A religious analysis of SOMA by Patrick Davet.
What makes us human? It’s a question that’s been pondered by philosophers since the dawn of civilization. From Socrates to Aquinas to Nietzsche, we have wondered about humanity’s place in the world. John Dewey is a philosopher that coined Somatic philosophy, that is a philosophy of the “body-mind.” Dewey asserts that the mind is only a part of our flesh and bone, formed by primal instinct. It is not, in other words, given to us by a God or higher power.
Enter SOMA, a 2015 survival horror experience from Frictional Games. You play as Simon, a man who was engaged in a fatal car crash that left him with severe brain damage. After agreeing to a brain scan at a laboratory, Simon awakens in an underwater research facility several hundred years into the future. There are no signs of any living humans, only robots that are either confused about their mechanical identities or hostile robots. After working your way through the facility, avoiding death, there is a revelation…
And this is a spoiler, turn back now or forever hold your peace….
You’re a robot, and every human on earth is dead. Well, you’re not exactly a robot. You’re a brain scan of Simon’s consciousness, taken over a hundred years in the past. Your brain is the foundation of artificial intelligence. Mankind on earth was eliminated in a meteor strike, leaving only those underwater to survive.
In blog posts and interviews, Thomas Grip, creative director of Frictional, has expanded upon his vision for SOMA’s. In his first blog post for PlayStation in October 2013, he explains the premise of SOMA:
The subject that SOMA will discuss is consciousness. Personally, I find it the most profound questions that it is possible to ask. “How can the feeling of subjective experience arise from a chunk of flesh?” Exploring this further takes us to questions such as “Can machines be conscious?” and “Do we have free will?” It quickly gets very disturbing and is ideal for a futuristic horror setting. It is the kind of sci-fi that we want to make.
Do machines have free will? They certainly don’t seem to be subjects of predestination, or, fate. In that case, they are not the subject of any God. It’s a dark question. But we need to ask whether or not consciousness is truly what makes us human.
In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, SOMA is an antidepressant. It provides a false sense of happiness to the citizens within his book. Within the game, SOMA could be the “ark” that it the end goal of the main campaign. This ark is a refuge for artificial intelligences that is in the end launched into space. It is a virtual reality. So now we must question, is that refuge a false hope, a false happiness? Is it a false hope that human minds can exist without a human body? Does our body make us human? According to old Catholic doctrine, yes. We need our bodies when we are resurrected. Without them, we are damned.