[slight spoilers for Transistor and Bastion]
Change is the status quo.
Some people fight against that change, and some people embrace it. One side calls themselves a revolution and the other calls themselves tradition, but when we have a tradition of revolution traced back through millenia the difference becomes less clear. We each have our frame of reference, and it’s a matter of opinion as to whether I am staying still while you move around me or whether I move while you stand like statues.
The world is spinning so fast, but we call it solid ground.
Cloudbank, the city which Transistor takes place in, takes this current of change and literalizes it, makes it tangible. In Cloudbank, the buildings change shape every day, the sky changes color and the weather rains or shines based on the whims of the population. It’s permanently impermanent, and though this makes most of the population happy, some are discontent.
“What if we got everything right, one day, and then had to change it afterwards?”
“What if our best days are behind us, discarded for grass that seemed greener?”
“Why must I work so hard to create something, only for it to be forgotten?”
A quest for a world where things stay the same is a quest for immortality. And, like all such Faustian bargains, Something Goes Wrong. Any process that can create can also destroy. Bereft of a shape of things to create, a mad process will create things with no shape. Just like life, destruction is merely the rearrangement of components – whether a personality gets disintegrated into a sea of random data or a body gets disintegrated into a pile of charred bones, everything is still there – just in a format useless to us, beyond our understanding.
This is why change is terrifying. Each rearrangement is the death of the world we thought we understood. Even new information about that world, with no new change associated with it, is threatening in the same way, since it invalidates our understanding and causes the death of our worldview.
It’s not clear what the nature of Cloudbank is. Is it all just a simulated world, populated by artificial intelligences? Do the personalities within the Transistor live inside a simulated world within a simulated world? Does this story, like Bastion’s, hint at an endlessly recursive chain of causality?
Right now, sitting in a chair in our ‘real’ world, it feels like everything is changing, because everything is. It feels like the world’s ending, because it is, one way or another, the world of today each day giving way to the world of tomorrow, replaced by an imposter, an unfamiliar and weird world that doesn’t fit quite as well as the one we remembered. And we remember so many worlds! Our nostalgia crafts for us so many impossible utopias, instants from our past polished perfect by time’s waters. So many of us get trapped into searching for these past perfect utopias without ever realizing they’re mirages. So many people seek to recreate a memory, without realizing that those memories are flat, 2d images unable to accommodate a 3d person, or 3d models unable to capture the element of time, leaving the heart frozen, the next beat eternally delayed.
It feels like the end times. It’s always the end times.
We are pulled into the future; we are pulled into the past. No matter which current you fight against, you will achieve little. The world will change, and we cannot keep that from happening, but only do our best to steer it towards a change we can live with. Or past will constrain and haunt us, and we will never escape that, but we might yet be able to learn from it.
The one constant, the thing that doesn’t change, whether in Cloudbank or in our world or in other worlds to come, is that the world is shaped by the people who live in it. Whether they do it intentionally or not, humans create an environment for humans, and we live as much inside each others’ personalities, manifested into buildings and words and tv shows and music, as we do in our own bodies. That’s why everything will always change. It needs to. Maybe we could make a utopia, but I don’t think such worlds are made one-size-fits all, and sooner or later we’d outgrow it, or come to realize, as we have so many times, that our utopia was built on the distopian nightmares of others.
All we can do is live in the change, and change ourselves as needed to fit into it: Receptors, transmitters, resistors and transistors, the lovers, the dreamers, and me.
[next week: Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons]