The Greater Good

Entry by: Deedee

26th June 2015
Planning and development have never been my strong points. At least that’s what my father's always told me. And now, looking down at the games console in my hands, I'm starting to think he has a point.

When he’d first given me the game, he’d explained that it wasn’t like any other toy I’d had before – it was supposed to be educational. The longer I played, the more the game would take on a life of its own; the Avatars would bring challenges for me to face, and present problems that I would have to solve. “It’s not just a matter of running around and shooting things,” Father had told me. “You have to think. You’ll be able to build cities, start wars, end wars, open businesses, make a profit maybe. It’s entirely up to you. It’ll give you a feel for what real life is all about.”

At first, the game took up all of my time. It gave me a sense of power I didn’t possess in reality. Being the youngest in the family, it allowed me to retreat into a world of my own. Here, I had ultimate control – nobody telling me what to do or who to be. I would experiment with the game, one day being the benevolent master of my world, reining down a profusion of pleasures on my chosen Avatars – the next I would turn tyrannical, setting Avatar against Avatar or destroying their homes willy-nilly. The way they responded was often better than the actions I caused to create those responses. It was almost as though they were real – as if they could truly think and feel beyond the constraints of the game’s pre-determined coding. My father called it Game AI – where the characters were able to learn in-game and adapt accordingly. He said the trick was to make sure they didn’t outpace me, else it would be game over.

Eventually, though, I got bored of the game. Playing alone wasn’t much fun – so I enlisted my best friend, and we’d sit up late into the night playing two-handed, trying to outdo each other on the score board. “Hey, you know what’d be really fun?” Lucy said on night, “How about we split the game up. You can be the goodie, I’ll be the baddie and we’ll see who can get the most points.”

“That’s dumb,” I said. “The aim of the game is to build things up, create new zones, make a workable world. You’re not going to be able to win if you just trash everything all the time!”

“Duh! We can re-set the game,” Lucy grinned. “You see how much you can build, and I’ll see how much I can destroy. Then we’ll find out who’s best! How about it?”

So we shook on it.

I don’t think my father was that impressed when he found out. “The game’s supposed to be educational,” he’d grumbled. “Not another chance for you and Lucy to play silly buggers.” Even so, he’d left us to it – and, amazingly, the game got a whole lot more interesting with a bit of competition thrown in. I had a role to play – a distinct counterpoint to Lucy’s. I’d busily build things, create new zones, nurture my Avatars and generally play the good guy. Meanwhile, Lucy would try to shit things up. Interestingly though, we pretty much kept an even score.

Things went on like this for some time. Lucy and I would race home to play the game, shoving each other playfully to grab the better console – one had a joystick that was on the annoying side of wobbly. But after a while I began to dislike playing with Lucy. Her behaviour, not only within the game but also towards myself, became spiteful and vindictive. Sometimes, after she’d gone home, I would look at the Avatars she’d destroyed, and even though I knew they weren’t real, I’d feel sorry for them. The interface was so realistic, and their reactions so believable, that I’d end up trying to undo mess she’d made. Her own particular penchant was for high school shootings and public bombings. I knew that if my father found out we’d been playing in this way, he’d confiscate the game.

Soon I began to make excuses why Lucy couldn’t come round – but she was hard to say no to; especially when she was on a roll with her trail of gaming destruction. She’d lope up the stairs into my room, and I’d see a glint in her eye as her fingers trembled with anticipation.

Finally, Lucy’s parents took her and her brother away for a short period, and I was left with a chance to survey the damage. Booting up the game, I took a quick glance at the scorecard. Lucy was in the lead. I opened up the interface and was met with a sad sight. She’d utterly destroyed my creation. Across the board, Avatars were fighting Avatars. Animals I’d invented were becoming extinct at an alarming rate, and the weather system I’d created was unpredictable and I couldn’t seem to set it right. The financial markets I’d spent weeks putting into place were screwed, with many countries’ debts spiraling out of control. Worse still, a growing number of Avatars themselves were showing gauges set at 85% hatred, 92% disillusionment, 96% apathy and 99% self-absorption.

Leaning back, I knew that I’d never be able to undo Lucy’s handiwork. She’d won. It was better for my Avatars to simply start again. Yeah, some were doing okay – but, in the main, a re-set would solve things for everyone. Then, next time, I’d make sure I only ever played alone.

Toggling the joystick, I plucked an asteroid that was orbiting over my created planet and sent it hurtling downwards. “Goodbye Earth,” I whispered.

A few moments later, my father walked into the room. He sighed heavily when he saw the on-screen destruction. “That was a mistake,” he murmured. “I made a similar one when I was 10 – I destroyed a whole solar system. You’ll never get them back now, you know.”

On screen, the words Game Over began to blink slowly.