Monday, December 2, 2013

What is "Outside", and how can it help us understand the world?

The world we live in is a damned complicated place. There aren't rules, there's no balance, our complaints aren't listened to, we don't feel special - in short, the world makes for a really terrible video game. That's why all attempts to turn the real world into a video game have either devolved into something really damned strange, like Second Life, or shown us an exaggerated, over the top version of the real world, like Grand Theft Auto. Still, as a variation of the "What if we're a science experiment" question that's plagued philosophers for years, people always ask, "What if the real world was a video game?"

Enter "Outside."

Outside is a subreddit on the popular Reddit website. Reddit is a news and pop culture discussion board, broken into thousands upon thousands of subreddits, focused on individual topics. The saying goes,  "There's a subreddit for everything", and there really is - it was proved to me when I stumbled on the subreddit for crossover My Little Pony/Warhammer 40,000 fan art. Outside is a slightly different animal. The subreddit exists in the midst of a joke we're all in on: the idea that the real world is a video game, called "Outside", that we're all playing. The subreddit serves as the official message board for that game.

Taking a look at the site, it's all mostly just jokes - people find funny pictures and describe them as AI glitches, or post a picture of a sunset and describe their graphics card setup. The subreddit also has a set of rules to stop the immersion from being broken that I find fascinating:

Since the rules are also written in character, you could spend a whole hour on this subreddit before you realized what was going on and joined in on the joke. It's a really fun thought experiment and time waster.

But every now and then, a thread comes up that does something different. Here's an example:

Here's the thing: We, as human beings, love to categorize things. In a world that makes very little sense, we want to try and make it make sense. And sometimes, the best way to explain a confusing and difficult concept so that people can empathize is to break it out of reality entirely. By placing a topic like "Why are people transgender?" in the context of a video game, we're able to explain through metaphor a concept that some people, who've never experienced not feeling comfortable with their own gender, might find difficult. Through that thread, a lot of people who never understand the issues they've never faced can suddenly have new insight, thanks to seeing the world as a video game. And that's fascinating. 

I suggest you take the time and browse Outside a little bit. The jokes are funny, but the insights into human nature and your fellow man are really worth the stay.

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