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consciousness hologram

by Kit Riemer profile

Science Fiction

Web Site

(based on 5 ratings)
2 reviews

About the Story

HTML/Twine. a hybrid poetry project turned on-rails game intended to appraise the state of both utopic and dystopic sci fi w/ a specific focus on existence/consciousness, deep futurism, transhumanism, art, technology, suffering, bacterial infections, inter-cranial stimulation, and sand.

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Number of Reviews: 2
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
An actual legit review (I liked this game), May 22, 2021

I'm still thinking about "consciousness hologram" days after I finished playing it. Which means that it was probably a success.

This game feels like a callback to an earlier era of twine. It echoes a lot of the stylistic elements present in porpentine's work, especially howling dogs. The opening was especially reminiscent: you play as some person living in a vaguely futuristic controlled environment (a Martian pyramid habitat), being fed synthesized semi-foods, with heavy suggestions that you live in a simulation.

As with howling dogs, the basic mechanic is a progression over several days, where on each day you wake up in your room and do stuff to escape your despair. Unlike with howling dogs, there is a quite bit more "freedom" for the player character (but not necessarily for the player): they can visit different areas of the habitat, try to contact various acquaintances, and eventually exit for a walk on the surface. But most of these choices are proscribed in some way, either by the AIs that run the habitat or the protagonist's own mental state. This is a story about depression, after all. So the story ends up being mostly linear, with a few major choices that are not necessarily marked as such until near the ending. There are multiple endings, but I haven't replayed to try to see them.

I had some trouble getting past the first day: (Spoiler - click to show)I visited the archive room first before visiting James' old room and the air filter, so I didn't know what to do with the code. I didn't realize that I had to go back to the archive and try to view James' files again.

There is a lot going on in the game. Multiple narrators talk in different fonts and colors. The writing is sometimes obscure in the way that twine games circa 2012 often were. Random physical objects are imbued with both metaphorical meaning and power within the game universe. Links-as-character-actions are mixed with pure hypertext. Everything is interspersed with thematically relevant quotes from utilitarian writers, transhumanists, and the like. It's great at establishing a sense of tension and anxiety, and overwhelming the reader with a kaleidoscope of ideas, but makes the main narrative a bit hard to follow.

As explained in the afterword, the main rhetorical angle here is kind of a reductio ad absurdum of the transhumanist utopia. It's fully automated luxury space communism, but people aren't happier, because they are still lonely and isolated and don't have a reason to live. Some of the transhumanist quotes seem to be placed in a way to show the absurdity or horror inherent in these ideas. "Wireheadding" is a concept that's played around a bit; (Spoiler - click to show) the Martian habitat has extensively used brain stimulation techniques to make people happier and to reduce aggression, but it only succeeded in the latter; depression and suicide (or "opting out") are ever-present plagues. You later discover that your friend James had committed suicide in an attempt to attack the system. But at the end of the story, in the ending I reached, there's still a sense of hope. Even though you're just living in a simulation, because you managed to connect with at least one other person.

Overall, I think this story worked for me partly because I'm predisposed to enjoy the "early 2010s twine" aesthetic. "Thought provoking" is a vague and generic descriptor, but this game really did make me think about its ideas. I'm not sure if I agree with it at the end, but it was worth experiencing.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
AI utopia win, July 5, 2023
by Cerfeuil (*Teleports Behind You* Nothing Personnel, Kid)
Related reviews: Long Review

I love this game. I've played it three times and will probably play again someday. I will now ramble on about the story and vaguely related topics for a bit, don't mind me.

Spoiler block to save space, actual spoilers inside will still be marked:

(Spoiler - click to show)It's a mess of a game, honestly. There are three viewpoint characters you jump between, plus expositional interludes. There are bits in first, second and third person all mixed together. The author said this started out as a poetry project before turning into a Twine game at a friend's suggestion, which makes sense. It feels like an unfinished poetry project. Dreamy, disjointed and surreal, which fits the vibe anyway, so it works out in the end. And eventually you get a handle on the story, despite the very in media res beginning. The game does have a well-defined plot and setting. It's sketched out gradually, filling itself in as you progress. And there are parts that took my breath away.

But I haven't mentioned the setting yet! The setting is a post-scarcity utopia and hands down my favorite part. I may be obsessed with post-scarcity utopias, so this is where my "review" plummets straight into subjectivity and unrelated nonsense. Here we go.

First, if you're not sure what I'm talking about, you're probably more sane than I am. Here's a primer from Wikipedia: "Post-scarcity is a theoretical economic situation in which most goods can be produced in great abundance with minimal human labor needed, so that they become available to all very cheaply or even freely."

Wikipedia makes it sound boring, but it's not. In a post-scarcity society, you can have almost anything you want. No poverty, no wars over limited resources, no working a job you hate to make ends meet, actually no jobs at all because usually, like in Consciousness Hologram, AIs and automation do the work for everyone. Which means there's no money or capitalism, something something fully automated luxury gay space communism something something. The utopia part comes pretty easily after that.

Star Trek is the most well-known example of a post-scarcity society according to this article. In Star Trek, "replicators" can create anything a person might need, from food to housing. Quote: "There's no longer any necessity to work to sustain oneself. Machines complement our work as humans and allow us to escape the most dreadful effects of scarcity. Poverty, hunger, all that."

Now, I haven't actually watched Star Trek. My post-scarcity utopia of choice is this book series called The Culture by Iain M. Banks which has a very detailed Wikipedia article written by some extremely obsessive fan or other that explains everything about the setting you could possibly want to know and is also a great series (cough cough read Player of Games cough cough). The short version: The Culture is an anarchist utopia where superintelligent AIs do everything and life is perfect, you can freely modify your own biology which includes getting high on futuristic non-addictive drugs or changing your gender at will just because, and did I mention that there is no capitalism and everything is free and life is perfect. So.

This series, by the way, is basically the Bible of a certain group of transhumanists on the Internet who are totally convinced that self-modifying superintelligent AI can usher humanity into the next era of the future and create a perfect utopia through singularity or whatever. I personally don't believe that, as the saying goes "the singularity is just the rapture for nerds", but the people who do have some interesting ideas. Seriously you should check out LessWrong and the associated "rationalist" community if you ever get the chance. It's a great Internet rabbit hole to burn a few hours on. Or more than a few hours. You could dedicate your life to it, like some people have done joining those Berkeley polycules or whatever they get up to in California.

Obligatory rationalism reference aside, and trust me I think about these people more than I should, I liked this game because it reminded me of that stuff. The author's essay at the end notes transhumanists David Pearce and Brian Tomasik as inspirations, and they're pretty aligned with the general LessWrong transhumanist philosophy. (If you look at David Pearce's website, he's written long essays on how we can and must use technology to eliminate all suffering from the universe, I don't believe it but it's fascinating stuff. Here's an essay he wrote about why the setting of Brave New World isn't so bad actually, if you want something to start with). The ending essay really helps put it all in context, and explains a lot about what actually happens during the game. The sequel, Universal Hologram, clarifies even more plot points just in case you weren't sure about what happened (and might spend too much time doing that to the detriment of its own plot, which I'll touch on in a Universal Hologram review if I ever get around to writing that).

So how does this futuristic post-scarcity AI utopia stuff actually relate to the story of Consciousness Hologram? There's two parts to it, methinks:

Part 1, le epic escapist paradise: There's a stereotype of leet gamerz who like playing fantasy video games where they get to adventure with friends because they don't have that in real life, in real life they're unwashed basement NEETs with anime posters. But a true utopia like Consciousness Hologram or The Culture takes that up to eleven. In these settings people are basically hippies who do whatever they want and it's the ultimate escapist dream if you're stuck in 21st century Earth being a depressed shut-in or something. The ultimate maximalist fantasy. Not only is your life perfect, but everybody's life is perfect. There are no more problems forever. All the problems have been taken care of. So you can go lounge on the cosmic beach and drink your perfectly calibrated pina coladas until the end of all time.

It's great fun to imagine when you feel horrible. "Oh, but what if life was perfect and we all lived in a utopia or something." You know. That this idea captivates me as much as it does probably says a lot about me, but don't dwell on that.


Part 2, when le epic escapist paradise actually sucks: The best utopian novels are good not just because of the cool utopia parts, but because they pay attention to the potential negative ramifications. A utopia wouldn't be interesting if you just made everything 100% awesome all the time. You need issues to center a story around. You need your characters to be human to some extent, otherwise they would be utterly alien and unrelatable. And that means their perfect lives can't be completely perfect. No inserting magic electrodes into your brain to live out the rest of your life in unimaginable happiness all the time (aka "wireheading"), you need experiences the reader can somewhat understand.

The ending essay has a segment where the author says Consciousness Hologram sprouted from the idea of conceptualizing your ideal utopia, and then trying to imagine how you could still be miserable there, even though everything would be so much better than your actual life. And that's where the setting shines. In its misery, something the humans of this setting can't get rid of entirely no matter how hard they try. Maybe it's necessary. Or maybe it's fundamentally human and living without it is impossible.

You can do anything you feel like doing in this story but there's no point to it, so often you end up doing nothing. Everything feels sterile, all the people you interact with are barely people. The protagonist's interactions with (Spoiler - click to show)Morton, where they keep failing to meet up because everyone's taking centuries-long naps in hibernation pods, are hilarious and also a great case of that missing human connection. Nobody and nothing feels real, to the point where people like (Spoiler - click to show)James need violence and death to disturb that horrible endless monotony.

These are ideas that get explored in Consciousness Hologram and the Culture novels and some other essays I'll mention now, because I can't shut up.

Eliezer Yudkowsky, a somewhat famous rationalist who is the guru of LessWrong and also known for writing Harry Potter fanfiction (no seriously), does AI research and is very concerned with the possibility of self-modifying superintelligent AI creating a utopia or destroying the world. (He's also mentioned The Culture as an inspiration, so we're kind of in the same boat except for the part where he takes ultra AI god utopias as a serious possibility and I don't.) Some people worship him, others think he's a crank, I'm more inclined towards the second than the first, but he's written some interesting essays and other things besides Harry Potter fanfiction. (I have also read his Harry Potter fanfiction. It's not terrible. Really. But I'm getting distracted again.)

Here's an interesting essay series Yudkowsky's written. It's called Fun Theory. It's about the particulars of designing a utopia that maximizes happiness and minimizes suffering without wireheading, which most people don't actually want. While the individual essays are mixed quality, some are pretty neat. In "Eutopia is Scary" and "Building Weirdtopia", Yudkowsky says that a perfect world where nothing goes wrong ever and everyone is happy all the time is boring, from a writing perspective. But add a little twist to it, make it fulfilling while still being radically different and better than real life, and you make it very interesting. In "Eutopia is Scary", Yudkowsky also says there's no reason not to expect the future to be bizarre and unfathomable, just like how our modern life in the 21st century would be horrifically strange to people who lived ten thousand years ago.

Consciousness Hologram does a perfect job of capturing that. These people are vaguely familiar, but so much about them is unrecognizable, compared to being a human in the 21st century. At the same time, the contours of the utopian setting are captured through the very recognizable ennui of the protagonist. Through the familiar first-world juxtaposition of having everything you need and still being unsatisfied with it—and you're not sure if it's because there's something wrong with you, or something wrong with the world.

In short, this game combines loads of neat speculative fiction concepts into one zany wacko package that never goes the direction you expect. And the atmosphere is great. Those glass pyramids on Mars, man.

A beautiful and marvelously strange setting to explore.


Anyway. End unhinged rambling about Yudkowsky and Banks. Maybe in the end the only reason I liked this as much as I did was because I've read all the Culture novels and wanted more. (Except Inversions. I never got around to Inversions.)

But whatever.

Right now this game has five ratings and only two reviews, including mine. Like many games on this site I think it's criminally underrated. Which is why this long "review" exists I guess. Play this game cmon it's good

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