When I was a kid I loved role playing video games, especially the open world kind where rare items littered the landscape and achievements were unlocked by doing just about anything. The sprawling checklists of things to do and buy and find kept me occupied for hundreds of hours and I would make up ridiculous goals for myself, such as to collect every item in Fallout 3 or find all 100-something stars in Super Mario 64 (I’ll admit the Fallout goal was a tad more extreme). I think my addiction was rooted in the idea that finding every rare item or reaching the max level was an impressive accomplishment that somehow bolstered my real world ability to be successful. After all, these things weren’t necessarily easy.
Somewhere along the lines however, the missions lost their glimmer and I stopped caring about how difficult the tasks were. The virtual worlds that had entranced me from behind a television screen were not as intriguing as they used to be. Why? Well I started to accept the fact that they were the software creations of other human beings just like me. There was an exact number of lines of code that defined the video game and what was allowed within it. The rare items were placed in treasure chests by a programmer and they would always be there, no matter how many times I restarted the system, destroying and then reviving the imaginary world that existed on the spinning disk inside. If I was unable to find an item or defeat a boss, it was a guarantee that someone else would. That was the realization that sapped the color from video games for me. It was actually an even starker realization than the idea that someone else would accomplish something I couldn’t. The code logically made it possible for this to happen.
This climactic sentence deserves some attention. If a programmer codes a feature into a game with the intent of allowing players to access that feature, they need to provide a method for them to do so. For example, a programmer might hide a powerful sword on top of a giant mountain. If the game’s physics prevent the gamer from ascending the mountain though, then we can assume the sword doesn’t exist because from the vantage point of the gamer, we can never interact with the sword. On the other hand, everything that the game’s physics allows the gamer to interact with can at some point be realized by the gamer. To reiterate one more time, if the physics of a dimension allow something to be possible, we can assume that a player exhausting all allowed actions will discover that possibility in time (Super Mario 64 Speed Run – seriously, how tf)?.
With this idea in mind, I lost interest in video games since I knew that everything that was possible was possible. It sounds like an Oxymoron but the knowledge that time was the only thing separating me from uncovering every secret available drained the youthful buzz out of me. Of course, one could argue that there is still the mystery of what is possible to begin with and I would concede that as partially true…if you knew how to access and study the code driving the game, the mystery would relinquish into a puff of smoke.
The real impact of this formidable claim happens when you veer away from video games and into life. Does the same idea persist? It’s hard to say. In a video game, structures, events, characters, and the ways in which they change are hard coded. The last item is the most important since it is the only thing that could yield unpredictable offspring. I’ll have to do some more research on how game engines have evolved, but if we assume that the allowed avenues for change are simple and calculated (100 experience points and your character gains +2 strength), it remains that video games are built on a foundation of possibilities. The sophistication of the real world overshadows that of the virtual world and we don’t know for sure if anything is “hard coded”. Even if it was, we don’t have the liberty of reloading at a checkpoint to verify that.
But what about the idea that everything that is possible is possible in the real world? Logically, that point stands but we have no way of knowing the far extents of the human body or the physics that govern our movement and thought. On the same thread, there is very little we can rule out in terms of what’s possible beyond things that are exceptionally ludicrous. Can we fly? No, but maybe in several thousand years the human species will develop the ability…and if they do then the circumstances are not the same. Maybe, then, the mystery lies in discovering what is possible now, in the immediate moment! The world will never be the same again, nor will any of the environmental factors, nor your mindset, nor your perception of life (assuming that every moment that passes affects you in one way or another).
The only thing that is constant is change. Heraclitus
Change, then, is the most significant differentiation between video games and reality. Whereas very little changes in a video game, everything changes in reality…and as everything changes, so does the concept of what is possible. In other words, what is possible during the second you read the first part of this sentence may not be possible during the second you read the next part. Hmm, I’m hesitant to embrace this idea. Many of the changes we experience will not be that drastic and over the course of a human life, change may teeter in one direction and correct in the other, altogether amounting to a minimal difference. If we view this as a wave, the crests and troughs would then set the ranges of what is possible for a single human life and it would be up to the individual to capitalize on the ebbs and flows.