Deeeer Simulator, Ego Death, and the Freedom of the Id
When I saw that Deeeer Simulator – yes, that’s the appropriate number of “E’s” – was available, I was, to be honest…ambivalent. I had played the very weird Goat Simulator and figured it was along the same lines. A goofy physics sandbox starring a lovable deer. I was correct in a sense. It is a physics sandbox starring a lovable deer. It’s also so much more than that. It’s a philosophical exploration of the self. That sounds very high-falutin’, I know. It’ll make sense, somewhat, I think, in a bit.
Deeeer Simulator starts off simply enough. You build your character. It’s not a deer. It’s a regular human. It is the digital avatar of yourself that you’ve made in hundreds of games up to this point. The customization options are robust, allowing you to fine-tune your perfect self. Unrestrained from the confines of the circumstances of your birth, you can be anyone you want. It’s the kind of character creator that you will labor over. You’ll want to sculpt the perfect digital persona to embody. It pays to take the time to do this, as you assume you’ll be spending the entirety of the game with this character.
After the painstaking journey to build yourself, an introductory cutscene plays. There you are! Your ideal self, in Deeeer Simulator! A deer is crossing the road as a truck approaches. You don’t think. You jump in front of the truck and save the deer, at the cost of your own life. Everything you have just worked for no longer exists. Your creation is gone. It spent less than a minute in this digital world. There’s a certain fear behind this moment. We don’t want to see the things we make destroyed. A big part of the human experience is the urge to persevere beyond our earthly bodies.
We want history to remember something about us long after we’re gone. The speeding truck at the beginning is time. You throw yourself in front of it to save the life of another, destroying your works in the progress. It is complete ego death in pixel form. Everything you knew, created, understood, watched. All gone when time bears down on you. The truck, once again, is time in this scenario. The screen goes white. You’re offered up a simple choice:
Be Reborn? y/n
If given the chance to start all over again, would you take it? Holding no knowledge other than the last minute of your life, would you start over? In the case of rebirth, are you even you anymore? It’s terrifying to consider. Everything that we are or will be is stored in a soft bit of tissue encased in a fragile covering of not-so-dense bone. If you took the ephemeral “being” out of that lump of matter and transferred it to a different vessel…is it you? Deeeer Simulator poses this question and takes it one step further. If you choose to be reborn, you awake in the body of a deer.
A deer, inhabited by the essence of the human, acts on pure id. The person you were when you sacrificed your life is gone, replaced by the embodiment of “don’t care”. You have no judgments of anything, no good or evil, no sense of morality. The deer is nothing and everything, a perfect microcosm of blameless, selfless, uncontrollable, and unconscious id. You seek to destroy. You have experienced ego death and the response is for the id to fully take over. As you move through the open world of Deeeer Simulator you are presented with a multitude of choices. You can live a very deer-like existence if you’d like.
You can wander the open fields of Deeeer Simulator, and experience the closest thing that one can reach to true, boundless freedom. You can also wander into the town and get hit by a car. There are standard deer choices. Or, you can decide to take your human essence and apply it to deer actions. Replace your antlers with pistols, to start. Rage against the organized chaos of a city. Add ak-47’s to your pistol antlers and up your firepower. Though you act on pure id, this does not make you immune to consequence. Causing too much destruction will call down the right hand of the powerful: the police. The police are shown, initially, as a group of helpless sheep, emboldened by their possession of billy clubs.
If you dispatch the sheep police you can continue your rampage, before getting your destruction rating high enough to call down increasingly powerful police entities. Eventually, you’ll draw the ire of a giant police corgi. Defeating this corgi opens a time portal in the world that will transport you to the future. This…is very interesting. Seeing the future pulls the conversation back to legacy and our desire to last beyond ourselves. In the deer, we see a longing for a mark. Something to put a stamp on a world that has moved past the things that were done before. The future bears no marks of the righteous fury you wrought in the first area of Deeeer Simulator. It is a sobering reminder that even the most destructive humans cannot permanently ruin how people live. Humanity bounces back, even from a deer with no conscience.
It speaks to the capacity for naive evil. You, as a deer, don’t know morality. The things you did don’t register as good or bad. You’re acting just to act. Pure id. In the end, it all comes down to one. simple. fact. It’s a game about being a deer. Just play Deeeer Simulator. It’s pretty funny.