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That Old Time Pixel Religion June 1, 2006

Posted by joshg in fictional mythology, indie games, reincarnation.
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I just recently treated myself to Darwinia (almost too conveniently available via Steam), an amazing indie game developed by the self-proclaimed bedroom programmers at Introversion Software. While I had tried it out a year or so ago, I hadn't realized just how strong the religious themes are in the game until I played it through to the end.

In the game, you have entered into a digital world populated by self-aware digital beings known as Darwinians. Their creator, Dr. Sepulveda, has designed a self-contained world where the Darwinians can live, grow, and die, and their digital "souls" are reborn as new Darwinians. However, when you stumble across this pixellated land, it has been infested with a red virus which threatens to destroy the Darwinians and all that Dr. Sepulveda has worked to create. You are quickly put to work helping eliminate the virus and shepherding the Darwinians to safety.

Despite the supposed technological setting of a computer-based AI experiment, the game's plot plays out more like a Tron-inspired religious epic. The Darwinian's digital world is a virtual Eden, where they participate in religious pilgrimages and traditions that keep the system running to bring about reincarnation of past souls. The game is filled with concepts directly out of evolutionary computing (a standard computer science technique for machine learning), but gives them a strong religious flair.

(more after the break, with the mildest of spoilers)