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Are You Really Alive? A Sims 3 Existential Crisis

Updated on March 27, 2010

Here's a bit of a caveat, if you're sort of prone to depression when you contemplate the idea that we humans might not be anything at all, give this article a miss. It isn't going to help much. Unless you want to dismiss it out of hand, which might work.

Here's the hypothesis: We are meat sims, no more or less real than any computer animation. We are perhaps, more advanced, more complex, but we have no eternal nature, indeed, like any helpless computer sim, we are but temporary products of code, destined for mandatory deletion.

Here's how I came to form that hypothesis.

A sim appears to live, to love, to have a career, to build a home, to interact with the world, but ultimately, a sim has no real existence or individuality, it is merely the product of the program. When it is deleted, it just disappears into the ether. Sure, it hangs around in the ghostly memory of the hard drive for a while, but it is eventually overwritten. You can create a thousand copies of exactly the same sim and they are, for all intents and purposes, the same. Put them in a game though, and they assume a veneer of individuality, enough of a veneer that it almost seems like they have some kind of personality, some kind of soul.

Did playing The Sims really trigger an existential crisis? Why yes, yes it did, because at the heart of it, one can make the argument that we are not that different from sims. Sims appear because code dictates their make up, just as our own bodies are coded by DNA. The 'material' we are made of, the meat, if you will, falls away from our bodies and eventually our bodies are absorbed back into the system, just as the resources the sim uses to appear on the screen return to the system when the sim is gone.

I know we like to think that we have souls, identities, but do we really? The only difference that seems to truly exist between a sim and a human being is that, unlike a sim, a human being is able to contemplate the program and wonder why she is in it.

These themes (themes of potential non existence, not the Sims 3), have been visited by countless philosophers over thousands of years, a fact, which in itself lends some credence to the theory that we all may be permutations of the same code, no more special than the snowflakes that fall and melt away to become the rivers, the oceans, the rain. You could say that there is no such thing as a human soul or even a human being in the sense that we experience it. We are often lead to believe that we have some solid metaphysical existence. But what evidence is there for such a thing? Is it not simply wishful thinking? Is it not simply the self defense of a mind that perceives the banal horror of existing in the simulation?

Perhaps, perhaps not. But it is certainly an interesting thought experiment. What is it that makes us, us? From whence comes the sense of eternity that comforts the human in her or his darkest hours? Is it a reflection of some reality beyond the simulation, or is it merely the hope of the slowly decaying semi-electronic meat puppet?


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