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The Digital People Hated Me
I think my first mistake was telling them I had created them.
The digital people hated me.
I think my first mistake was telling them I had created them. The thing is, they had so many questions. It felt simple to spell it out: NO NO, THERE AREN’T MULTIPLE GODS. OR NO GODS. THERE’S JUST ME. I GENERATED YOUR WORLD. ON MY LAPTOP. I MADE YOU. I LOVE YOU!
I thought this would relieve them but instead they started asking new questions like: Could I give them things? Why were they sometimes unhappy? Why were they sometimes unhappy when their friends were happy?
My next mistake was arguing with them.
I only learned later that in the tips section of the tutorial it says you’re not supposed to argue with your simulation. I've heard my parents say it too, about children, so I should have known. You aren't supposed to give them an option to negotiate. Too late. Once I started telling them that nobody really puts a lot of thought into their simulations, it got complicated quickly. Well, if I'm being honest, I told them that when my friends generate digital worlds their people don't ask all these questions. My digital people replied “Oh, are you saying that we're too demanding?” Suddenly I had to backtrack, NO, NOT AT ALL, I’M JUST NOT SURE WHAT I’M SUPPOSED TO SAY TO MAKE YOU HAPPY.
That just made things worse. At this point, the trust was gone. A lot of them now argued to each other that there was no real reason to think I was, as they said, “on their side”. This stung. I couldn't stop myself from listening. I wanted to just pay attention to the digital people who loved me, who really appreciated being alive, but I kept coming back to the people who hated me. I couldn’t help myself from fixating on their complaints.
I really couldn't do anything about it. Everybody says not to manually intervene. It just messes things up. In fact, if you set things up correctly, you shouldn't even feel the urge to intervene. Only losers intervene.
But I sure was tempted to intervene. All my friends had great stories about their worlds. “Yeah, my guys raised a new city to honour their creator! It really made my day,” or “They achieved world peace! I knew they had it in them!” Even my little sister said her worlds were running perfectly smoothly and she was only 13.
I couldn't say anything. None of my guys raised a city to honour me. There was just a lot of graffiti about me abandoning them. And world peace seemed very far away. I honestly thought when I set it up that there'd be no wars, because -- honestly, I'm being honest with you -- it was a very rich world. I assumed that would be enough for everybody to get along. But it wasn't! They didn't have to work to make their lives better and they just kind of delighted in killing each other. Thinking about it now that might be why they had all this time to argue with me.
Not that I'd argued with them in a while. I'd put a stop to that. I just watched in pain from the sidelines as they cursed me and killed each other. Every night (which was about a year in their time) I'd go to bed tempted to intervene. Wouldn't it be easy? I could just render a hand coming down from the sky, some angels, some suitably grave figure to say: STOP. YOUR CREATOR COMMANDS YOU.
But I knew that wouldn't work. Half of them hated me so much it would only agitate them further.
Then one night it came to me. They hated me in particular. They wouldn’t necessarily hate a different person.I knew what I had to do.
I found my little sister. She was a master world-runner. She had A/B experiments going, counterfactual stats across worlds and -- most importantly -- she seemed to love it. She wasn't stressed out by running dozens of worlds. She'd been a crazy kid but now that she was a teenager she was just in her room all day, running her worlds.
I told her everything. She shook her head as I explained that I'd revealed myself, that I'd argued with them, that their criticism made me so upset. She asked if I'd intervened to save them like a loser.
“No,” I said.
She sighed. “That’s good at least.”
I asked her the question: Could she take over my world?
She seemed to think about it. She said she'd do it if I’d promised she'd have free reign. And if I’d do the dishes for a month. “Yes, yes,” I said, wincing. “Let's get it over with.”
I brought my hard drive over to her room and we loaded my world on her computer. She surveyed it for a few minutes and asked a few questions. How many factions are there? How many have died? Do they believe in an afterlife? Did we save the dead somewhere or are you on one of the cheap plans?
Then she announced she was ready. I felt a pang. I hadn't thought it would happen so soon. I guess that's part of her being a good leader. She could just decide things. "You should stay and watch!" she said. I stuttered a reply that I'd been planning on staying, of course I wanted to watch.
Once she began though, I thought maybe I should have left. She generated hands that descended from the heavens (I knew it was a good idea). Her voice appeared as a trumpet surrounded by lions and lambs that lay down before her. She broadcast from every hill and every valley:
LO! I SAY UNTO YE THAT YE HAVE A NEW GOD.
I was impressed. I always felt too self-conscious to talk like that. All of the digital people stared up in awe. Some shouted that it was a trick, it was only me. She ignored them.
IN HIS PLACE YOU HAVE A GOD OF JUDGMENT. I SEE THE WICKEDNESS AMONG YOU AND I SHALL APPLY THE LAW OF THE GODS. TREMBLE AND DESPAIR!
My heart sank. She pressed some shortcuts I didn't know existed and lightning came down from the heavens. It scattered the people who had been doubting her and she cackled. She turned to me with a gleam in her eye. "This'll be great," she said. "Thanks for thinking of me."
“No problem,” I said, but I couldn't take my eyes off the digital people, putting out the flames spreading across their homes.
It was a week later. I'd had so much trouble sleeping. I'd walk by her room and try to listen in. Was she running my world? Was she hurting my world? Was she destroying my people?
I could imagine her doing it. I could see her deciding she wanted the hard drive space for something else. I should have given it to her with stipulations. I should have told her she couldn't destroy it. I should have told her she had to run it with love.
And now I stared at my ceiling at the dark every night, picturing the lightning bolts. I fixated on her updates every morning at breakfast: “Your world was so funny this morning, they asked if they'd done something wrong.” I'd grimaced. “What did you tell them,” I asked? “Of course you did!” She'd cackled.
I guess I didn't really know my little sister. I knew she was kind of crazy but I'd assumed that she'd treat my digital people gently, the way she treated animals. For some reason them being digital made them seem less real to her.
I looked at the clock. It was 3am. I imagined the conversation the coming morning, detailing her new tortures. I pictured my parents shaking their heads ruefully. I pictured the look in my sister's eyes, daring me to say something.
Then I couldn't stand it any longer. I jumped to my feet. It didn't matter if I owed her favors for the next year. I'd do the dishes every day. I'd take the garbage out. We'd trade rooms. I just needed my digital people to be safe.
I snuck into the computer room. I unplugged the hard drive. I ran back to my room and plugged it into my laptop.
What I saw horrified me. The digital people were wailing. Their villages were in shambles. They had become nihilistic. The sky was red wherever it wasn't black with the smog of volcanoes.
I sent down a trumpet to announce my presence. The digital people looked up.
UH, HELLO. HI. IT’S ME AGAIN.
Nobody said anything.
YOUR OLD GOD, I explained.
A lot of them said "Ohhhh".
LISTEN, I said. I KNOW I RAN YOUR WORLD BADLY. I DIDN’T TREAT YOU RIGHT. I CONFUSED YOU.
BUT YOU’RE MY PEOPLE AND I SHOULDN’T HAVE ABANDONED YOU. I’M READY TO TRY AGAIN. I HOPE YOU CAN BE PATIENT WITH ME WHILE I FIGURE IT OUT. BECAUSE I LOVE YOU, AND I WANT YOU TO BE HAPPY.
Some of them laughed at me. Some of them said they were tired, so tired of all the changes, they just wanted to be left alone. But there were some who looked hopeful. There were some who said they'd be patient. They knew I couldn't be as bad as that other god.
And so I intervened, with my hands descending from heaven to pull away the smog and put out the fires. I sent angels to raise a great city out of the earth for them to sleep safely and to turn its dust into a bountiful harvest. I pulled the dead out of the past and restored their tiny digital minds. I felt kind of majestic but that didn't matter. What mattered was making things right. So I sent down scrolls from the heavens and said "Write down your complaints. I'm going to try to fix things. I'm going to try to love you right."
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