Video Games are the result of endless hard work, imagination and dedication, the men and women who create these worlds give a lot for us to be able to explore their most intimate ideas and fantasies, but what happens to these worlds when the lights go off? What happens to those NPCs? Those forests and towns? Is it like an old clock that just keeps on ticking? How similar are these digital worlds to our own? It almost reminds me of the age old brain exercise: ‘If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’
A YouTuber by the name of Vinesauce recently went face to face with this conundrum, literally. In one of his recent videos he explored a long forgotten 90’s MMO called Active Worlds, the world is particularly creepy, with eerily silent towns and NPCs and animals that seem to be frozen in time, just waiting for someone to wake them from their slumber (the video can be found at the end of this article).
As Vinesauce was exploring this wasteland, he came across a quite peculiar NPC by the name of Hitomi Fujiko, who kept repeating “Are you lost?” And even assists in helping Vinesauce through a locked door, all the while asking weirder and weirder questions, eventually he asks Vinesauce “Do I exist?” And things take an extremely unsettling turn.
Now to most who watch the video it becomes quite obvious that someone was just playing a prank on Vinesauce, but even so that doesn’t stop us from contemplating the significance and the philosophical ideas involved, with the existence of AI, consciousness, and whether or not something like an NPC could follow the laws of nature and eventually evolve? It may sound ridiculous, but hold on let me explain, it actually might be possible, and has already been seen in simulations created by scientists.
They are called the “Avidians”, a race of digital beings in a computer world called Avida run by scientists at Michigan State University, it works with computer code instead of DNA, when they breed, that code gets copied, but just like in real life it’s not copied perfectly which creates differences(mutations) in their code that in turn dictate how well, or badly, they will perform in their simulated world.
After 100 generations of Avidians breeding, a mutation led to one of them evolving a “gene” and after thousands of generations led to something even more impressive: a rudimentary memory. They were evolving right before our eyes.
This then begs the question, could this happen in video games? Could there be a tiny mistake in a line of code somewhere in a game that somehow gets copied over and over and creates more errors and eventually evolves into something else entirely? What counts as sentient? What makes something ‘conscious?’ Well you might be surprised to hear that your computer just might be “alive.”
The Integrated Information Theory (IIT) , was proposed in 2008 by Guilio Tononi, a US-based neuroscientist which states consciousness can arise anywhere there is lots of information processing, even in systems and computers, but there is a certain kind of information processing that is required, it consists of two types of information: ‘differentiated’ (like being able to differenciate the frames of a film) and ‘Integrated’ (meaning to put those film frames together into one cohesive scene) .