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If life is one giant computer simulation, God is a rubbish player | Dominik Diamond

Autor: Dominik Diamond

It’s Easter weekend, when Catholics like me spend hours in church listening to the extended editor’s cut of a story whose ending we already know. Sitting there for the millionth performance of the Passion recently, I got to thinking about how few religious video game characters I’ve ever encountered. It’s interesting that in a world where so many people’s lives are dictated by religious beliefs, there is such a scarcity of religion in games. I mean, you could argue that all games are Jesus homages, with their respawns and extra lives, but even I admit that’s a stretch.

The Peggies in Far Cry 5 are a mind-controlling violent cult; those Founders in BioShock Infinite use religion to elevate and justify hatred of foreigners; and you have those wackadoodles in Fallout worshipping atomic bombs. Religion is almost exclusively used as means for leaders to get minions to do bad things. (Admittedly, they may be on to something here.) I guess that when so many video games are structured so as to set you up as a lone protagonist, up against a huge force, religion is a fairly obvious go-to villain.

Altered Beast video game (arcade version), 1988
Altered Beast (arcade version), 1988. Photograph: Sega

The most terrifying religious happening in video games for me will always be in Altered Beast. A Roman centurion, having lived a life of horrific violence, pain, suffering and straight-road-marching, is rudely woken from death and compelled to do more of it by Zeus (the game mixed its mythologies). Poor guy probably just wants eternal sleep. Instead, he is forced to punch and kick all manner of were-beasts and shiny orbs. He has no choice. He can’t go back. The sideways scrolling sees to that.

My oldest daughter and resident Zelda nut tells me that religion in those games is “nothing but trouble, except the ones that worship nature”. Then again, she is a vegan who works in an animal hospital. On the internet I found impassioned discussions on how Catholic John Marsten was in Red Dead Redemption and “proof” that Doomguy was of a similar persuasion, which was why he was so happy hunting demons in what was effectively The Exorcist in space.

My own relationship to religion is complicated. I find it ever harder to believe in an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving God when the world is beyond a shadow of a doubt in the toilet. I feel like the excuse that “all bad things happen because of the free will God granted us” is the religious equivalent of an infinite lives cheat in a video game; it’s a bit of a hack. I’d give up free will tomorrow, to be honest. I’ve had to make far too many decisions in life as it is. I much preferred life as a small child, being told what to do and being looked after. I honestly think I’d be a happy automaton, as long as I got eight hours of sleep a night.

What if we are, as some believe, characters in a giant computer simulation? Without going full David Icke on you, I see more sense in that with every passing day. It’s one of those theories that is simultaneously crackpot and borne out by facts. Think about it: wouldn’t everything makes sense if this world were part of a video game, being played by a truly rubbish player? How often have I screwed up decisions when I’m in charge in a video game? How many cities did I completely mess up and then abandon in SimCity? Have you ever seen such ruthless amoral global leadership outside a Civilization playthrough?

The answer is clear: God is just not a very competent player. Don’t tell me it’s a coincidence that the closing credits of Altered Beast revealed that it was all just a simulation, too.

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A human figure flies through the air in Black and White
Remember 2001’s Black and White, a video game in which you played as a god and things always went wrong? Yeah. Photograph: Bullfrog/EA

There is one positive about the simulation argument. It means criticism becomes painless. There is always that egotistical terror that I will write something people will hate. This was never a problem in the days before online comments, when I spent 10 years as the sole liberal columnist on the Daily Star, though I could show you handwritten letters that would make your toes curl, if I hadn’t had them doused in holy water then buried them in lime.

The great thing about simulation theory is that I can write anything and if people don’t like it then that’s OK. It’s not even me writing it. It’s some supreme being controlling me in Newspaper Columnist Adventure 5. Poor supreme being. It would be the most boring game they’ve played since Euro Truck Simulator.

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