xPARC. “You could consider it a Minecraft server, but it can’t be deleted,” he says.
Once a smart contract is deployed, it’s kind of like a robot that lives in digital space, a robot that can run forever. Unless the creator installs a mechanism that can be triggered to kill the program, it will continue to work as long as the network exists. In this case, Glibert explains, the virtual world would be “more like a digital planet” than a game.
What happens on a digital planet? Whatever the rules of the world — its “digital physics” — allow, he says. Dark Forest players have used its digital physics to create in-game marketplaces, tools that automate game functions, and even bots that can play the game themselves. It is also free for anyone to copy, modify and develop.
Glibert’s team at 0xPARC is focused on creating systems that not only allow game developers to create self-contained worlds, but also the inhabitants of those worlds to interact and create.
Gubsheep says it’s the natural development of the Internet. “The digital world is increasingly becoming host to our most meaningful interactions,” he says. But he’s betting that people will be less inclined to accept a version of the “metaverse” governed by a corporation or other centralized entity.
What they will want instead is “a neutral, credible substrate for people to express themselves relatively freely and to self-organize and govern themselves,” he argues. “It’s a much more powerful view of the metaverse for me, and I hope 0xPARC’s experiences can help with that.”