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Pursuit of Consequence

by Scott Brumfield about a year ago in science fiction

A Simulation

It was early 2007 when I met God. He was in a hole-in-the-wall redneck bar in Pike County, Mississippi called Dicky’s Tavern. I thought it was kind of a shitty place for a god to hang out and it made me wonder about his character, but then again, I was there. I knew he was God because… well, I just knew. He wasn’t wearing robes or glowing. There were no angels singing. I just sat down on the stool next to him and knew he was God.

I needed to ask something. Not something specific, but at least something. How often do you meet God? So I asked the tried and true, “Which religion is the right religion?” To which he replied, “Who said that there was a wrong one?” To which I said, “Huh?”

“Have you ever played a game?”

“I’m sorry?” I replied.

“I mean a computer game, something like an FPS or the like.”

“Oh, yeah, I suppose so, it’s been a while. I was never a big fan, more a chess guy.”

“Fair enough, but you understand the principle of an FPS game, the idea of it.”

“Yes, I get the gist of them; I played Tribes for a while in my teens.”

“Ok, good, good. Give me just a moment.” His gaze glazed over and he stared into the distance for a few seconds and then looked back at me. “Which one is correct? Children of the Phoenix, Blood Eagle, Diamond Sword or Starwolf? Which is the right faction?”

I laughed. I had forgotten that aspect of the game, it had been so long. “I suppose it depends on who you’re playing at the time.”

He winked.

“Now,” He continued, “you said you enjoyed chess.”

“Yes.”

“Imagine for a moment if chess had no rules. Say, a pawn could just traipse about the board any old way it pleased. A knight could corkscrew diagonally, vertically and horizontally as many spaces as it liked. How would that change the game?”

I thought for a moment. It wouldn’t change the game, it would ruin it. It wouldn’t be a game anymore. There would be no point in playing.

“Exactly!” he said, though I had not spoken aloud.

“You get sick and you die, you get sick and you live. You get a job or you don’t. You live on the street or under a bridge or you live in a mansion. You walk across a million streets and you’re fine, but one day you forget to look both ways and you’re killed. This world, this universe, it’s all just rules. The rules exist because otherwise it would be pointless. Religions just serve as scaffolding for social rules. It’s actually pretty low in the hierarchy. Lots of atheists running around these days.”

I stared blankly.

He sighed. “Look, religion isn’t real. I mean it is real, but it isn’t really real.” He frowned. “Ok, here’s the deal. You’re not here, not really. Humanity is old. Super old. We haven’t had things like disease in millions of years. We’re practically immortal. Hell, a physical body is practically passé these days. So you can imagine what happened to a lot of the rules. “

The blank stare seemed to work, so I stuck with it.

“Rules.” He said. “You can’t eat that, it’ll make you fat and damage your heart. You can’t NOT eat, you’ll starve. You can’t walk there, you’ll break your leg. You can’t have sex like that, you’ll get an STD. Etc. and so on. It sounds terribly restricting but if you take them away…”

He paused, seeming to expect me to extrapolate something from this.

He sighed again, “If you take them away you end up with a chess game where every piece is unrestrained by any laws! A pointless game. After a few million years we were playing the game of life in god-mode and it got boring fast. If you have everything you can’t really want anything. We played around with self-imposed laws but it didn’t really work. The restraints were too loose, too obviously artificial. So people started making simulations. There are a bunch of small ones and probably a few thousand full universal simulations. This one is mine, one of the best out there if I do say so myself. I’ve won awards with it.”

“A simulation.” I said.

“Yep, down to the last quark. Took me seven days to bring it on line. That bit leaked in-game and I just went with it. See, you’re not here. I mean, you’re here, of course, but you’re not reeeaally here. You’ve been in a sim-suit for …” he stared into the distance for a moment again, “six hours now.”

“Six hours.” I was 38 years old.

“Yep, sometimes the ratio is a bit off, there’s a relativity glitch but it’s pretty inconsequential right now. I’m going to have to do something about that if FTL develops before a melt-down. Anyway, that’s the gist. There is no religion, not any more than there are governments or city councils. It’s all just scaffolding to hang the rules on. And having more than one religion and having religions be self-propagating – that’s my invention. One religion arises with a set of rules, it ferments for a bit, buds out and branches off to several similar but slightly different religions with slightly different rules. “

“But I don’t remember being … what is a sim-suit? What about the afterlife, what about souls…” I was starting to unravel a bit.

“First, you can’t remember because that’s part of the simulation. We don’t wipe your memory, but you can’t take it into the simulation with you. You inhabit your avatar’s simulated brain at the time of birth and develop a new personality from that point on, although certain tendencies persist. A sim-suit is just an interface rig, like a wearable sensory deprivation chamber. It’s really more of a bag than a suit these days. It interrupts your nervous system and redirects signals to your avatar. There are no souls. That’s just part of the simulation. I suppose you could say that your real-world consciousness is your soul. And, finally, there is no afterlife. At least not one that we’re aware of. Of course when your avatar dies you just come out of the simulation so… I suppose that’s an afterlife. You are, for all practical purposes, immortal. But I’ll tell you this, it’s boring. That’s why the simulation exists, as I’ve explained. You’ll come out; you’ll traipse around the board for a while because that’s what people do. Then you’ll crawl back into the sim-suit with a sigh of relief as you anticipate being born into a universe of suffering and conflict. It’s weird, but it’s what we humans do.”

“I…”, I tried to form some sort of question, but how could I pick one when everything was a question.

“Listen, I really have to run. The system is mostly self-monitoring but there are always things to take care of. Do me a favor and keep this under your hat, right? Things like this get out, they ruin the game for everyone. Horizontal pawns and all that. Thanks and hey, when you’re done with this sim run, look me up, we’ll get a coffee or something.” And then he winked out of existence.

The next few days went by in a blur and in the weeks following I quit my job and lived in a tent in the north-east for a few years. I tried not eating, but got hungry and eventually ate. I tried not sleeping but fell asleep. I even, during a very dark time, tried jumping off of a steep embankment, but broke an ankle and ripped most of the skin from my left forearm. The rules held fast and did not waver. In the end I came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter if the laws were self imposed and artificial, the consequences were not. Rules are rules.

science fiction

Scott Brumfield

Read next: Your Mind May Not Even Be a Biological Neural Net

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