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'The Red Strings Club' explores the morality of transhumanism

'The Red Strings Club' explores the morality of transhumanism
From Engadget - February 9, 2018

Gods Will Be Watching was de Paco's first attempt at infusing a video game with ethical and moral dilemmas, and it was a resounding success when it landed in 2014. Deconstructeam was thrust into a broader conversation about the power and creativity of indie games, and there was enough money in the bank to start working on the next thing. This time around, de Paco wanted to be more deliberate -- Gods Will Be Watching was unfiltered, and in the end, its message got away from him.

"With Gods Will Be Watching, I was not really aware of the power of video games as a storytelling medium or maybe as communicating a message, so I kind of just made the game and put a lot of my instinctive philosophy in there," de Paco said. "I realized that I accidentally made an anti-system game, in which you have to go against any form of authority, so this time I tried to actually be aware of what I am telling and what I am doing with the game."

The result is a concise yet branching cyberpunk story about the awful power massive technology companies can assert over people's daily lives (and bodies and minds). Through this lens, de Paco asks players how far they would go to obtain or sustain happiness, and what it truly means to be human. When we lose our emotions, do we lose our humanity?

Though the game offers a range of answers in its dialogue trees, it does not actually wrap all of these questions up in a nice, ethical bow. They are not meant to be answered; they are de Paco's grand social experiment, designed to provoke thought and conversation. And here, it seems The Red Strings Club has succeeded.

De Paco said the game itself takes about three or four hours to complete on a standard playthrough. However, many Twitch streamers end up playing for something like 10 hours because they spend most of the time talking through the game's direct questions with the live chat.

"It comes in really lengthy conversations about what if it's good or not to get rid of emotions, or how it might benefit society," de Paco said. "It's really great."

Some of the game's questions are far-fetched scenarios specific to this particular future, but others feel relevant to life today. Scientists may not have developed implants that can alter our character yet, but we enjoy a common stimulus in caffeine and a depressant in alcohol. We have pills that promise to calm, excite and otherwise change our moods. We play with our emotional states every day.

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