My rulebook has not adapted from my last post, because choose-your-own-adventure game rulebooks, by convention, are barely necessary. Because they’ve adapted from novels – which obviously do not contain a rulebook – and are self-explanatory, very few rules are needed. Feedback from Richard reinforced to me the importance of keeping this simple, and that it is perfectly okay to state the staple mechanics.
I knew my artefact would take a long time to build and so I began it at the beginning of the semester. As I learned about game design and my ideas shifted, I’ve been updating the prototype consistently. Thus this subject has effectively taught me to build a plane while it’s flying. The constant development and goal of continuous improvement is something I will take forward in my public relations studies and future career.
Initially, I’d been planning to separate The Simulation Game into two components: the first to illustrate simulation theory for BCM325, and the second as a comical, exciting tale for BCM300. As I progressed through the subject, I realised that combining the two would add thematic value to the game.
This blog post will focus on the game rules of Simulation Mindy, and the opening narrative.
Apollo Drake is an ambitious quantum computer scientist from a post-human word, with a vision to create an experimental simulated human society. Join him as he pitches his idea to Big Science for funding and makes various ethical and practical decisions related to the construction of this experiment . . . assuming, of course, that humanity survives long enough to make this happen.
This game is a one-player experience. The player begins on the first page of the narrative and follows the prompts to move through the story. At the bottom of most pages are several options from which the player can choose the direction of the story. Effectively this game will teach the player to use it.
As the inside story grew progressively more intense and disturbing, it became necessary to compose a disclaimer to feature on the opening page of the story. Therefore this disclaimer will accompany the rulebook.
Previous feedback has helped me to finesse the mechanics. More recent feedback from playtesting has focused on the narrative behind the game.
Now that the bulk of the game is live, much of which features Mindy’s somewhat intense story, play-testers have been able to experience the story. This has been helpful in identifying gaps in the narrative I left, particularly continuity errors I caused – which is almost inevitable in writing so many different strains of a story.
Feedback which has particularly pushed me to update my game regards what’s acceptable to feature in the story and what is not. The story features murder, infanticide, suicide, violence, sexual promiscuity and a variety of other stimuli, yet the part of the story which gave Mindy the opportunity to inject her child with a fast-tracked HIV virus to kill him caused a little unrest from my play-testers. It seems I slightly crossed a line, however general consensus is that adjusting this murder to plain poison is a more acceptable plot device – interestingly enough.
The game itself is based on an abstract concept. Simulation theory is something we are unlikely to ever prove and currently has more interest from a conspirator’s perspective than a scientific or philosophical one.
“Everything you can imagine is real” (Pablo Picasso)
While Bostrom’s simulation theory is an abstract concept (in that a lot of academia argues it has few implications for the ‘real world’), and I’m exploring it in an arguably abstract sense (i.e. reducing it to its basic elements) the way I’m presenting it is fundamentally an illustration of the theory. My argument is that simulation theory, and the context in which I’m exploring it (ibid), has a significant real world correlate. Therefore my game sits high on the representation scale, rather than abstraction.
I have developed a draft rulebook to accompany the game:
Currently, the template is the same across all of my game pages, although some are limited to text, and others incorporate video. I’ve added various new forks into the game, several of which lead to dead ends. In these ‘game over’ pages, I’ve detailed various academic information regarding issues such as natural disasters
From researching other CYOA games, I have discovered there are various conventions I have not followed, primarily using second-person narrative. However, my game features two protagonists which the player will switch between and therefore I feel it is best to continue the story from each character’s perspective to differentiate the two different strains of the story.
I used to measure the timeline of my life through journals. When a friend said to me, “Remember that time – “, I’d think in my head yes, from the red journal. That system kind of shattered when I was gifted two identical books, but the main ones still stick out in my mind. I used to read back through them, but I never do that now; I haven’t for years. The last time I revisited a journal I learned about an experience I’ve had that I’d completely blocked out – realising that thing had happened, being told by myself in my own handwriting, was almost like going through it again. So now these books remain shut.
Until, that is, somebody – a person who knew better – decided they could open one.
I’ve come across other people’s diaries and journals in the past and I have had absolutely no desire to open them. They’re not written for other people – that’s literally the point.
If you’re not a writer, if you’ve never written anything purely for your own eyes, you might not understand what this has done. I used to have a safe outlet for everything and now I don’t. That’s hard. I’ve taken quite extreme precautions to ensure this won’t happen again, but still I’ve barely written outside of my compulsory uni assessments, even though it happened months ago.
And now I’m not sure I feel like a writer. Blogs that used to take me an hour are now much longer tasks. Stringing together a written assessment takes a magnitude of effort. It never used to. That’s what months of regretting your entire practice of writing will do.
This experience has nudged me to renegotiate my ideas of public writing and storytelling. Last semester I grappled with the idea that the content I was writing on my blog might not have a place there. Now the content I write privately might not even have a place on paper. They stay in my head, which isn’t really where they belong.
I never envisioned such a halt in my writing timeline, yet here we are – but I’m writing this (finally). We’ll see what comes next.
Ultimately the future tends to be painted with a sly, dystopian brush; science fiction films invite their audience to feel coldly uncomfortable about what’s to come – albeit with questionable accuracy! Science fiction media are marketed as futuristic, but effectively capture the present instead.
There’s something hugely ironic about live-tweeting (i.e. in the present) science-fiction films that are predicting the future, which actually represent the present more than anything else, and then going back over these tweets to reflect on them as a past experience. Eight weeks into the semester, I have a vast collection of observations to share, after viewing and recording various science fiction films during BCM325: Future Cultures.
Live tweeting in this class (actually, live tweeting films anywhere in “Mam-you’re-in-the-cinema-your-phone-needs-to-be-turned-off” culture) is weird. As each film unravelled on the projector, twenty-something students were plugging their own experiences through various invocations onto Twitter; fingers tapping across a sleek keyboard, swiping across a smartphone screen to select the perfect gif, or even mastering every student`s favourite graphic design tool, Windows Paint, and producing quality, original illustrations, to make sense of the media in front of us.
As a Q U I E T student (my Twitter handle is no accident) with a small voice and an illogical habit of sitting as close to the back of the classroom as I can manage, live tweeting for class participation is an absolute God-send.
Each media subject I have enrolled in has a different level of patience with memes and humour. For example, in BCM112 memes are literally the main method of communication. For contrast, in BCM212, humorous posts showed up now and again but were by no means the staple communication tool. During this first viewing, our seminar was a little quiet on Twitter. There was not as much content on the #BCM325 hashtag as there was in subsequent weeks and I suspect that my classmates, like me, were effectively sussing out the standards and there was little engagement to be had.
This film was conceptually fascinating in its quiet allusion to what Chris Moore later called a spectrum, scaling technology and the supernatural. This is a trope I came to recognise following screenings. This symbolism links really nicely to the idea of a technological invocation as a conjuration of spirits or binary creation, which may not, technically, be separate things – but that’s for another blog post.
Cleverly playing with the idea of ghosts being unbelievable whilst trying to portray a (sort of) realistic vision of human-like robots to a 90s audience who were unlikely to find it realistic #bcm325
Westworld provides a deeply disconcerting account of an exploitative relationship between humans and robots.
The second time around, the BCM325 Twitter feed was significantly more lively and collaborative. This week`s conversation centred around what it means to be alive and to be human, and whether or not those are one and the same.
Uncomfortably reminiscent of organic culture as we know it, the film brutally explored consent through the programmed rape of a female robot character. This is particularly significant to consider now, both because of the rising #MeToo movement and ethical concerns around the creation of female sex-bots (which is currently being explored by Cat). My inner feminist could not hold back, breaking my streak of attempts at thoughtful, polite conversation on Twitter.
Pre-warned that this would be the most abominable film I’d ever have the pleasure of viewing – and having had immense trouble unpacking this week’s reading of the same name – I dove into this film with trepidation.
The man/robot/God trope was explored yet again, but in an alarmingly odd manner. Rogue Jesus stole the show at the conclusion of the film.
#BCM325 I mean I haven’t read the bible but I thought Jezuz was supposed to be a good boi
A thought-provoking tweet from Ashleigh this week drew my attention to how dystopian societies are intentionally crafted to look dirty, dark and undesirable. It`s such an odd trope that seems to be repeated throughout the genre.
I am really interested in the dystopian future themes in sci-fi films but you’d think after having all these new technological advancements they’d at least participate in more clean up days those streets are dank #bcm325
One particular scene reinforced what Chris Moore had previously said about science fiction exploring the present rather than the future. This was the struggle of the legal system to enforce punishment or restriction upon abusers of technology, an issue we see the world struggling with today. Chris and I engaged in a short exchange on Twitter about this issue.
The regulation of technology is always lagging behind innovation, and usually outdated as soon as it’s enacted.
The technology presented in The Matrix was physically bulky. Interestingly, since the time of filming, most technology has become physically smaller; in a modern sense, “high-tech” is slim, streamlined and augmented. At the time of filming, electronics were bigger in size than they are today, so perhaps it is reasonable to assume the film creatives believed it would continue to grow. Of course, the opposite happened. Similarly, nobody ever foresaw a wireless future, meaning there are a plethora thick, ugly wires in this film.
This film was particularly interesting for me for two reasons, having never previously viewed it: firstly, because it’s strongly related to my research project topic, simulation theory, and secondly because I met the ~real~ version of an iconic meme template.
The notion of mega-corp as an enemy to both humanity and robots is enticing. In his simulation theory, it is possible that a computer simulation is a for-profit specimen created by a business rather than as a hobby or science project. This is something I`m currently drawing on in my digital artefact plans. Capitalism is so often warned against in science fiction films. In fact, it’s been argued that speculative science fiction writers have lost the ability (or perhaps interest) to predict alternatives to capitalism.
Is ‘corpses in the attic’ the new ‘skeletons in the closet’? It may be so.
Unlike much science fiction from the ’90s and early 2000s, which focuses on ‘futuristic’ technology, The Black Mirror series often features technology we are very familiar with. It absolutely delights in crassly objectifying the viewer purely for existing in the digital age. It’s darkly speculative about the now, rather than the future.Be Right Back, written by Charlie Booker, navigates the consequences of technology that dissents against the accepted relationship between the living and the dead. The theme of man playing God is starkly apparent here – how far can we take this? This is a harrowing question because we are on the edge of the very technologies explored in this episode.
Black Mirror invites us into a technologically advanced society with humans rushing through a torrential downpour of rain. This screams foreshadowing of mother nature prevailing #bcm325
This short exchange between Ashleigh and myself was satirical in intention, but may have significant repercussions in years to come. Is it dangerous to be considering this a joke when it may grow roots in reality?
Kara asked a poignant question about the meaning of death if technologies such as these become widespread, which I liked and found immensely interesting. I believe our relationship with death is akin to our relationship with a God, nature, spiritual realms and the supernatural: it`s all intertwined.
Instead of writing up your will before you die, imagine preparing your android file so you just automatically become an artificial being. Is this how life ends and androids take over? #bcm325#blackmirror
Several months ago (disclaimer: shameless plug alert) I wrote a response to this episode on Chattr to explore existing technology which tries to imitate the dead as a darkly addictive comfort for the living grievers. Black Mirror’s Frankenstein-esque exploration of these existing technologies was so awkwardly bizarre it was borderline humorous, at least as much as it terrifying.
That awkward moment when mum knocks on the door and u gotta hide your dead corpse sex robot boyfriend, because the ‘rents just don’t understand the high-tech society we live in #bcm325
This endearing film examines the relationship between a lonely but stubborn elderly man and his robotic companion, who appears half robot, half appliance. Robot is programmed to nudge Frank into a healthy lifestyle, much to the latter’s disgust. My recount of the scene where Robot tries to coax Frank into eating cauliflower led me to be low-key trolled on Twitter – by a cauliflower.
This robot was nothing like a human in aesthetic, unlike many other films we have consumed. It was a little eerie; Robot was programmed to have a human personality and emotions, yet kind of resembled a portable, futuristic dishwasher. This led me to reflect back to week 1, when considered the symbology of eyes in non-human technologies.
I also liked Reece`s perspective of the benefits of robot technology in the aged care facility. So often these technologies are portrayed in such a heavy dystopian manner, we forget the legitimate benefits of using them.
After working in an aged care centre I can see the many many solutions that a Robot would be able to offer the staff, not working for the employees but working with them could ensure that proper medication and dietary requirements are accurate every time #BCM325
The technology presented in this episode is so familiar, it would be unsurprising to see something like this unfold tomorrow. From a perpendicular mindset, we have already – disturbingly – seen a surge in suicides from social media bullying and harassment. Is this the same? This episode deals with the issue of online bullying in a very blunt, Hunger Games-esque manner, with a hint (or one thousand) of mutant bio-engineered death-bees.
#BCM325 “it’s not real, it’s a joke thing…” where do we draw the line between physical relationships and relating to others online?
After a plethora of tweets implying that the ability of people to post harmful content freely online was strongly negative, this tweet from Kristy , which cleverly incorporated the free speech argument into the conversation, reminded me that the issue is a lot more complex. Is it too much to implement freedom of speech and hope people will be kind to one another? Apparently.
Comparing an internet ban to North Korea highlights the idea of censorship in society and if we should or shouldn’t be censored in our opinions and beliefs, I definitely think that finding a balance between the two is one societies greatest challenges #bcm325
Although I could not attend class this week, I have seen both Bladerunner (1982) and Bladerunner 2049 (2017), so I could somewhat follow and appreciate the Twitter conversation from afar. They’re confusing films; not until the last half hour of viewing the sequel did I actually realise it was a sequel and not a remake (sorry). Not fully understanding the plot, in some ways, actually made it easier to identify the futuristic devices used in the film because I didn’t get lost in the story.
One of the most significant tropes in the Bladerunner universe is the notion of memory as an ingredient to humanity. Brianna made this insightful comparison between several of the films we’ve seen this semester in terms of the self-awareness of robots, which strongly relates to memory and human identity:
In Westworld, the robots weren’t self aware of the fact they were robots. In Robot and Frank, the robot was self aware. In Blade Runner, the robots aren’t aware- but once they are, they become very upset by the fact. #bcm325
Rachael is unaware that she herself is a replicant, it’s particularly fascinating to Deckard, as she is the first of her kind. She has memories of herself as a child, which leads her to believe it’s impossible that she is anything but human. (Schuck, 2017) #bcm325
The key question here regards the difference between algorithmic memories being coded into a robot and organic memories developing inside a human`s mind. Is the gap closing? If yes, what does it mean to be human?
The product I am designing and creating is a digital choose-your-own-adventure style narrative. It will follow the story of a quantum computer scientist who wishes to create a simulated human society, and his test subject, Mindy, who lives inside the simulation.
Martin Heidegger argues through his concept of “object-oriented ontology” that objects exist independently of their relationship to humans. It considers reality to be holistic, and not merely aggregations of complementary parts. This philosophy will build a strong framework for the structure of my game’s narrative. Although each page reveals more forks in the path and therefore more diverse story opportunities, I will need to consider each element as essential to the narrative, at an equal level, to ensure the consistency of the narrative world.
The philosophical carpentry of each page extends to the overall narrative microcosm through the creation of one holistic story, and beyond this, to question the future of humanity and potential for human simulation that has intrigued philosophers, conspirators and scientists alike for decades.
In a previous blog post, I discussed my initial prototype which I’m using as a rough skeleton. It’s basically a typed version which guides the story so far.
Because Simulation Mindy is being constructed via WordPress, the simplest method of constructing this game has proven to be publishing each page as I create it, and slowly build up the narrative. This has effectively created a working beta version of the end product, which I’ve been editing regularly as my ideas develop.
The working prototype allows me to continuously playtest the game myself. It has also provided me with the opportunity to ask others for feedback. This allows me to consistently improve the quality and user interface of this product as I create it. So far I am confident that the story mechanics physically work.
The feedback I have received thus far suggests that those with an interest in philosophy and the mechanics around simulation theory have been interested by the game more so than others. Although I appreciate and consider this feedback, I know I need this early story to very much reflect Bostrom’s ideas to create a strong foundation from which I can manufacture the protagonist’s story from within the simulation. This will have a much more fun and experimental attitude and I’m looking forward to developing it alongside consistent feedback. I have chosen to prioritise the ‘fun’ issue however; my new risk is that even once I’ve finished the game and the latter two-thirds of it is creative and fun, I still risk losing an audience who might not understand, or be excited about, the foundations of the story and not stick with the game. Therefore I’ll be making several changes to both make the foundation easy to understand and more engaging.
In my previous post for this task, entitled Simulation Theory & Conjectures of Post-Humanity, I broke down the reasoning behind Bostrom’s hypothesis that we are living in a computer simulation. Assuming, as this theory argues, that it’s not impossible that we are living in a simulation, henceforth I will discuss the implications of considering these ideas.
Simulation theory is a somewhat hollow area of study, simply because it’s “not functional information” (McEvoy et. al 2018). Besides being aware that a simulation is happening, a discovery of this variety doesn’t “matter” (ibid) in that it would not physically change anything about the way we live our lives – albeit under the weight of “existential dread”. Outside of being “philosophically interesting” (Staggs 2013), there’s little that understanding this theory will actually do to benefit the human race. For me, the notion of researching something so inexplicably pointless is fascinating in itself in that these studies often lead to unforseen insight into perpendicular issues – which I’ll explain more toward the end of this piece.
Human relationships with computers
Various ideas about the relationship between humans and computers pulse heavily through the mainstream media. This media, both fictional and through news media, varies on a huge scale, from science fiction media which inspires blatant fear of technology in the minds of viewers, leading to public resistance of technology (Kitzinger 2009), to media which greatly misinterprets or underestimates the capacity of that same technology, as was seen in the reporting of human cloning research in 2013 (Condic 2013). We are already struggling with the notion that computers can mime humans online, through bots for example, and it’s difficult to determine whether you’re interacting with a sentient biological human over the internet. This has us feeling somewhat disconcerted (Magid 2017); we (as a race) designed and built computers for our own benefit, we view them as inferior to us.
It is only by “historical accident” that computers are so strongly associated with numeracy, when in truth they have fundamentally very little to do with numbers (Newell et. al 1959). A general-purpose computer has the capacity to read, move, generate, compare and associate symbols. If an abstract combination of these abilities is programmed into the computer, more complex processes can be computed (ibid) – including a potential human simulation. The idea that the joke is on us – somewhat akin to the plot of The Truman Show (1998) – and everything we interact with, ourselves included, may be a piece of code (or the equivalent), is unimaginable. It’d be like learning that horses have actually been racing us in the Melbourne Cup, or that stamps collect us as hobbies.
Humanic Concepts of Simulation
We humans are an exceedingly arrogant species. Obsessed with where we came from and where we’re going, we have strongly debated two core paths of existence for centuries:
Simulation theory does not discount either of these systems, and may indeed exist alongside one. If we count atheism as a belief system, we could theoretically claim that simulation theory could also exist alongside it, however some have come out and blatantly rejected this via a Reddit thread within the Change My View sub Reddit, in which a critique of science practice and how it understands the development of humanity unfolds.
When imagining a computer simulation, we tend to picture a video-game-style contract between the player with the remote control, and the digital universe locked in the screen – but this is not necessarily how a true simulated society would operate (McEvoy et. al 2018). Therefore we have an adjunct bias to the notion of binary simulation that impairs our ability to objectively consider quantum, or other, possibilities. Similarly, when we imagine that we might exist in a simulation, our minds tend to form a picture reminiscent of The Matrix (1999) (Zimmerman-Jones 2015), which Bostrom argues is inaccurate. In The Matrix, the conscious human mind is not simulated (ibid), meaning that biologically-conscious human minds enter a simulated world. Bostrom argues that in the case of a ‘real’ simulation (and I use the word ‘real’ with trepidation), our minds would be simulated matter also (ibid), reaching a clause called substrate-independent (Bostrom 2003). This means that human consciousness would not be dependent on a biological brain and could thus be replicated by a computer.
This bias carries through our use of the word ‘simulation’. In their podcast entitled Two Cyborgs & a Microphone: Fourty-Two (sic), McEvoy and Shank unpack the way we look at the purpose of our lives through religion, and argue there is little disparity in definition between ‘simulation’ and ‘religion’ in practice:
Most of the world throughout history has believed we are in a simulation, but without using those words.
This raises the question of whether we can call simulation theory a religion. The following points are a summation of the correlation between religion and simulation theory:
Many major faiths feature life on earth as an illusionary transitory path toward an afterlife. In simulation theory, illusion is similarly a key concept behind our existence (Staggs 2013).
Most religious models require their participants to worship the God/s in some form. This may include inciting war in the interests of the God, or otherwise to “toil as their faithful servants”. If simulation theory is true, it’s likely we are allowing our own invisible creators to learn or experiment with our existence (Staggs 2013; Bostrom 2003), which forges a similar creator/creation relationship to that of major religions.
Simulation theory, at least as we understand it, is impossible to prove. This means that considering it as a possibility requires at least as much faith as a typical religion (Staggs 2013; Johnson 2011):
We have no good reason for thinking that God designed our universe. . . Every philosopher knows that it can’t be proven false that our universe is not some kind of “simulation”—perhaps an illusion created by some Cartesian evil-demon, or the dream of some great being (or perhaps our own dream). It could be that we are in The Matrix or a brain in a vat. . . Although there is no evidence that such things are true, there is also no definitive evidence that they are false (hence the sceptical problem). (Johnson 2011)
The majority of creation myths feature an outside agent who builds a system comprised of intelligent beings; this is the essence of all belief systems. In this sense, simulation theory is not far off being its own religion – albeit without its subjects worshipping an elusive ‘creator’ (McEvoy et. al 2018).
Humans are proud creatures (Herbert 2007). The notion of being the product of somebody else’s keystrokes is, collectively, something we find alarming. Even the idea of evolution being so offensive to a selection of humans is evidence of this; why are we so insulted that we might have evolved from apes (Korthof 2014)? We’d like to believe we’re part of a larger plan, of some sort of meaning.
The Construct of Death
Questions surrounding human death are underpinned by a combination of “arrogant ‘knowledge'” and logical acceptance of the limitations of our own existence. In her examination of thoughts on euthanasia, Prokipiou names four factors in the human attitude toward death: the effect of technology, authority, selfishness and the weakness of self-criticism and self control (Prokipiou 2016). The notion of death as ‘the unknown’, which is often approached with fear and uncertainty (Carlisle 2013), gave rise to religion. The purpose of religion, according to some critics, is to both recognise and provide a “spiritual response” to these fears (ibid). If we are assuming simulation theory is akin to religious order, we must consider it simultaneously as the product of a society desperate to know its purpose and that which craves understanding in a universe of uncertainty.
Thus it can be argued that the empty questions of “moral and philosophical ambiguity” to which we have no answer are made “soft and comfortable by the warm quilt of religious belief, be it technological or mythical” (Staggs 2013). Staggs goes further to claim that both religion and simulation theory offer simplistic solutions to complex questions about life. He therefore argues we should question why we find simulation theory attractive, rather than whether or not it is true.
In examining simulation theory, the concept of death becomes even more complex. To determine the value of death in a simulation, we first have to unpack what it means to be real – which is almost a whole new research project in itself. In 1641, Descartes, a philosopher, put forward that even if an all-powerful demon tried to convince him to think he exists when he doesn’t, he would still have to exist for this deception to occur (Descartes 1641). Similarly, Descartes put forward his maxim “I think, therefore I am” (which has subsequently been used to explore creator/creature relationships in popular culture such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982) in an ambitious claim that having the ability to question our reality makes us real (Bennett 2017). Thus my current premise is that even if we are mere lines of code typed by post-humans, we still exist in some way.
The notion of death, however, does require we have a ‘self’, or personal agency – which we may not possess in the way we think (Staggs 2013). In this sense, coupled with simulation theory, our ‘death’ may be nothing more than “logging out of (the) illusion” (ibid) – which could expel us from existence permanently, temporarily, or even returning to some other reality instantaneously – which, despite technological connotations, really does not differ from religious notions of death.
Questions of defining, sustaining and understanding life are becoming increasingly urgent as we toy with droids, robots and artificial intelligence reaching human capacity – and possibly surpassing it, with vast implications for humanity as we currently know it. This is an issue we ought to consider proactively, before it becomes a reality (Drevich 2017). Here lies the hidden value alluded to in the introduction of this piece.
Digital Artefact: Update
A skeleton of my interactive narrative is currently live. At this early stage it is not possible to access the entire story, but the brief preview is accompanied by a countdown to when the final product will be completed. I am keeping the @simulationmindy twitter account updated with my progress, as well as compiling various resources for use in this project. I have also written a script for Chattr’s video series Kraj Kraj Conspiracies, presenting simulation theory as a conspiracy for a young, non-academic audience. This video has not yet been published, but when it is I will incorporate it into this portfolio.