Jeff’s Simcity


1. In the beginning was the Code, and the Code was with Jeff.
2. All things were made by Jeff; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
3. In Him was life; and life was the light of men.
4. In the beginning, Jeff created the heavens and the earth.
5. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the cursor of Jeff was hovering over the text editor.
6. And Jeff made a ray tracing module to manage lighting, set the flag “light=on”, and there was light.
7. Jeff tested his code and saw that it was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. // Tested his code = compiled and ran as expected? Probably not actual tests
8. Jeff then made a module to manage the passage of time, and tied it to the lighting system. He made a light period that he called “day”, and a dark period that he called “night”. And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day. // Duality of time: what is Jeff’s time, and what is time in the world?
9. And Jeff then coded the elements. He first instantiated water, and then typed “let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water”. And it was so. And Jeff called the variable “sky”. And there was evening. And there was morning – the second day. // The description of what he typed is probably a literary embellished version of the programming declarative syntax.
10. And Jeff programmed another kind of matter, which he named “dry ground”. He instantiated an object of this type and called it “land”.  Jeff tested it, and saw that it was good. // Matter is the main class, and water and dry ground inherit from it?
11. Then Jeff wrote the base code for vegetation, and defined the algorithm for their growth and propagation. He defined various kinds, and placed them onto the land, and they bore fruit. Jeff tested it, and saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the third day.
12. And Jeff decided to refine the light sources. Jeff made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. Jeff tested it, and saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the fourth day.
13. And Jeff programmed the living creatures. He first placed them in the water, and then instantiated birds above the earth across the vault of the sky. He programmed their basic motion function and reproduction mechanism. Jeff made the wild animals according to their code, the livestock according to their code, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their code. Jeff tested it, and saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the fifth day. // Also clear example of inheritance.

// Easy to imagine the algo for pathfinding and reproduction: implemented in countless other games

14. Then Jeff typed, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So Jeff created mankind in his own image, in the image of Jeff he created them. // Jeff took himself as model for the human avatar, but it’s unclear how he actually achieved that. Mind uploading? Probably producing a sophisticated approximation model (he “types” the code).

// Also not clear what the goal was: Research? Entertainment ?

15. Jeff tested all he had made, and saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day. By the seventh day, Jeff had finished the work he had been doing, so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. // I think this means that all the coding took a week of Jeff’s time. Inside the world he created, it’s unclear how much time passed though. Evidence indicates billions of years.
16. And so it was that the world started running. As mankind multiplied onto the earth, so did the complexity of the program increase, and soon it came to be that Jeff’s machines did not have enough power to run the universe. // It’s easy to see that any machine could run a simple version of this, but an actual universe requires a lot more processing power.
17. So Jeff looked around for new hardware that could contain his whole universe, for the fruits of silicon could not sustain its growth, and the more machines he used the more he needed.
18. So Jeff turned inwards, and inwards he found the answers. For nothing is more potent than the human brain, which will record in its memory all the things one has seen and felt in life. It holds neural pathways for everything one will ever encounter, and therefore holds as potential the entire universe. // Probably most important element here.

// Everything someone perceives in their life exists inside their brain, even the unfamiliar/unexpected. What you haven’t seen yet can exist in your brain >> whole universe?

19. And Jeff used human brains to run its universe. Jeff tested it, and saw that it was good, and sustained the load. // Unclear how the software runs on brains.

// How does that compare with imagination?

20. And so it was that the universe was fruitful, and mankind increased in number, filled the earth and subdued it, ruled over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, and over every living creature that moves on the ground. So too did mankind increase in virtue, understanding and power, and their children built tribes, cities and empires, until their monuments reached to the heavens and they were like Jeff, and they could turn inward.

The child who did not know purpose

Note: This story is adapted from the game You Doesn’t Exist (steam link) but I liked it a lot, so it probably deserves its place here. I hope some day to turn it into a picture book.


There once was a child who lived in a house. It was a special child, for it was the Child Who Did Not Know Purpose. Therefore, one day, the child set off on a journey to find out about it.

On the Candy Mountain, the child met the Rabbit Who Does Not Know Still.

– Hello, said the child. How are you?

– Can’t talk, sorry, the rabbit answered. I’m late.

– Late? Late for what? the child asked.

– Anything. I have to go!

– Go where?

– Anywhere. I have things to do.

– What?

– Anything. Life is short, I have plenty to do. 

– Well it doesn’t sound to me like you’re doing something important or meaningful, the child said.

– You wouldn’t understand, you’re too young. You’ll understand when you do things too.

The child decided to leave. “What a strange character.” the child thought.

In the Mushroom Forest, the child met the Owl Who Does Not Know Silence. It never stopped talking, except to catch its breath.

– Hello, child. Whoo… hoo… hoo… are you?

– I’m just a child.

– That sounds like an interesting story, replied the Owl. Tell me more!

– I cannot, said the child. I should be on my way, and there is not much to tell. What about you, who are you?

– I’m the Owl Who Does Not Know Silence, said the owl. I talk.

– What do you talk about?

– Everything.

– That seems vague…

– If you’re not going to tell me things, at least stay and listen to my story. It’s been so long since I last had an audience, I’m tired of talking to myself. Come on, it’ll be a hoot!

– Ok…

– Hoo… hooo… Ok so there was that one time when I was talking to a traveler…

– Are you just going to talk about talking? thechild asked. It doesn’t seem very interesting to me. In fact, it seems like you’re just saying things.

– Okay, the Owl replied, frustrated. Then you say something, if you’re so good at saying things.

The child decided to leave. “What a strange character.” the child thought.

In the colorful plains, the child met the Deer Who Does Not Know Time.

– Hello, said the child. Who are you?

– I’m the Deer Who Does Not Know Time, answered the deer.

– How can you not know what time is? said the child who was surprised. It’s…

– Sorry, said the deer. I don’t know what this means.

– If you don’t know time, how do you go about your day?

– What’s ‘day’ ? asked the deer.

– It’s what happens after the sun rises and before it sets.

– There are many such things, said the deer. A fixed number of these. It does not change, nor does anything else.

– But time passes, the child protested. We all move!

– Not if you look from far enough, answered the deer. From far enough one does not see your motion.

The child was a bit confused.

– I should go now.

– What’s ‘go’? answered the deer.

The child went on his way. “What a strange character.” the child thought.

In the frozen Ice Lands, the child met the Bear Who Does Not Know Itself.

– Hello, said the child. Who are you?

– What is ‘you’? answered the Bear Who Does Not Know Itself.

– It’s what’s just in front of me.

– You mean fur, muscles and fat? asked the Bear.

– No, it’s what’s saying these words.

– You mean vocal cords and lungs? asked the Bear.

– No, I mean what thinks about what they say.

– You mean neurons? asked the Bear.

– No, I mean what results of their activity.

– You mean electrical current? asked the Bear.

– No, I mean what decides what they do.

– You mean a plurality of causalities? asked the Bear.

– No…

The child gave up and went on his way. “What a strange character.” the child thought.

Finally, the child went back home. The child knew very little more than before, despite all that was seen. So the child just went to sleep, and forgot all about it.

Member that time mankind out-trashed South Park

I had really high hopes for the season 20 of South Park. Remember, it opened up on the introduction of Member Berries, in an episode where they brought in J.J. Abrams to “reboot” the national anthem (which results in the same national anthem, by the way).

It went on developing in the background an amazing storyline for these Member Berries, questioning the sense of comfort provided by nostalgia and its effect on society during a very special election season. And then it fell flat.

The reason is quite obvious. The showrunners, like a wide fraction of the world, were taken by surprise by the results of the election. Wisecrack details it in this brilliant summary video:

The storyline had to keep pace with the real world and was completely destroyed. Later, Trey and Matt went back to this issue, saying it was too hard to do this kind of satire when “satire has become reality”.

But as disastrous as season 20 was overall, and as much as I was disappointed when it aired, I now realize it holds a very important lesson as to why things came to be that way. South Park often holds a mirror to society, and the mess that this season ended up in echoes the mess in the real world.

Even though it was destroyed by Trump’s success, the show did, in fact, portray him as pretty popular. It just underestimated how much, and how strong the trend/effect it was analyzing was in the real world. South Park usually mocks mankind by outrageously exaggerating its worst aspects. But this time, mankind even outdid the worst exaggeration possible (which tends to make me think that the situation is pretty serious, but that’s neither here nor there). So in a way, this season made its point, even better than it planned to, at the cost of its own life.

Stan Marsh Rat GIF by South Park

Let’s disregard the hastily thrown together ending and focus on the first 6 episodes: the season, as it was following the election race, does interrogate the reasons for Trump’s success (and by extension the season’s own destruction, so meta). In the show, the major force behind Trump’s success, in addition to the “usual” conservatism, is the Member Berries.

Member Berries brilliantly capture the spirit of our time. Countless reboots are constantly being produced. Major studios are capitalizing on the same franchises over and over again. Star fucking wars is everywhere. We seem to be living in a live tribute to the past in general and the 80s in particular, with Stranger Things, Mr Robot or Ready Player One being the worldwide pandering phenomena that they are.

Nostalgia has become the major selling force. And the reason is crystal clear: that’s what people want. Capitalism is geared towards answering public demand, independently of whether it’s good or bad. And apparently that’s yet another Marvel movie.

The reason for this nostalgia crisis is most likely a fear due to the speed at which the world is changing. Now some people consider it’s not all bad. There’s a brilliant PBS idea channel on the subject:

But South Park shows us the dangers of this trend. I don’t think it’s benign. This comfort nostalgia bubble is akin to the filter bubbles of social networks that have pushed the topic of Fake News on everyone’s lips.

As I wrote in my article about USS Callister, I wonder if we’re on a dangerous slippery slope of pandering brainless entertainment, and nothing shows it more clearly than this nostalgia frenzy. It’s obviously ok to indulge in brainless entertainment every now and then, but doing only that leads to intellectual atrophy. Thought is build through challenge and encounter with new ideas. Thinking and evolving is work and effort, it’s not easy, so it makes a lot of sense that we have a natural tendency to run away from it. But we live in a world governed by capitalism that not only builds up on this natural desire but also encourages it in order to make easy sales. We need to be extremely careful, because every cent given to the Star Wars franchise (among others, it’s just an example, pretty much everything is like that nowadays anyway) puts more fuel on the fire that is this vicious cycle of self-indulgence.

Image result for south park superhero franchise plan

I personally tend to wonder if capitalism may be by essence incompatible with democracy, as capitalism potentially encourages people to be consuming as much as possible to fuel the economy whereas democracy requires people to be as smart as possible to make the best choices. I’m not saying either is bad, but I let you be the judge of the resulting combo:

American democracy reminded us once again of what is lurking in the heart of humans. Apparently a non neglectable number of people want to be ruled by someone who declared women should be “grabbed by the pussy” and who banned “science-based” and “evidence-based” from budget discussions. And sure the system is flawed, etc… but it’s still a pretty overwhelming number.

It’s obviously a very complex topic with a lot of nuances and discussions to be had. But this season of South Park captured an element that I think is essential, and that is very often overlooked. This ever present nostalgia  and pandering through brainless entertainment could be dangerous and we should all think twice before encouraging it and being complacent in it, regardless of our political views. Many disagree with Trump, but few disagree with Stranger Things. They may not be as unrelated as people tend to think. The South Park Member Berries story line culminates in this brilliant scene:

This goes back to the great philosophical question of the goodness of human nature on which there is already countless literature. It seems to me that human tendency to not want to think needs to be fought actively (cue Nietszche’s ubermensch reference), because it’s so easy to give way to the Member Berries and indulge in what’s comfortable.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from the season of South Park that will go down in history as the season when mankind went further than satire.

– ‘Member stormtroopers?

– Sure, I ‘member.

– Not those stormtroopers! The real old ones. People want to ‘member? They’re gonna ‘member.

Questions about IP

So I like capitalism as much as the next guy, and of course the whole concept of ownership, but I’m not super sure of how it transcribes to immaterial things. So this is me trying to lay out the various aspects of the question, to guide thinking and discussions about it.

So here is the fruits of my hard work:


I thought of it and I drew it so it belongs to me and I can make money out of it I guess. So here is my question:

Does this belong to me?


Does this?


Does this?

Untitled3.pngOr this?


Do I now own the color red?


Someone took the original work and modified it. Who does it belong to?

Untitled - Copy.png

Do I also own this?


How about this:


Do I now own the color red? How about transparency, blur, and other effects? Do I now own the color white that my drawing tends towards?

Untitled - Copy (2).png

How about if I add a stroke?

Untitled - Copy (3).png

And one more, and one more, and remove one here, and one more, and one more, until it becomes this:


Does it still belong to me?


Now I have a problem. There is a kid in an elementary school in Netherlands. I’ve never seen him or talked to him but he drew the exact same thing:


So what belongs to whom now? I guess if he copied me the answer is simpler, but what if he randomly happened to come to the same production than I did, without any kind of concentration or connection?


Also what exactly belongs to me? If I had drawn this onto a piece of paper, I could say it’s the paper. But this is a virtual image, a .png. It’s encoded in my machine. So do I own the binary code? Do I still own it if I save it as .jpg, even though the content is completely different? Do I own it in any encoding?

What about this new encoding I just made up, where the encoding for that image happens to be the exact text of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Who owns that then?

What if the encoding I’m using produces code that happens to encode a completely different image belonging to someone else in another encoding. Who owns that?

By the way, there are normal numbers (Pi may be one of them) which contain every possible succession of digits in their writing, including the encoding for my picture. Does that mean that I now own a piece of them all? Do I own a piece of Pi ?

Also, now that you have seen that picture, I regret to inform you that it made its way to your brain through visual signals processed. It’s encoded in your memories by neuronal pathways. So does it mean I own a piece of your brain? Do I own the memory of it? Are you outlawed because your brain contains as a memory a copy of a copyrighted material?

A friend of mine once read all the terms of services for Warner Bros movies, he was looking into their legal streaming services options. He told me that according to them, you were not really allowed to remember the movie, let alone discuss it. Makes you think, doesn’t it?



85 to 255 Hz

Lots of things have been written about my forefathers from the Manhattan Project and their reaction to the first nuclear bombs. I don’t know what is accurate and what is dramatized fabulation. But today I think I can understand how they felt. I’m terrified and awed by the power of this thing I helped build.

When the project started, it seemed no different from any other neuroscience research endeavour. We did get a lot of funding from the government, but there was nothing suspicious or uncommon about that. We were just another lab in a sea of brilliant academics.

Our focus was the response of brain tissues to external stimuli. There was a lot of literature about the response of brain tissues to implants, of course, and neuron’s response to various molecular stimuli was a hot topic in neurobiology. But we wanted to try a different approach, focusing not on the components of the brain, but treating it as a closed system.

Most of our colleagues were focused on mapping the effects of emotions or perceptions on the brain. We couldn’t realistically hope to compete with the brilliant fellows from the University of California, let alone all the others. That’s why we were looking for a novel approach that could be our own, a new door in the field we could open. That may seem presumptuous, but back then we were not aiming for results, just for exploration of ideas.

As it often does, our work sparked from a silly idea I had watching the Matrix Reloaded. In the movie, they get rid of the machines pursuing them by launching a powerful EMP. The electromagnetic field emitted by the pulse would wreak havoc in the electronic circuits of the machines.

Why wouldn’t EMP work on humans, whose brain is essentially an electrical circuit? Brain chemistry wasn’t as simple as a train of electrons running around wires, so something as simple as a magnet wouldn’t work, but surely there was some way we could alter the brain’s flow with some sort of magnet-like wave. There must be frequencies that could induce a reaction in the brain.

We discovered there that some teams were investigating the potential of gamma wave stimulation during sleep to stimulate lucid dreaming. This was very encouraging. If lucidity could be triggered during a dream, maybe we could incept in the brain our own image or ideas.

We experimented with various magnetic fields and electromagnetic wave radiation. At first it seemed doomed, nothing we did seem to have any meaningful effect. The chemistry-based circuitry of the brain proved remarkably impervious to our tinkering attempts. It was actually a pretty impressive defense against external attacks.

But any defense has weak points, and there were gateways to the brain that let information through. That was probably our breakthrough. Using the perception canals the intellect was already receptive to. With waves in the visual and auditory spectrum, surely we could reach inside the brain.

And it worked. Better than anyone could have expected or dreamt. This was the starting point, and everything accelerated from there. Within days, we could trigger various vague feelings in our patients. It wasn’t long before we could summon simple images in their mind. Entranced by such success, we quickly moved on to more and more complex ideas to incept. Nothing seemed to be out of our reach.

It wasn’t much of a stretch from implanting images in their brain to implanting thoughts, and therefore decisions. Soon, we could manipulate the will of a person. We started by simple things, like accentuating an already present desire (say urinate or eat…). That was easy. But in essence, that wasn’t much different from making people do our bidding.

Before we realized it, we had on our hands the Device, a powerful mind control system. To be honest, we were playing with fire, but none of us really realized what we were doing. It’s only after having witnessed the effects of the Device that we really came to terms with the consequences of our invention. It’s unbelievably powerful. It can reach out into anyone’s mind, change what they perceive, change how they think… I can only shiver faced with the might of the invention I helped build.

We did our best to keep our project secret, but such success in such a dangerous field was bound to attract attention. The government reached out to us, and I cannot begin to imagine what other organizations are secretly after us. It’s probably only a matter of days, if I’m lucky, before this gets out of our control.

If the Device falls in the wrong hands, there’s no telling what its power could do. Cement totalitarian empires or sustain the most abject cruelty is probably just the tip of the iceberg. It’s no exaggeration to say it could wipe out humanity. I can’t even comprehend all the ramifications of this.

I’m utterly terrified, and my fear grows more and more the more I think about it. But I can’t destroy the Device. We can’t go back. It would only be a matter of time before someone else discovers what we did and reproduces it. Maybe some people are already working on it. Maybe there are other versions already being used.

So I came up with a plan. I think this is the only thing I can do. If I can’t destroy the Device, I can at least limit its power. If the Device can manipulate people and incept any thoughts, I can use it to make people wary and careful. I can make people think harder, and realize how powerful this technology already is. And then I can only hope for the best…

So I’m using my access to the Device one last time before it gets revoked. Let’s control a few minds and put in my thoughts, to show how easy it can be, in hope that it serves as a warning.

I’ve just turned on the machine and logged in. Now to prepare the visual signal I’m going to send to get things started. The screen of the machine is still a blank slate. I enter a cryptic message as project title, and I start typing the configuration code that will incept the subject: “Lots of things have been written about my forefathers from the Manhattan Project and their reaction to the first nuclear bombs…”

[DT3] Self reverence

This article is the third of a series of 3 about Formal Logic and Religion. The first one is an introduction to formal logic and proves that all religions are equivalent, it can be found here. The second one is centered around Godel’s incompleteness theorems and discusses the existence of a transcendental entity, it can be found here.

Last time, we explored the existence of God-L, a transcendental entity encompassing the uncertainty of any system. See the previous article. We will now focus on the nature of God-L, based on my very loose understanding of Godel’s theorems’ proof.

The coolest part of Godel’s proof is that not only does it prove the existence of the transcendental element, but it’s also a constructive proof, meaning it gives an example of what this element could be. If you remember the previous article, the gist of it is that you can build in any system a statement of the kind “This sentence is false“. Now it’s only one counter example (there may be others) and a pretty loose simplification, but I think this proof has a really nice element that bears thinking about: the core of this transcendental element lies in its self referential nature (the “this sentence” part of “this sentence is false”).

I’ve mentioned this article from speculativegeek which sparked this reflection, centering around Madoka’s wish

“I wish for all witches to vanish before they can even born.” 

which includes herself. He expands on the self-referential nature of the proof in a follow-up article that draws a parallel with Russel’s paradox, my all time favorite paradox. It seems pretty clear that interesting stuff happens when one starts considering self-reference, and that it is a key to higher level of abstraction, be it in the Madoka universe or in the naive set theory.

Being a fervent advocate of the cult of the Concept of Concept, you can imagine how happy I am to reconcile this element of infinite transcendence and the fixed point of meta at the end of the infinite dialectic progression of self-consideration. There seems to be something inherently transcendental about self-reflection.

Screenshot (223)

That concept brings to mind the slightly interesting HBO blockbuster Westworld. Weeding out the boring part between the first and the last episode, it’s worth considering their take on how robots acquire consciousness. In Westworld, robots becoming sentient is all about them having “that voice in their head” reflecting on their action. Through the iterations, the programmers tried to insert some kind of inner monologue in hope to create a trail of thoughts. But we learn that early attempts were failures because the voice in someone’s head needs to be theirs, needs to be recognized as their own, which is something Dolores only achieves at the end of season 1. Interestingly enough, before that time, the voice was considered to be “the voice of God” (but we’ll go back do divinity soon). This is tightly coupled with the notion of choice, but I don’t want to get down that hole now. The show’s points are confusing at best, but it appears that this meta-narration and self-consideration is key to the rise of consciousness.

This is better dealt with in Gen Urobuchi’s underappreciated masterpiece Rakuen Tsuihou (Expelled from Paradise). In it, we meet a robot who has become fully sentient and is living on its own. I won’t spoil too much, so I’ll focus on the way this robot describes how it acquired consciousness:

That’s right, he became sentient through self-reflection. His meta-consideration gave birth to the concept of self, and his logging became thoughts.

One cannot help but draw a parallel between this theory of consciousness and the self referential element of transcendence we referred to as God-L. Could consciousness, operating on the same self-referential mechanics as the Godel proof, be considered as a transcendental element of reality? And since this transcendental element transcends all system, could consciousness be God-L ?

The divinity aspect of consciousness is something that I’ve toyed with in the past, as consciousness seems to be the embodiment of the absolute concept of reason/Logos. In the same way as God traditionally makes order out of nothingness, consciousness is what allows the creation of meaning out of nothing. It is a generative force acting through language, which for instance creates art. Its power can for instance be seen in imagination. It can birth whole universes out of thin air. It’s no exaggeration to say that it partakes of some kind of divinity.

Image result for this is not a pipe

We could even go the Berkeley way and say that consciousness is the fundamental element of reality, for is there even a world if nothing is perceived? Everything you’ll ever see is actually neurons firing in your brain. Doesn’t that mean that in a way, your brain encompasses the whole world? That sounds godly enough to me…

So maybe that fixed point of meta that transcends itself and everything is akin to the consciousness you find in each of us. It can consider and transcend itself through self-reflection. Maybe, that’s the secret of us all being gods.

In defense of USS Callister

Black Mirror’s episodes, with the exception of Metalhead I guess, are centered around exploring the human nature in light of such or such technological change. It’s sci-fi at its finest, and is usually very insightful, and extremely well thought of and documented.

And yet, USS Callister surprises us this season with utter bullshit about transferring consciousness through DNA sample or wanky hollywood-esque nonsensical overly dramatic rescue plans.

actually me during the episode

It’s pretty simple to figure out what happened: the writing staff had a funny idea and they rolled with it. But I’m here to argue that there is something we can salvage from that train-wreck, and it’s about our relationship to media.

The whole of the episode is centered around Daly, a disturbed man who takes out his frustrations in a VR game. The drama part is because the NPCs of the game are conscious people and he tyrannizes them into submission when they break the suspension of disbelief of the game (which is ironically enough what all the inconsistencies do about the episode).

The real point, which the episode misses by a landslide, is “what happens when our playthings are conscious?”. Let’s shelves all the DNA bullshit and people replication here for a second. IA is getting more and more complex, NPCs in games are getting more and more rich, and we still have no idea where the line to consciousness is.

Serial Experiments Lain wallpaper

The show surely wanted drama. Nobody would have batted an eye if some dumb kid kept butchering zombies or nazis in their favorite call of or battlefield or whatever. This is even echoed in the episode by the cute ending encounter with Gamer691 which appears trivial in comparison. Yet there comes a point in sophistication when these NPC toys become at least quasi-conscious. Then what happens? Can we still continue using them for their original purpose? When we create a sentient race, can we keep using them and killing them ?

This theme is also present and also missed by a landslide in the great “Hang the DJ” episode where thousands of conscious beings are genocided for the purpose of a dating app simulation without anyone in the public even batting an eye.

So what about the point of USS Callister? Daly is a monster because he did not treat the NPCs in the game as sentient beings. He seems to (reluctantly) acknowledge their agency, but represses tyrannically anything that gets in the way of his entertainment. The tragedy of this episode is that sentient beings are treated as playthings.

Well there’s a metapoint to be made, whether it was willed or not by the showrunners, in the fact that the public of the episodes mostly missed the point in the same way. The episode had to go through great length to build empathy with the NPCs of the game, sacrificing good sense to make them “clones” of approved existing humans, because who even bats an eye when a FPS NPC dies? How long before countless sentient NPCs are butchered without a thought by players all over the world?

Black Mirror has always been a cruel and bleak portrayal of the most gruesome parts of human society. Think of “White Bear” or “The Waldo Moment”. USS Callister has some of this in a somewhat brilliant meta-consideration.

The whole thing is about Daly indulging himself in brainless media consumption to fill his most animal instincts. He never seems to ponder the implications of his actions. But that’s literally what everyone is doing by enjoying this episode. Fuck reflection, hello catharsis, pandering and self-validation, and too fucking bad if a few sentient characters end up suffering for our pleasure. Daly is not “entitled straight white men”, he’s the whole entitled brainless mass that happily goes to see the latest blockbuster crap without questioning anything in the process. Sure, there is not literally any sentient NPC involved in the making of a show you watch (yet ^^), but choosing to indulge basest instincts over reflection through entertainment media is exactly what Daly does in the show.

In this optics, it works really well that this episode is as incoherent and spectacular (in the etymological “for show” sense) as your average blockbuster. It’s no coincidence that the episode centers around one of the biggest media franchises of this century (which obviously brings to mind Star Wars and Disney) and portrays a parody of AAA movies. By the showrunner’s own admission, “‘USS Callister’ is the most mainstream story [that Black Mirror has ever done.] It’s got some of the beats of a summer blockbuster… ” He even goes so far as to reference explicitely AAA productions in this interview, saying that “[The characters are] in what we call ‘JJ Land’ at the end. They go through the wormhole and end up in JJ Abrams lens-flare land.”

USS Callister shows us what happens when an individual uses entertainment to indulge brainlessly in their animalistic tendencies instead of thinking and trying to better themselves. And based on people’s relationship to mass-media these days, and to this episode in particular, it’s a frighteningly high number of us.


EDIT (June 2018): This article was originally a dare of one of my friends to find anything interesting to say about this shitshow of an episode, but Charlie Brooker recently compared this episode to players torturing their sims, to which the press got vehemently outraged because “everybody tortures their sims”, which obviously is exactly the point. So maybe this essay isn’t such a joke after all…