The Simulation Devils of a Video Game World
There was a comment on a fantasy book I once read, they said “Imagine you turn an MMO player into real-life except nothing about their behavior changed” to which was responded in horror. In other words, taking the gamified elements of games we play and interpreting their actions with the most literal effect. Makes me remember playing Runescape back in 2001 and joining in on the goblin hunts just outside the starting castle, with a crowd goblins would be slain as fast as they spawn. Every inch of the riverside was bloated with the mountain of bones buried for faith leveling and the sky snowed with ash as wood burnt for survival points. At least that might have happened except all our computers ran like toasters back then. The point is that overpopulation of human players was an absolute force of chaos, it was like the plains of Mordor as players were committed to consuming every resource as fast as the server could provide. What does it look like for the game characters to watch as their world is reduced to brimstone? Where in the simulation will we face such horrifying bliss?
It’s difficult for me to think of a game where players have not shared their adventures of maniacal chaos they have wrought on the inhabitants. Some games are designed for the joy of criminality like Grand Theft Auto, Far Cry, or Just Cause. But others are pushed to their technical limits treated with as much grace as an infant obliterating a box of wooden building blocks. The channel Games Done Quick is a charity organization founded 10 years ago that features speedrunners, essentially players who have mastered every element of a game to obsessive detail, moving beyond what its creators have ever imagined containing. Hero’s of fantasy and urban life don’t save the day, they move through solid walls and pass through gunfire unscathed, they can be seen moving faster than a bullet or rising from death. What we see as gameplay perfected is to the story’s inhabitants a facsimile of human beings bending space-time like a toothpick. That is of course if we were talking about real people capable of sentient thought and not digital puppetry.
There’s this theory that we are all living in an elaborate simulation, that if we can simulate anything from cities to the universe depending on our technology couldn’t someone have engineered our world in the same manner with enough technological advancements? This is admittingly not a new thought exercise although it seems to stay afloat amongst tech junkies and the more online crowd.
The cool kid’s grades above me might be familiar with “The Matrix Defense”, a grim situation where people kill but are deemed insane believing that they are inside a simulation like a matrix and therefore they are not able to distinguish their actions as real. As far as the court records are aware this defense has applied to some perpetrators. But this idea is far older than a Y2K cypherpunk blockbuster.
Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.
This quote translated from Zhuangzi a Chinese philosopher from somewhere between 200-500BC challenges our perceived reality, way before any such ideas of H.P Lovecraft or Surrealism in the 20th century sparked it in the west. I can’t do the full context of the quote justice but check out these articles here. The important part is that being humans and as such having lucid thoughts we also at times wrestle with verifying the bond between our body and our mind, always curious even to our own bewilderment.
Whether the proposition is a dreamscape or a simulation what lies at the center of the conflict is truth and clarity, no doubt the suffocating conflicts of our time have encouraged people to search for an alternative dogma to center themselves as stable jobs become jobs and social security become just social. While a temporal reality is the proposition of our ill-equipped animal minds the more aggressive conspiracies claim foul-play with malicious deception. I’m talking about conspiracies that NASA and the world governments are being controlled by certain minority groups to make our lives as miserable as we find them, of course, this is desperate scapegoating which turns bitterness into maladaptive impulses.
This search for a realignment doesn’t have to turn to derangement, you can find a community or movement that still has some honesty and want to spread goodwill. You could even come to terms with the idea that the world isn’t as concrete as one might wish and find closure with that. However, it’s becoming more common to watch in embarrassment and frustration as groups assemble and disrupt daily life over fictional grievances that deflect from active issues.
It’s important to temper our imagination and not allow it to breed paranoia and extreme behavior. I say this not out of expertise but out of agnosticism and concern for well-being. If the proposition is based on our current reality being fictional then we also do not have any reliable information to extrapolate a greater reality than our own. Those thoughts are drawn from the same experiences the theory claims are false. A functional life requires some degree of faith in the human senses, it doesn’t mean we must accept our reality but we must work around our current circumstances. Be wary of self-destruction.
With that caution taken, there is an unsettling detail to the simulation and dream propositions is that what we understand as our mind, body, and even loved ones are not genuine or rather are fleeting experiences like a snowflake before the sunrise melts it away. We are not solid mass rather our universe is an imitation, an illusion that can vanish like an ember of a candle. created by Rather than the simple fear of mortality and being forgotten the ramification is that we never lived or had any real experience. We are basically a void of purpose or meaning, we are already dead but are not aware even of that.
The optimistic version is that we are placed here as information meant to carry out the development of a universe. Our minds and lives are intelligent meant to evolved and expand our reach. Essentially it’s an alternation of Intelligent Design and this world was created by a previous as a form of propagation and we exist to complete our own growth to join or possibly exceed that of our parents. The Simulation is simply a means to an end as humanity ascends beyond the shelflife of information technology.
But that’s about as far as my migraine, Advil, and medicated mind will take me on that side note.
How does that connect with player and character interaction? Speedrunning is not all about exceeding physical or mortal boundaries, it’s also about eliminating any obstacle in our way. In Bloodborne, this involves murdering Plain Doll, the only surviving character of the story and unflinchingly loyal to your every need. This skips the dialogue which saves time as players can still level up by interacting with her corpse. That’s not the end of it, Plain Doll respawns every time you reload the location and loses her memory of meeting the player. The only scene of respite in the horrifying hell that is Bloodborne itself is reduced to the Season 1 plot of Westworld.
But that’s a horror game, right? It’s on tone to be horrible. Ok well, let’s look at Animal Crossing: New Horizon where on debut players wanted to choose characters to be on their town but the problem is that their villagers are randomized. You can’t choose villagers, you can only remove them, not by force this is a kid’s game. This process involves becoming the neighbor from hell, a devil of the suburb. By bullying, alienating, and harassing the villager through false reports to the town secretary the villager will leave from the chronic misery you have made their life.
I’m not arguing for moral regulation of what games can do but I think this helps explain how player misbehavior is bound by a detachment from their roles in the world and seeking an ulterior motive.
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