So some of you might know that I’ve been working on the question of nonhuman ethics. More precisely, I’ve been trying to understand our ethical obligation toward purely digital entities–computer games, for example, or evolved virtual creatures. Since my proclivities take me far and wide in theory, I turned to Grant Morrison to give me direction.
Note: no one should ever turn to Grant Morrison to give them direction.
In any case, Grant Morrison has famously made all kinds of interesting proclamations in regards to the existence of totally fictional beings. Famously, he claims that comic book characters, and universes, are real. They are two dimensional and we, as readers, tower over them like gods (or like 4th dimensional beings would tower over us.) Morrison also believes that comics can effect our lives in significant ways; by playing out scenarios in this smaller world, a certain magical effect can spill over into our lived reality. For example, Morrison created the character of King Mob in his long-running Vertigo series The Invisibles as a magical way to improve his own life. He melded his own personality with King Mob’s and then began to write about good things happening to the fictional character. Good things began to happen to him as well.
Then he wrote about King Mob getting an infection that ate his face away and Morrison had the same thing happen. Shit got way real.
So that’s the relationship that Grant Morrison has with fictional, “human made” beings, and the further I get into my research, the closer I get to thinking equally madcap things. But this isn’t about that. In fact, all of that was the longest aside in the history of them.
What I want to talk about is The World. It is a laboratory used to make Weapons. You know Weapon X aka Wolverine aka Snik Snik Bub Bub? X, in this case, is the number 10. The program that made Wolverine wanted to make more, and so in Morrison’s New X-Men we learn that they have created The World in order to facilitate that project.
The World is a dome that is one square mile. Time is fluid inside of it–the operators of The World can accelerate or slow down time as they see fit. This capability is critical to their project–they are no longer with adapting humans or mutants to turn them into Weapons (as they did in the cases of Captain America and Wolverine). Instead, they evolve wholly new organisms by accelerating time and introducing forces like nanomachines into the environment. A being like Fantomex, a being from The World who has a parallel processing brain and an external nervous system, is wholly unlike any other creature on Earth.
So, to start with, The World produces aliens.
But I’m not concerned with that, really, because the connection that I want to make explicit here is that I think The World operates much like a video game does. The lab techs, or game developers, set the conditions of the small space of the game world (aka The World). They let it run. They kill it, reset it, that build didn’t work. They do it again. Eventually new figures are introduced; these are the players. Those players adapt, evolve, and become something more than they were before.
An organism is different once it has nanotech-grown second sight. A human player is fundamentally altered when it no longer things that shooting the arms off of other human figures is anything out of the ordinary.
Cyborgs of a different sort, in a different register.
So The World and the game do similar things. Whoopee. That isn’t particularly interesting. It is just a reading. What I am interested in is how Rick Remender, in his The List: Wolverine issue, shows that The World comes to life.
Let me explain: in that issue, The World creates a new Weapon: XVI, or the Allgod. As someone, I forget who, tells us in the issue, it is a virus that targets the part of the brain responsible for faith and turns it on. It turns it WAY on, and more importantly, it forces the infected to worship The World.
So there are a couple readings of this scenario. The first, and easiest, is a metaphor for the military industrial complex. Even if we forgot about it and let it rot, it would still be “alive,” morphing and changing out of sight, making more terrible things every day. The second is that the Allgod is a biological metaphor for the immune system. In the absence of protectors and lab techs, The World’s systems realize that they must protect themselves, and then sciences up a solution.
The third, and the one that I really thing goes somewhere, is that the Allgod establishes The World as a subject. It isn’t an immune system; it is an ego, a living pathogen that establishes an identity for The World against the world. It is the moment of actual life, not as metaphor, but as a psychic entity.
And I wonder if we can expect games to do that.