What if life's like this? Only without the TV on our head.

Life as a Video Game

There are scientists working right now to try and figure out if the universe is actually a massive holograph. Frankly, I’m not really sure what it would mean if it turns out it is. As long as our only awareness is within this realm, I don’t see how knowing that I’m stuck in an intricate projection would change anything. But I do have my own unprovable theory about technology and the nature of our lives which I think could be useful. It’s this: what if we thought of our lives as us taking part in a massive, intense, virtual reality video game? Now, I’m no gamer myself, so I’m sure I’m going to miff some details here, but bear with me.

See, I think that when we become embodied, it’s like starting to play this virtual reality game. The physical realm is the setting for the game. One of the game’s features is that it’s so all-encompassing, we tend to forget that it’s not reality (or at least doesn’t represent ultimate reality which would be the spiritual world). It seems likely that some of us retain the memory that we’ve entered into this alternate world for a while when we are very young. Thus the common beliefs/reports that infants and small children can see angels.

Like a video game avatar, everyone gets a body to use during their time in the game. While each of us bears the image of God, these bodies are shaped by a nearly endless array of genetic differences, environmental exposures, quirks of growth and such before we are born. Add the influence of external factors – circumstances, relationships and parents and each of our avatars carry God’s image in completely unique ways as we move through the game.

Like all games, this one was made with challenges, risks and even unavoidable traps and dangers. In the Christian tradition, there has been a tendency to think that prior to the fall, the world was perfect. Unless you were a plant, because everyone – even the tigers and vampire bats – ate you. But the reality is that God declared the created world “good”, not perfect. All of the evidence we have points to the reality that there have always been earthquakes, sickness, droughts and animals who think we look like a tasty treat. But if we remember that this life is a game, then we can also remember that any game worth playing has challenges and risks or its just not worth playing. Part of what happened at the fall seems to have been that we decided that life – including ourselves – wasn’t good enough. But even with flesh eating bacteria and spiders the size of our heads, the world was made good and it still is today.

I think that the story of the creation of man can be the story of the day when God said to adam – humanity - “come and see this place I’ve made for you to play in. It has plants and animals, day and night, mountains and valleys for you to enjoy and cultivate. I’m going to start you off in a garden where you can tend to the land and the animals there to start off with. You will be paired as male and female to have children so that everyone can get a chance to play the game and learn and grow there. Some of you will play the game for many seasons and some of you will kind of pop in and out. At the end of your turn, we’ll take a look back and see how you did. There are risks, of course, but I made you very good. You’ll figure out how to advance in the game to deal with these risks over your generations.” 

I think that the tree in the garden – the one with the fruit man was forbidden to eat from – worked like a cheat in the game. Eating the fruit would take humanity straight from the level we were at to the level that God plays the game at - as one who knows good and evil. The highest level available for the game – in our world, at least.

God told us that if we ate from that tree, we would die on that day. Which shows how dangerous jumping straight to that level was. On the day we ate that fruit, humanity would be condemned to die. Given that it took a good 6.5 billion years or so for the planet we are playing the game on to be ready for us, and that the creation story condenses that into 6 days, no doubt humanity is still living out that day. The human race is still in danger of losing the game entirely. We certainly have the ability to wipe ourselves out at this point in human history – and may we do so if we don’t change how we are playing the game.

In this context, the story of our faith is the story of the rescue mission through which God is trying to help us avoid that fate. As it turns out, just as there was a cheat which allowed us to jump to a level we hadn’t earned and weren’t ready to play, there’s a cheat which lets us find our way out again. It works like in a hedge maze where people entering it are told, “if you get hopelessly lost, just keep turning left and you’ll eventually find your way out.” In our case, the fail-safe is love. This was the message Jesus was giving us when he said that the whole of the law was summed up in the commands to “Love the Lord your God [ie Love] with all your heart, mind and being and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” If as we go about our business of raising families, studying bugs, learning to make cakes or whatever we are doing, we would all devote ourselves to love and nothing else, we can find our way safely through. In fact, if we all embrace this, we will not only find our way through, but our game-playing ability will catch up to the level of the game we are playing at. We’ll discover how to use the resources of this good world created for us to sustain it and ourselves. How to treat each other in ways which bring life and dignity rather than oppression and death. The challenge is convincing everyone to stop trying to play the game in the way that seems best to them and instead pay the price of learning to live lives which are expressions of pure love – ie as images of God.

It’s that convincing everyone to use the fail-safe built into the game which is the real problem we now face. Religious people often like to talk about free will, but only when it’s as an explanation for people going to hell or sinning. But choosing love is as much an act of the will as sinning has ever been. God can’t just descend, tell us what to do and have it be so. We have to choose to live differently than we and our people have been up until this point. In fact, all of scripture can be seen as a record of how through his relationship with Israel, God has sought to take humanity from our own, erroneous and limited understanding of how to play the game and help us choose to re-orient them ourselves to Love. It’s the only way we can be redeemed from the death which we are on a path towards. And at the end of our lives, as we review how we played the game, this will be the standard by which we are judged. How well did we love? How much closer were we able to bring humanity to the day when we’d all be living by Love above and beyond anything else we could be doing.

Which leads me to an often missed feature about this video game. It’s a group project. Jesus made it clear that we are supposed to be living our lives for the benefit of others, not just for ourselves. The point of the game isn’t just that I would learn to play it well. Rather, by learning to play it well, I will be making the game easier for others to play well. I will be leaving the game in a better working state than it was when I got here. Jesus didn’t pray for us to be good individuals, but for us to be one as he and the father are one. That we would see ourselves working and acting as one unit rather than a separate from each other.

Jesus even told us that we ought to be willing to give up our lives in order to achieve this goal. Many people think that a good life is a long life and a life cut short is a sign that the game isn’t working or is unfair. But the only good which comes from having a long life is having more time to make the game better. A short life, done well and received well by the people around us, is sometimes the best contribution a person can make to moving us forward in learning to love. At the end of the day, Love is the one and only purpose which will last from this game we are playing.

So, how’s your game going?

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8 thoughts on “Life as a Video Game

  1. I agree the world is very much like this. (Except none of the video games I know of manage to give much direct pleasure, beauty etc — at least not to any aspect of us except our egos.)

    [The hologram notion, by the way, has an interesting implication: There turns out to be a limited amount of information in any particular chunk of space, and that amount is proportional to the surface area of the sphere containing it. If the universe is infinite in the 3 directions we see, there is almost certain to be another chunk of space just like it, in any direction you like, within a certain large-but-finite distance. You might be your particular 'Rebecca T' in this particular world, having made the decisions you have -- but somewhere out there, if this were true, there ought to be a body you could potentially inhabit, where 'you' were about to do something else... I don't know, myself, whether playing that character with what you've learned since then would be a good idea or not... I've found the notion tempting -- considering all the Forrests out there who might have more fun and less trouble, but after thinking it over, I doubt I'd be better off as one of them.]

    If

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      • Well, from early on there was this weird interpretation of quantum physics that said ~’Every way that things could go is a new, real branch producing a new world.’ Which would mean that worlds exist in which we did all the bad things conceivable to us, plus! Thinking about that, it seems to me that the ones that are “real” would be the ones we’re actually willing to sit through, the ones we’re willing to be in, doing the things we actually decide to do…

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  2. I know that this will be a very immature comment, but, if I am a simulation/hologram in a game, why, oh why couldn’t I have been taller? (:-). Sorry, I could not help it. Seriously now, as usual, insightful, And at the very least makes you think…

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    • Pat, I read that post back when you posted it on my post on white privilege! I’d been thinking for a while about how video games could probably help us better understand the nature of life so great minds and all that. Of course, Scalzi, unlike me, has actually played video games more complicated than Digby’s Donuts (which I rock at). So he can do the idea more justice than me. ;)

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    • Pat, I read that post back when you posted it on my post on white privilege! I’d been thinking for a while about how video games could probably help us better understand the nature of life so great minds and all that. Of course, Scalzi, unlike me, has actually played video games more complicated than Digby’s Donuts (which I rock at, btw). So he can do the idea more justice than me. ;)

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  3. well…that is exactly the way i have been thinking the world worked. How come when you write it all out Rebecca, you make it sound feasible and interesting. I tried to explaining this idea to my husband and he fell asleep. :(
    A long time ago when i believed in reincarnation, i thought we got more than one chance at it. Thought that those who weren’t doing so well must be on their first turn or something. Scraped that theory now.
    I am getting better at the game of life. Took a while. Best level is passing from solo gamer to team player, then the game gets so much easier and more fulfilling.
    Making definite progress and always look forward to moving up a level.

    Anyway, Plants v Zombies rocks! If anyone is looking for an actual video game! :D

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