NPC’s: Non-player Character, God and Lifeline Theology

NPC’s: Non-player Character, God and Lifeline Theology

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The God many people imagine is omniscient. He knows everything. It’s handy to have a relationship with someone who knows everything. If you can contact him, it’s like getting a lifeline on the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Whenever you’re unsure what to do in any particular situation you can ask God, and he’ll tell you because he knows.

In fact, by this reasoning God could supply you with the equivalent of a video game cheat book to your entire life. Video game cheat books list every move you need to make in order to win a particular video game. They’re like a GPS or Mapquest map for navigating all of the game’s very elaborate interactive mazes. An omniscient God could supply you such a map for optimizing your life–every move detailed out. You’d know when to turn left, when to leave, when to say what. Constantly consulting life’s cheat book could be cumbersome, but maybe there would be some way for God to transmit the directions directly to your intuition and you could act on them.

“Well, where’s the fun in that?” you might ask. “Life is an adventure. Wouldn’t it spoil it if you knew in advance how to achieve every possible success?”

If that’s your response to God’s offer of a cheat book, congratulations. You are among the fortunate few who, like me, aren’t living very close to the edge. People with means–good health, a little money, friends, talent; decent cards to play in the game of life–we can treat life as a fun guessing game and enjoy the adventure. But try to imagine back to a time when you had to choose between two potentially horrible evils and it mattered a whole lot that you guess right. Or think of the people who live on the edge, always just barely holding on, where one false move would be enough to kill them or their loved ones. Some conditions would make the most sporting among us crave a cheat book, and an omniscient God could in fact provide one.

Problem is, only one–God could supply a cheat book to exactly one person–not more than one because of the nature of the game.

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See, there are two kinds of video games, the kind where you play against the computer and the kind you play against other players.

It’s easy to get them confused. There are plenty of you-against-the computer video games that give you the impression that you’re playing against other people. This is done with what are called NPCs, or nonplayer characters. NPCs are those very fancy virtual robots roaming the scene in video games. They appear to be sentient, making spontaneous choices in reaction to your actions, but they’re really just zombies. They only appear sentient because video game programs have become so sophisticated. They’re sophisticated enough now that the NPCs can seem meta-responsive, adjusting their meta-responses (their overall strategies) in response to yours. Even the programming that enables them to do this is determined in advance. There’s no computer game program that rewrites itself in response to your behavior. The computer’s behavior is a closed set of instructions, predetermined before you start playing. Though NPCs move around as though they were following their own spontaneous impulses they really have no more freedom to change their fundamental behavior than the walls of a garden maze.

Games in which you interact with other human players are different. Play a game against friends and their behavior changes your playing field in ways that are not predetermined. People are open systems, fundamentally reprogrammable if you will, by outside influences. And not only that, by wildly outside influences. You know the way one thing that someone said to you once changed your whole attitude about things. We’re symbolic creatures capable of spinning networks of references where a little thing makes a very big difference in how we behave.

Multi-player games can’t have cheat books. They can have strategy books, just like bridge or tennis or any other multi-player game. But no cheat books–nothing can tell you every move to make in order to win because there’s uncertainty built into multi-player games that can’t be accounted for in advance.

An all-knowing God could give you a cheat book for the game of life only if your life were otherwise populated exclusively by NPCs. For God to know in advance every possible move you need to make, everyone else must be an NPC.

Otherwise think of the problem. God channels to your intuition the instruction to leave parking lot at 8:57 a.m., so you leave the parking lot and, just your luck, some free-will-wielding wing nut runs a yellow light and you’re dead. No, for God’s cheat sheet to work, God would have to know in advance what that wing nut was going to do. The wing nut’s behavior would have to be as predetermined as that of the wing nut you buy in a hardware store.

So the good news is God could give you a cheat book. The bad news is that he would have to make everyone else in the world a robot to do so. Yes, he could give you instructions for winning the soul mate of your dreams, but he’d have to make your soul mate soul-less to do it.

The NPC problem suggests that no cheat sheet is available for the grand arc of your life. It’s an adventure whether you want one or not. Yes you can get reliable maps to all sorts of things along the way, from the nearest K-mart to becoming a professional electrician. These will be quite reliable…unless the road is out.