A Satirical Interactive Fiction Commemorating 2020
This is the continuation of an interactive fiction series. To return to the start of the story, CLICK HERE.
“Maybe we should stop following these conspiracy theories,” sighs the man on the phone.
You find his sentiment ironic, considering he’s the one who’s telling you 2020 is a computer simulation.
You see his point, though. Thus far, you’ve traced the coronavirus to a lab in China. That lead took you to a lab in North Korea, then to a lab in Russia. And, thanks to a note you found in a steel dossier, you trace everything back to the United States.
You now find yourself in West Desert, Utah. You’re in the middle of nowhere.
“Fine!” you say. “You don’t suppose there’s a quick way to get to that food market in Wuhan?”
“You could just hit the back button,” says the man, although he sounds less convincing than the real Lawrence Fishburne. “But you’d risk encountering another Rick-roll.”
You grumble beneath your breath as you evaluate your choices.
“What’s that?” you shout.
There was no answer on the line, but you already know the answer …
That mysterious object that suddenly appeared and disappeared in Utah. And now it’s back.
You hear panting. Someone’s running towards you.
A figure emerges from the Monolith. It’s a middle-aged Black man, dressed in black, tall with a slightly wide frame.
He comes closer. You get a better look at his face. You could recognize that moustache anywhere.
“Neil deGrasse Tyson!”
The world-renowned astrophysicist hunches over. “I’m so glad to find you,” he gasps. “You have to come with me. Things have gotten completely out of hand!”
“What?” you ask.
He stammers. “E-e-everything! One minute we’re not supposed to wear masks. The next minute we HAVE to wear them! Cops are shooting kids with pepper spray! One out of every ten white women has legally changed her name to Karen!”
You’re surprised to find Neil deGrasse Tyson in such a state. He always seemed so cool. “What do you want me to do about it?”
“We have to stop Elon Musk!” he says.
Neil deGrasse Tyson throws up his hands. “Yes! Everything about 2020 was his fault! It’s all caused by his computer simulation!”
He gives you the backstory. It all started with a StarTalk video Neil deGrasse Tyson had made back in March.
For the longest while, both Neil deGrasse Tyson and Elon Musk had held that our universe is actually a simulation program. They agreed with the thought experiment proposed by Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom:
1) All human-like civilizations in the universe go extinct before they develop the technological capacity to create simulated realities;
2) if any civilizations do reach this phase of technological maturity, none of them will bother to run simulations;
or 3) advanced civilizations would have the ability to create many, many simulations, and that means there are far more simulated worlds than non-simulated ones.
This makes it highly unlikely we’re living in a singular universe. If anything, it makes it almost certain there is a programmer in another dimension responsible for creating our world.
But in March of 2020, Neil deGrasse Tyson began to have second thoughts. He argued that, just as 21st century filmmakers are more likely to make movies about their contemporary world, higher-order programmers are more likely to construct a simulation with their technology level. Given how far we are from actually creating a parallel universe, he argues this decreases the likelihood our world is a simulation.
“But Elon wasn’t having any of it,” says Neil deGrasse Tyson. “So Elon did what Elon always does. He hunkers down in his lab, and he starts trying to prove everyone wrong.”
“You ARE wrong!”
Oh, no! It’s Elon Musk! And he’s got a gun!
“I’m not going to let you destroy my simulation program,” says Elon Musk. “Do you know how many hours I’ve spent working on it?”
Neil deGrasse Tyson begins to speak …
“TOO LONG, Neil!” shouts Elon Musk. “I have worked TOO LONG.”
He sounds rather crazy. And he smells funny … like really pungent smoke …
Neil deGrasse Tyson holds up his hands and gingerly makes his way towards the gunman.
“Elon,” he says, his voice strained but steady. “Look, this has to stop.”
“Why?” asks Elon Musk.
“People are dying, Elon. American democracy is hanging by a thread. A South Korean movie just won the Oscars.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” asks Elon Musk.
“THE OTHER TWO AREN’T!” shouts Neil deGrasse Tyson. “Look, I know we have our differences —”
“Just tell me you believe in the simulation theory,” says Elon Musk, his voice lower, more menacing.
“I never said I didn’t! I just said I’m less convinced than I used to be!”
Elon Musk’s hand begins to tremble. His face softens a little.
“We’re on the same team,” says Neil deGrasse Tyson. “We both believe in using science and engineering to serve humankind.”
Elon Musk gulps. “That's right.”
“And, as a scientist, I have to reevaluate my beliefs based on the available evidence.”
“And you have to stop building these high concept gizmos that only partially work!”
Elon Musk throws up his hands. “But I’m an engineer!”
“You never listen to the science!” shouts Neil deGrasse Tyson. “You just toss random equations into the air and hope they stick!”
Elon Musk is making circles around Neil deGrasse Tyson now like a rabid hyena. “I am an innovator, Neil! I am a visionary!”
“Yeah? Well, I actually use my EYES, Elon! And my eyes tell me your simulation program doesn’t work! This is just like your 4th SpaceX rocket!”
“Hey! You leave my rockets out of this!”
“Ok, fine!” says Neil deGrasse Tyson. “This is just like your 5th SpaceX rocket! How about this one? Your 6th SpaceX rocket!”
Elon Musk jumps indignantly. “You scientists are so hardheaded!”
“You engineers are so naive!”
This argument goes on for a while …
By now, you grow weary of their bickering. Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson remind you of two grade-school boys fighting in a playground. (They’re actually yanking each other’s hair.)
You decide to go home. 2020 didn’t make sense to you, and by all indications, neither would 2021.
But you take solace in the fact two of the world’s greatest thinkers are hard at work trying to tackle the problems of 2020. Along with all the doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and essential workers.
You turn around to face the two men wrestling in the desert sand. You begin to applaud.