This story is part of OUTER LIMITS, a Motherboard series about people, technology, and going outside. Let us be your guide.
In 2003, Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom published "Are You Living In A Computer Simulation?" in Philosophical Quarterly. In the influential paper, he argued that one of the following three statements must be true:
- Humans will go extinct before they evolve into "posthumans" and develop powerful computing capabilities.
- Future "posthumans" aren't interested in running complex simulations—it's not part of their culture.
- We are almost certainly living in a simulation right now.
Bostrom concludes that we can't know which of these statements is correct, but that one certainly is. "In the dark forest of our current ignorance, it seems sensible to apportion one's credence roughly evenly between (1), (2), and (3)," he writes. For nearly 300,000 Reddit users, however, statement No. 3 is taken as fact. Welcome to r/Outside, a subreddit where everyone is committed to believing reality is nothing more than a game.
This is "a subreddit for Outside, a free-to-play MMORPG [massively multiplayer online role-playing game] developed by Deity Games and the most popular game, with 7 billion+ active players," the forum's description reads. Of course, no such game actually exists. Outside is just our reality, which as Bostrom argues, could be a simulation designed by our descendents in the distant future.
Posts on r/Outside have a mind-expanding quality to them that encourages you to think about the world in a way you likely haven't before. "I keep hearing rumors that in the early stages of the game very few people (maybe even only one) were able to achieve a 'god mode' through an exploit, before the devs fixed it. Is this true?" one user asked a few days ago, likely referring to Jesus or Mohammad.
"We have nothing to go on except stories from users who logged off a long time ago because the devs stopped releasing patch notes a while back," another user responded. The poster makes a good point: All followers of Islam or Christianity really have is the Bible or Quran to go on. But while many posts on r/Outside are similarly philosophical, plenty aren't.
Some users adopt the mindset of r/Outside as a kind of self-help strategy. If life's struggles are thought of as mere mini-games, solving them can be viewed as simply playing along. For example, one asks how to beat the "mini-game" of weight loss, while another asks whether "game points" should be spent learning to cook. A third user wonders if pulling an all-nighter decreases "sleep stats."
The origin of r/Outside isn't clear. I couldn't find an oral history online, and a request for comment to the forum's moderators went unanswered. The mystique seems partly by design. If no one departs from the script, it's easier to maintain belief in the game.
If you were an alien from another universe and your only knowledge of Earth came from r/Outside, you'd likely believe reality was indeed a vast, detailed game that all humans participated in.
What's known is that r/Outside was created eight years ago by someone who has since removed their name from it, according to the subreddit's description. Screenshots from the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine show that the community began to grow around 2014, when it had 100,000 subscribers.
r/Outside's short list of rules offer insight into how the forum's founder thinks. For one, they're not a fan of memes. Rule No. 8 states "NO MEMES. Advice animals, or variants thereof, will result in a ban."
Others hint at something more profound. Like No. 4, which implies they believe in free will. "The game is mostly run by the players. All in-game items and rules are determined by players, not mods or devs," it reads.
Even if the outdoors—indeed, reality itself—is really just a video game, it looks like the ability to win it is still in our own hands.
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