Pascal's Wager

by Doug Egan profile


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Sophomoric (High School Level) Take on Religion, April 26, 2024

The original Pascal's Wager is a "proof" that following the Christian faith is a rational thing to do. It is a fundamentally flawed and reductionist approach to a major philosophical question, which tries to make an arithmetic problem out of concepts that do not translate well into quantitative terms. Put simply, it is: "If there's any chance at all that God is real, then worshipping him is the smart thing to do, since going to heaven is infinitely rewarding."

This is not an argument that should be taken very seriously. Even granting its conceptual framework, the god in question is hypothesized to be omniscient and not particularly well-disposed toward hypocrites. It's also questionable whether "infinity" is a valid term to use in an expected reward calculation, or that the probability of a god's existence can be meaningfully established.

Pascal's Wager, the game, presents itself as an extension and criticism of Pascal's Wager, the thought experiment; specifically, it challenges Pascal's implicit assertion that the Christian God's existence (P) or non-existence (not-P) together cover the full range of relevant possibilities. This is a pretty good concept, and a pretty good hook -- the premise creates (as Emily Short's review puts it) "an invitation to explore or express one's own personal morality through the player character, by choosing and acting out an alignment." However, this work makes no attempt to grapple with the deep metaphysical questions inherent in its premise and instead seems to target the very concepts of religion and morality themselves.

Pascal's Wager treats each of its six chosen religions equally negatively in that every one of them is conveyed as shallow and simplistic farce. Want to be a good little worshipper of Hanuman, the "Hindi god of strength and fitness?" (Spoiler - click to show)Disobey your parents and hit a baseball! Join a sports team instead of doing homework! Escape from prison on a rowboat to prove you are strong! How about a worshipper of Bacchus, the "Roman god of intoxication?" (Spoiler - click to show)Pop a Valium instead of caring for your infant sibling! Smoke a joint plucked from a urinal instead of doing homework! Inject yourself with an overdose of morphine instead of bothering to escape from prison! These are laughable misrepresentations of what are (or were) serious beliefs for many people, and the treatment of other religions is no better.

The ludicrous and over-the-top portrayal of these faiths may be intended to be humor. It does not strike me as funny. It seems mean-spirited ("mean" in the senses of both "cruel" and "petty") and anti-human. Perhaps the worst part is that its mockery is so lazy -- I learned more about several of the religions portrayed in a half-hour's reading on Wikipedia than the author seems to have ever researched in the course of writing this piece. (For example, in some traditions the infant Hanuman mistook the sun for a fruit and tried to eat it -- a metaphor that seems apt to mention in this context.)

Emily Short's very evenhanded review suggests that this game has only minor flaws. In my opinion, it has major flaws. It verges right on the cusp of 1-star territory for me, but I am forced to recognize that programming it was not a trivial effort, and -- again -- as a concept, the premise is solid. To the extent that I would recommend this game, it would be as a warning to would-be authors about the amount of work required to even begin to fulfill the expectations set by such an ambitious premise, and the disastrous outcome certain to result from massively underestimating the scale of one's chosen subject.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
What if God was one of six? Play this game and get your fix. Bleebleebloo, January 23, 2023
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

Pascal's Wager is an odd one, for sure. But it looks into something I dared to think when I was younger: if there are a bunch of gods, we're even less likely to pick the right one. Is heaven that exclusive? Did you get part-credit if you picked the right one, sort of? Limbo, at least? So many religions had ways to X you out if you screwed up the One True Faith anyway, and the "everyone can make it" ones seemed to give a nice afterlife as a participation trophy. I admitted I sort of looked at which gave the most potential reward for the least effort, which was probably not a paradise-worthy musing.

Pascal's Wager takes a different tack. It's decidedly funny. You can ask WHO IS GOD right off the bat, and there's also an item that shows you who the real God is. This requires some trial and error, but it's the sort the game invites. Then, you have to act in accordance with the deity's wishes. The result is a game with a lot of really irrelevant-seeming items or paths through, with a core of stuff to do right and NPCs who are, somehow, grounded in what's really what. I found the Bacchus path quite funny indeed. I care not how theologically accurate it may be.

Until then, it's not terribly clear what exactly to do (maybe this is just the confusion of youth,) although there are locked doors and such that dare you to open them. You'll probably hit the (generous) time limit, at first, resulting in a lot of being sent to hell by God, who usually asks you a trappy "didn't you consider X?" question. You lose either way. As if omnipotence isn't enough, he has to make you feel helpless one last time. I have to admit, after figuring who God was, he blasted me for being all prayer and no action. Ouch! Well, at least he told me what I should have done.

The basic run-through is as follows: childhood, teenage years, and finally adulthood. Who God is each time doesn't affect the run-throughs, but some items just don't matter. Mechanically, it's more a game about sneaking around than about any deep philosophical musings. There's nothing too intimidating, especially the second time through. It's a rather fun adventure to find the name of the True God.

So there's a surprising amount of subversion built into finding the True God, and I suppose that's what spirituality is about -- controlled, sensible good questions. Even unlocking the hints is an amusing trivial exercise. Each subsequent replay feels a bit more conventional, though, and what felt like subversion turns into checking off on details just to get through and not make mistakes. Which may be a mechanical weakness, but it also brings to mind the sort of person who thought they were very, very clever questioning God's existence and not letting you question their good faith asking the question. PW even seems to poke fun at straining too hard for spirituality--two characters seem to satirize the concept of a guru very lightly.

I have to admit, on winning, I got the five other scenarios queued up for later. In other words, not right away. PW is very funny, but replaying too much too soon is a bit of a slog, and I needed to take time to sit back and enjoy having so many different paths through what seemed like a samey story on the surface.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Excellent replay value, and (somewhat) educational, August 9, 2017
by Cory Roush (Ohio)

I loved this game. It doesn't take itself too seriously (a game titled Pascal's Wager about religion could EASILY be one of the longest, most verbose and pretentious stories out there) but instead, gives you a series of easy-ish puzzles that are uniquely constructed, with (at least) 6 separate endings.

It took a while to figure out what I was supposed to be doing, though. (Spoiler - click to show)Your goal in each playthrough is not to honour your family's chosen deity, as you would first think, but to instead go against your family's wishes to worship the "opposing" deity. It's easy to determine which deity is your family's chosen one - the command WHO IS GOD, ironically, will reveal that - but there's a certain item found at the very beginning of the game that will help you to determine the deity you're actually looking to serve.

There are some hiccups along the way, of course, but this was a very entertaining game that didn't strain the mind-muscles too much, but still felt like a worthwhile way to spend an hour or two.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
An intricate game about trying to serve a god, May 10, 2016

In this game, you try to act out Pascal's wager, which is that serving God has an infinite reward if God exists, so you should serve him no matter what chance he has of existing,

In this game, there are six possible gods you must serve, including quite a wide variety. You must do everything you can in three periods of your life to show the God that you serve them.

The game is well put together and descriptive. Some of the gods are absolutely horrible in ways that are rarely exceeded in If, but the game warns you ahead of time to steer clear.

I would not play some paths again, but I'm interested in some of the paths.

My own quibble is that actual gameplay is very opaque, making hints more necessary.

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Kind of Disappointing, November 3, 2010
by tggdan3 (Michigan)

The concept is the disproval of Pascal's Wager. In a nutshell: If you believe in God and are wrong, what have you lost? So it's safer to believe in God. The rebuttal is that this assumes 1 god, if there are more than 1 god, then you can still lose.

So in this game, a random God is chosen, and you have to lead a life that would please that god.

However, this game is more about wandering around than worshipping your God. The hints are adaptive at least, but it's hard knowing what you're supposed to do (that's the point). Your family worships one god, but that might not be the right god.

There are 3 scenes you play in. I've found ways to progress in them, but never got into heaven. Mostly because I'm not familiar with each God's Dogma. (Never really studied Cuthulu, or Mammon for that matter). That being the case, I'm not sure what my goals are. When God is catholic, should you get a part time job, or join the baseball team, or finish your homework?

As far as implementation, some things could be more polished. Attempting to take chemicals form the janitor closet even goes so far as to say "That's just scenery". There's also some books you can read as a child, and others you can't. I accidentially entered my own locker, and you can't move in a compass direction without first typing >GET OUT. A simple (first leaving the locker) would have been better.

Some of the hallways are too long, and could have been combined. I did find a very horrendous scene (Spoiler - click to show) in which a child puts his baby brother in the fridge which makes me wonder which God gives this as the "supposed to" ending.

With all the randomness, each playthrough offers something new, but it makes it very hard to know if you are doing anything right, and replays are re-randomized, so it's tough even to brute force your way through it. And in order to find out what God is in charge, you have to roll a magic die, and then figure out what the symbol on it means. Yes, in life you don't know which god is in charge, and that's the point, but the game could have focused less on solving puzzles (like getting a bat for the baseball game or getting into the library) and more on simple choices. (like whether you get a job or try out for baseball, without making it into a complex puzzle). The puzzle of pleasing a given god is enough without making the way you please them a puzzle as well.

I would definately be interested in further stories along this line, or other works from the author. I just think he was trying to do too much at once here, and it got away from him.

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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful:
Pascal's wager by nature assumes a Christian worldview, June 16, 2008

"Pascal's Wager" is a philosophical thought-experiment in which Pascal's wager is extended to include betting on which of several deities controls the universe, and therefore which one you should worship.

At first blush, it might appear that this is an invitation to explore or express one's own personal morality through the player character, by choosing and acting out an alignment. In practice, PW doesn't work this way. A specific god is selected as the true god on any given play-through; this is really a re-playable puzzle game where the desirable goals, and the correct solutions to puzzles, depend on which god currently rules the universe. Even if you pray to the right deity, he won't accept you as a true worshipper unless you've also lived by his precepts -- i.e., accomplished the correct goals in each scene, and performed them in the correct way. Viewed as a puzzle game, it's lightly amusing; the puzzles themselves are not usually very difficult in concept, but require rigorous exploration and occasionally feats of successful guessing, because the game does not always point the player at the relevant elements of a given scene. (I particularly had to rely on hints during the third of the game's three scenarios, because there are several items that are under-implemented and don't give the player enough feedback about what's there and how it can be used.) There are also some cosmetic flaws, such as erratic spacing, missing punctuation, and typing errors, which are occasionally distracting. The implementation in general is of a spare, old-school variety, with a few items per room, and the expectation that the player will explore a lot before expecting to resolve any puzzles.

Even so, I found Pascal's Wager moderately entertaining as a puzzle game, and increasingly so as I replayed the scenario a number of times and became familiar enough with the environment to guess what I should be doing.

I had a bit more trouble with it as a philosophical experiment. Pascal's wager is firmly grounded in the Christian idea that one will be judged in the afterlife on the basis of one's faith and behavior. Other religions and philosophical systems have very different ideas about the soul's journey; early Greek thought, for instance, tended to assume that only very major sinners were actively punished in the afterlife, and that one didn't dishonor the gods by worshipping the wrong ones, but by leaving some out. Greco-Roman religion was syncretistic and inclusive; it tended to accept foreign gods as versions of members of its own pantheon, and to blend and combine cults extensively.

The game also reveals its strong ties to Judeo-Christian tradition when it insists on assigning every religion a sacred text, and assumes that private prayer is a chief measure of devotion. Neither is especially true of classical paganism, at least: there was no sacred text about the Greco-Roman pantheon; priests did not have the job of interpreting and expounding dogma or giving worshippers instructions about how to live; and religion was a highly public affair, involving participation in the public sacrifices and festivals. (Spoiler - click to show)And arguably Mammon and Cthulhu work in quite different ways as well.

Finally, there's a lot more to the specific deities than these caricatures suggest. I don't know enough about Tenjin or Hanuman to have opinions about the way they were treated in the game, but it shortchanges Bacchus quite a lot to depict him as a god who simply wants to see humans drunk/stoned as much as possible (though I admit that this made for some mildly subversive gameplay). (Spoiler - click to show)Among other things, Bacchus is a god of escape; I felt that by rights I should have been able to pray to him in the prison section and have the doors of my prison fly open. I realize this goes against the idea that god never tips his hand to humans, implicit in the original Pascal's wager -- but on the other hand, I have this handy ivory die that is apparently a foolproof method of aleatory divination. So...

This may all be needless nit-picking, depending on what you are looking for in "Pascal's Wager". It is not an effective exploration of what it would mean to live by the religions it depicts (and, indeed, for all I've been complaining about the Christian assumptions applied to non-Christian cultures, even its version of Christianity is caricatured -- what happened to all the forgiveness and redemption business if you can only get into heaven by having lived a sinless life?).

It is also not a highly polished piece of interactive fiction. People who get bothered when some of the furniture can't be sat on will be unhappy with this game; it could have stood some more beta-testing, I think, especially in the last section.

It is entertaining as a re-playable puzzle game, and one which occasionally leaves the player with the pleasant sense that he's allowed to do whatever he wants, in accord with whatever morality he chooses.

That sense wears off again once you've explored enough of the game to understand how the mechanisms work -- but for a while it's good fun.

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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful:
Fantastic replay value, April 23, 2008
by lobespear
Related reviews: spring thing 2008

Takes you through three vignettes (childhood, high school, and imprisonment as an adult) which you must complete in a manner befitting your chosen "god" - at the end, you meet your maker for the final judgement. The author's views on the atheism/theism debate are clear from the fact that your allegiance is decided by a dice-roll! The gods available range from the usual (Jeohvah) to the insane (Cthulhu!), and the actions required of the player for each god are distinctly different. With around six gods available, there is six times the replay value. Six games in one, wrapped around a fascinating philosphical conceit. The highlight of Spring Thing 2008.

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