After you spend a little while doing creative work, you tend to notice certain themes recurring throughout your creations. I have written here about my current project, EverEnding, but seldom in terms of its story and themes – I haven’t spoken at all about the project I thought of first, and which is on extended hiatus, Mechropolis. The themes of Mechropolis are, as may be evident from the title, artificial intelligence and life after death; following a set of three characters all straddling the boundaries of dead and alive, organic and synthetic, and using them to explore ideas of what it means to be made for a purpose – and then to be discarded.
Incidentally, I suspect that when artificial intelligence does come to manifest itself one way or another, it will take a very long time for us to notice. Consider how poor of an understanding and how little respect we have for animal life and intelligence – hell, consider how poor of an understanding and how little respect we have for the life and intelligence of humans who look slightly dissimilar to us. We convince ourselves of patent racial falsehoods every day, make manifold excuses to not perceive or understand the intelligence of others, and you would have me believe that we have any idea that artificial intelligence looks like? It may have already arrived, for all we know. Given our history of treatment of those we deem our social inferiors, it would certainly be in the best interests of any artificial mind to keep on the down-low.
Anyway. The themes of EverEnding are less immediately obvious, but similarly have to do with beings who were created for a purpose and exist somewhere between life and death, long past the purpose they were originally crafted to serve. Noting themes which you’re consistently drawn to, which have ended up woven into your every idea without ever making a specific decision to include them, can be mildly unnerving. What anxieties do they reveal? Are you doomed to always circle the drain of the same few grim fascinations?
I think what fascinates me about the idea of artificial life is a sense that we exist in ways that are far more similar to those of an AI, a golem, or an angel than we generally care to admit. Though we weren’t made explicitly to serve a purpose, many of us have had purpose instilled upon us, or claimed purpose for ourselves – and, once you make a decision to be something, it warps everything in your life around that focal point. The question, when meeting someone for the first time, when wanting to quickly understand who they are is: What do you do? What is your job? What is your function? I have a sense of this as being a particularly American outlook, but I have little basis for comparison having not left the country.
So we find ourselves a role, and we begin building ourselves to fit into it. We learn skills and forget others, we embrace passions and forget others, make friends and forget others, snip off bits and pieces of our personality that jut outside the mold we’re trying to fit into. We tailor ourselves to suit a purpose, and live defined by that purpose. Then, very often, we outlive that purpose and have to figure out who or what we are afterwards, slowly forgetting the things we learned and remembering the things we forgot, regaining a shape we abandoned long ago. After this little death may come a little rebirth, a new sort of life less shaped by the purpose it must fulfill – but this new life, being defined in different terms, can never entirely coexist with the lives of servitude to purpose that surround it, and always will straddle these invisible boundaries, always be out of place, undeath, unlife.
Both games are about the aftermath of some sort of disaster or collapse – in one case the end of the world and in the other the mere collapse of a nation – and the reshaping that happens afterwards. As we all drift, unmoored and unmanned, captained by greed and idiocy and sailing off the edge of the world, I know now why these are the themes I’ve felt compelled to explore. At this point I only hope I get a chance to actually complete these projects – and that there’s still an audience left for them if I do.