Have you ever wondered if you’re just a character in some elaborate simulation? You shake the thought off because you’re a real person, living a real life, in a concrete reality. But can you be certain that you are? Isn’t it at least possible that your body and that the world around you are nothing but illusions?
This is the conundrum that Guy, played by Ryan Reynolds, finds himself in the middle of in the film Free Guy. However, in this case he is, in fact, an NPC (non-player character) in an open-world computer game called Free City. He is a character in a simulation, and this realisation changes his “life” forever.
Many of us have wondered if we, like Guy, are just NPCs in some game. A sceptical hypothesis like this was first raised by the 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes. He didn’t imagine he might be an NPC, of course. He imagined that an evil demon might be deceiving him into thinking the world around him was real when it was not. But evil demons are considered a bit passé these days.
In 20th-century philosophy, the favoured alternative was to imagine that we might be brains in vats hooked up to electrodes being deceived by nefarious neuroscientists feeding our experiences into us via electrical impulses. This is (more or less) the basic premise of the film The Matrix. But now even brains in vats are old hat.