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Are we all living in a video game?

Ellie Gibson on space, simulations, and Sweden's Eurovision fortunes.

So it turns out we might not be alone in the universe. Back in February, Nasa announced the discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting Trappist-1, which is not in fact a low alcohol hipster beer but a star in the constellation of Aquarius. Now it seems the sixth planet could have an atmosphere and liquid water, which are the basic requirements for life to exist. Although Croydon has done pretty well with just one of those.

Scientists don't know whether this planet, which they've named Trappist-1g in homage to the songstress responsible for Britain's unfairly overlooked 1996 Eurovision entry, look it up, is actually home to aliens. They can't say what stage of evolution these aliens might be at, or whether, being Aquarians, they can be stubborn and indecisive but enjoy meeting new people.

An artist's impression of Trappist-1g, alternatively titled 'Catford at Dusk.'

Even if the planet is uninhabited, its potential to sustain life raises some interesting questions. For instance, could it one day provide a home for an otherwise doomed human race? When our sun dies in a few billion years, give or take, Trappist-1 will still be going strong. It burns hydrogen at a much slower rate and could last for another 10 trillion years. Basically, if Trappist-1 is Fleetwood Mac, our sun is Blazin' Squad. Ironically.

Here's another question: what if what those scientists have found isn't actually a superior planet? What if it isn't a planet at all? What if it's just a better spawn point?

Because as everyone knows, reality as we understand it doesn't exist, and we're all living in a computer simulation. Don't take my word for it - ask Elon Musk. Speaking at a tech conference last year, he pointed out how far we've come from boring old black-and-white Pong to photorealistic, three-dimensional, massively multiplayer simulated worlds. If you assume any rate of improvement at all, he said, "We're clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or on a PC or whatever, and there would probably be billions of such computers or set-top boxes.

"It would seem to follow that the odds that we're in base reality is one in billions."

In other words, we're all just characters in computer games created by a civilisation so advanced they can simulate consciousness. Which is not a particularly cheery thought, and one that makes it even harder to find the motivation to go and pay that cheque in at the Post Office, or turn off Judge Rinder and finish one's column for a popular UK-based video games website.

But it is a compelling argument, and the best evidence to back it up is the man presenting it. Because let's be honest, Elon Musk sounds like a stupid video game character name, in the great tradition of Marcus Fenix, Cloud Strife, and Revolver Ocelot.

If you were a developer, Elon Musk is exactly what you'd call your billionaire inventor character who's into electric cars and warp speed travel. You'd totally task him with being the one who points out this is all just some big game. And to really hammer the point home, you'd give him a twice-married ex-wife called Talulah who starred in a television show about living in a manufactured world populated by simulated humans who don't know they're not real. Because when it comes to introducing subtle signifiers and carefully constructed layers of irony, most video games developers display about as much skill as a monkey with no fingers trying to open a Capri Sun.

So there's incontrovertible proof that we're living in a video game. But what kind of video game? Well, if you're me, it's probably some sort of low rent open world action RPG. As you level up you're able to access downloadable content (children), and the game introduces elements of survival horror (childbirth, nits, camping holidays, soft play with three under fives on a wet half-term afternoon.) Seven out of ten.

Thinking about it, I find the idea this is all just a game quite comforting. It makes it easier to understand the weird twists and turns the world has taken lately - Brexit, Trump, Portugal winning Eurovision even though Sweden had a load of men in slightly short trousers doing BACKWARDS DANCING ON TRAVELATORS.

These are all just glitches, surely. Our game developer overlords are working on a patch, and it will be automatically installed one night while we're asleep. We will wake to find order restored - Europe intact, Trump trumped, Robin Bengtsson crowned as the king of mediocre contemporary pop. Perhaps I will even find him lying there on the pillow next to me, winking like he does at 2 minutes 20 seconds, instead of an IT project manager originally from Scarborough.

Let's hope so, anyway. If not, it might be time to end it all, and hope I respawn on Trappist-1g. Sure, it has an equilibrium temperature of minus 75 degrees Centigrade, and may already be populated by hostile alien life forms. But the house prices are very reasonable, and it's only a matter of time before they get a Nando's and a Costcutter. Can't wait.

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About the Author
Ellie Gibson avatar

Ellie Gibson


Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.

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