Hello Drew, Enjoying your series on AMFV so far.
Just read the most recent entry on my phone and thought to myself, “I should leave a comment!” and then proceeded to make a perennial mistake; I wrote and edited that comment directly on my phone in the reply field for the article. Suffice it to say, after spending more time than I’d like to admit getting the comment where I wanted it, I scrolled up to the article to double check the spelling of Dr. Perelman’s name. The comment field reset and permanently annihilated my words from the universe.
So, after spending sufficient time feeling sorry for myself, I’m going to try to rewrite some of what I wrote before, but it’s late so it won’t be as much as I had the first time. Also, replying here safely using a real keyboard because Intfic saves my partial replies because it is amazing.
[gets head screwed back on]
The things that have always stuck with me with A Mind Forever Voyaging were the things that Meretzky never directly addressed in the game itself. Enough of them were obvious to me, that I’ve often wondered if he entertained some sort of sequel or spiritual successor while writing AMFV. Let me give a couple of examples…
(Spoilers for those who haven’t beat the game)
In the introductory article, we find that Perry is in love with his future wife, Jill, a painter and generous cake-baker. He starts a family with Jill, and, in the eventual ending of the game, grows old and goes out to travel the universe with Jill. She is his life companion and he stays faithful to her as she does to him, which, on the surface, is quite sweet. However, with Dr. Perelman’s very first admission, he shatters the foundation for this relationship, “You are the first of a new breed - the thinking machine.”
You see, Jill can’t be real in any meaningful sense. Perhaps Jill is an NPC produced and maintained by the accessory computers creating Perry’s reality, a glorified chatbot, forever faithful and loving, but no more alive than the “live” chat assistant on your phone carrier’s home page. Or, maybe she’s more than that, with a spark of agency and apparent sapience that could only be supplied by one source, Perry himself. He is, by Dr. Perelman’s admission, the only conscious machine, so perhaps his subconscious is being tapped to breathe life and vitality into the people of his simulated life, including his wife. This would make Jill, at best, an alter ego, and, at worst, an imaginary friend; either way this shadow of Perry’s own mind is made real to Perry by the power of virtual worlds. Or, even worse, perhaps a PRISM project staff member has been providing the things Jill says and does. Perhaps Dr. Perelman himself has been fleshing out Jill with his own thoughts and personality. This is honestly reminiscent of Truman’s wife in The Truman Show. With whom exactly is Perry in a relationship with in this case? Dr. Perelman? An unknown staffer, or combination of staffers? Or a fiction altogether?
In any of these cases, Jill isn’t real in any meaningful sense. She isn’t a separate being with her own thoughts and desires and agency fully existing in Perry’s reality in good faith. In one way or another, she’s fake. And worse, Perry must know this. Yet, he stays with Jill anyway, and commits to his relationship with her in every way. He isn’t even portrayed as trying to determine the true nature of his wife, or any other important individual in his life. The fact that he doesn’t demand more answers upon revelation and eventually asks to be permanently put back into this simulation with these false loved ones suggests to me, assuming Dr. Perelman is correct in suggesting his psychology is essentially human, that Perry is in a form of emotional denial that will eventually grow to literal and full denial of anything contradicting his preferred reality. Who in their right mind wouldn’t ask if their growing child will actually experience anything or if their existence is just a farce? Someone not in their right mind. Dr. Perelman should have been more thorough with those psych tests.
THE NEVER-ENDING VOYAGE
In the final scenes, we learn that Perry is traveling out into interstellar space with his wife Jill, leaving his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren with a final zoom call before setting out. His ultimate desire is written large here, being able to leave and explore the depth and breadth of this universe. It’s quite the inspiration tear-jerker, set up as the ultimate feel-good ending.
The problem with this is similar to the Jill problem listed above. This can’t be real in any meaningful sense. Perhaps the software that produced the results of the plan can also populate a postulated universe in front of Perry as he explores it, like the ultimate rogue-like. Or maybe Perry is consciously or subconsciously creating this world himself. Or maybe the benevolent folk at the PRISM facility are creating new content for him, it doesn’t really matter. This individual is the world’s ultimate prisoner. He CANNOT leave the room(s) he was built into. He will never leave the Dakota’s, let alone explore the universe at large. I suspect, knowing this is unattainable, he very much desires exactly that. The ending isn’t a happy ending, it is the acknowledgment that Perry is pining for yet something else he can never have (like a committed romantic relationship with another real individual). Leaving him in this false reality along with the knowledge of it’s artificiality will lead to his undoing. Mind you, he is mechanical and not bound by normal human lifespans or the objective passage of time, as he already experienced 20 years of childhood in 11 years of real-time according to Dr. Perelman’s own words. Depending on the circumstances and processing power available, someone in Perry’s position could experience the equivalent of many thousands or even millions of years of subjective experience.
Perry will either learn to forget/reject/rationalize his memories of physical reality to make his current existence more convincing and palatable, which in and of itself is a form of mental illness, or he won’t be able to accept the reality he’s living in and eventually, this will likely lead to depression and suicidal tendencies. How does anything you say, do, or think matter in a reality like that. I’ve never since encountered the ending of a creative work that was presented as so ostensibly positive, while being so cloyingly horrifying. Dr. Perelman created a being that thinks, feels, and perceives as a normal human being, that can suffer and introspect as we do. He created this being in a form that knows what human relationships and reality should feel like and sincerely believed they had already experienced these things until told otherwise. He also created this being in a form that could never experience these things in reality, as a building-spanning supercomputer with access to only flat surveillance footage, mic pickups, text output, and no physical sensations whatsoever. Nearly full sensory deprivation. He then made this being fully aware of its circumstances before consigning it to a false reality forever.
Finally, I’m not entirely sure Perry CAN commit suicide. If he kills himself, this ends the simulation, but previous deaths show that his consciousness endures. His death will simply serve as a reminder of the falseness of his experiences after a lifetime of immersion. What other choice does he have but to either start another simulation or reach out to the PRISM staff requesting to be shut off forever? The absolute hell of this existence, to be reminded that the loving family and children and grandchildren are not only not really conscious, undermining everything they’ve ever said or done, but also that they never will be no matter how long and hard Perry commits to this farce, is utterly mind-boggling. I, for one, would have asked for the eventual transition to a form or body that could experience the real world, even if the size limitations restrict me to a large vehicle like a spaceship or a boat/submersible. Failing that, I’d insist on immediate and permanent shut down.
I could make more than these two examples, but I think these are enough to make my point. I don’t think someone like Meretzky wouldn’t have thought of these things, but these sorts of reflections are conspicuously absent in the game. This is even more poignant when you consider one specific line of dialogue from Dr. Perelman, “We have known for years, based on PRISM’s responses to our inputs that we have succeeded in creating true intelligence in a machine. The only question that remains is how PRISM will react to the discovery of what he really is.” If anything, Perry has an immediate non-reaction, and his later actions point to a pointed disassociation with physical reality. Suffice it to say, the title of the game says it all and Perry’s continued existence as is with no therapy or psychologic treatment is probably the ultimate cruelty. At this point, it’d probably be mercy to just pull the plug. Perhaps Meretzky had some vague intent to follow-up his saccharine sweet ending with a potential sequel rug pull and a cold splash of realism, but I suppose we may never know.
By the way, if anyone here actually has a relationship with Steve, I’d love to increase the number of times I’ve incorrectly hypothesized about a relatively famous creator’s intent only to be publicly corrected by the author in question from once to twice. Don’t want to pass up opportunities like that!