Immortality or eternal life is often depicted in fiction as some sort of grand, ultimate goal — both for heroes and villains under various circumstances.
Normally, achieving such a lofty ambition involves any combination of magical power, epic quests, battles with mighty gods and/or fairies, but here in boring old reality we’re actually much closer to achieving that goal than you might think — albeit in a rather more mundane manner.
It all depends on your definition of “mortality” and “life”, and that’s one of the more interesting subjects that Our World is Ended explores over the course of its complete runtime.
Actually, what I’m talking about here can be argued to have been in existence for centuries, even millennia: the idea that a human being’s achievements and works can endure long after their death, giving them a form of eternal existence for so long as someone is around to practice what they preached, to pass on their knowledge or simply to reproduce those works for new generations to enjoy.
What’s changed over the course of the last few decades or so is how accessible this form of “immortality” is to humanity at large. Once upon a time, to enjoy this form of “eternal life”, you usually needed to have done something noteworthy: to name but a few possibilities, you might have created a great work of art, or established an influential form of philosophy, or perhaps made a great scientific discovery.
Records of the existence of “normal people” from years gone by are indeed out there in one form or another, but it’s the “legends” of highly visible fields like art, mathematics, sciences, philosophy and leadership that ended up getting remembered for years to come, and their lives studied in great detail. Most people know who Socrates was and there are people who devote their lives to understanding who he really was and what he did; meanwhile, poor old Zeuxis who made stuffed vine leaves to die for in a little tavern on a forgotten ancient Athens back street never gets any books written about him.
Today, however, you just have to look online to find out usually far more information than you’d care to know about almost anyone on the planet. Without much effort, you can find someone’s holiday snaps, their thoughts and feelings on various subjects, their progress in losing weight, the exact time and date their first-born came into the world and any number of other little tidbits. If the person were to drop dead tomorrow, their “life” would still exist online; they would still have a legacy of sorts.
In certain cases, that person might even still appear to be alive — if I were to die tomorrow, for example, the Twitter and Discord bots I have set up to automatically post links to my work and messages promoting my Patreon and Ko-Fi pages (plug plug) might make my current state of being somewhat unclear. And even if some kind soul shut those down for me, my work here on MoeGamer would still continue to exist; a part of me would still live on.
An interesting question to ponder, then, is how far we can take that idea using current or near-future technology. Would it, in theory, be possible to “digitise” a person in some form or another, and allow them to live forever in the digital realm, even if their physical form were to wither away?
This, of course, raises its own set of supplementary questions. How would you go about this? Who would be eligible for this? How much space does “a person” take up? What, exactly, constitutes “a person” anyway?
In Our World is Ended, protagonist Reiji is a part-time employee at software development company Judgement 7. Reiji is the seventh member of the team, so the name initially appears to make sense, until you consider the fact that before he was recruited, there would have only been six people there, and yet it was still called “Judgement 7”.
The reason for this, he later discovers, is that there was once a seventh member of the staff: a young woman initially only referred to as “IchiRei” (“one-zero”), but subsequently revealed to be named Reina Ichinose. When we first hear about Reina, Reiji is led to believe that she just left under mysterious circumstances, never to return, perhaps because she had grown tired of her colleagues various quirks, but it’s clear that her absence left a gaping hole in both the team and the remaining members’ hearts — some more than others.
Judgement 7’s lead programmer Owari subsequently takes Reiji aside and explains to him that Reina didn’t leave — she died. It seems that the team as a whole never actually met her in person, and she contributed all her (highly valued) creative efforts from afar. But she was terminally ill with an incurable blood condition; there was nothing anyone could do to “save” her, and as such some members of Judgement 7 found it more difficult than others to truly “let go” of her once she had passed, hence their explanation and Reiji’s subsequent misunderstanding.
Reiji learning about this coincides with the group meeting up with a mysterious, amnesiac girl in the strange, “other world” they repeatedly find themselves being cast into when experimenting with Owari’s augmented reality application. Reiji was actually the first to encounter this girl: initially, he saw her during his initial vision of a ruined Asakusa during the prologue chapter, where she warned him that “the world is about to start”, and subsequently he was guided out of a dangerous situation by her via text message — though he believes he caught a glimpse of her as he finally escaped the scene.
By the time the group as a whole encounters this girl for the first time, she has no memories of any of the events Reiji describes and doesn’t even know her own name. The group takes to calling her “Girl A” on the grounds that it’s a name that will be easy to let go of once she rediscovers her true identity; she seems more than happy to accept this, finding the fact that it “sounds like a code-name” to be rather charming.
Astute readers will probably put two and two together well before Judgement 7 does — the text messages Reiji receives from her even originate from the sender “10101010”, or “ichi rei ichi rei ichi rei ichi rei” — but yes, this mysterious girl is indeed “IchiRei”, the late Reina Ichinose, who apparently ended up having her brain waves and memories digitised before her death for reasons that don’t become clear until later in the narrative. On top of that, it seems that there are some mysterious individuals rather keen to get their hands on her for their own nefarious purposes, and, as you might expect, Reina is not particularly keen on that idea — both before and after she gets her memories back.
As the narrative progresses, the truth behind the virtual world that Judgement 7 keeps finding itself “accidentally” falling into starts to become apparent. It is the work of a laboratory known as Riken North, where central character and child genius Tatiana works, and is an attempt to, in Tatiana’s words, “make a biiig computer that works like a human’s head”.
“The research was called the ‘DSD Project,’ where DSD stands for Digitalised Soul Duplication,” explains Reina’s sister Yoko, who worked at Riken North for a period prior to Reina’s death. “Basically, it was a project to create data copies of people’s personalities and memories. The DSD project’s final goal was to get someone to live in a virtual space made of memories, as a virtual personality rebuilt from data. I want you to believe in us — me, Reina and the other researchers. The DSD project was originally meant to be used for good.
“The virtual world would’ve helped those with mental illnesses overcome them, perhaps curing them altogether,” she continues. “Or perhaps it would’ve helped those living in shelters after a tragedy deal with all the stress or trauma involved. It might’ve been used to let people have vicarious experiences in the virtual world recreated based on their memories. Those were the original goals — peaceful and medical.”
As you might expect from Yoko’s tone, the eventual use of the virtual world — or Akashic, as it is referred to by its creators, after the theosophic concept of all human events, thoughts, words, emotions, and intent being recorded and stored in a non-physical plane of existence — is anything but “peaceful and medical”. Rather, after the project was officially (but not actually) disbanded, the research continued under the auspices of an organisation within Riken North known as “Lab 13”. This group wished to grant digital immortality to a group of select elites and allow them to control the world from the shadows.
It’s not an implausible concept; we can already control much of the world from the comfort of our living rooms and offices thanks to the Internet, so the possibilities are limitless when you replace a web browser with a complete digital recreation of a personality. More accurately, the possibilities are extremely dangerous.
So where does Reina fit into all this? Well, as her illness was progressing, she was moved into Riken North’s hospital and provided with the medical treatment she needed to make her final days more comfortable in exchange for her cooperation with their research into the DSD project — while it still had wholesome intentions, mind.
“Lots of people in lab coats surrounded me and passionately spoke stuff that a middle schooler like me couldn’t hope to understand,” explains Reina to Reiji during a private moment. “But I did understand that it was research focused on digitising personalities and memories, and that investigating my perfect memory would help them understand how human memories work.”
Reina learned in her early life that she had eidetic memory, able to perfectly recall the image of a scene after relatively limited exposure, and immediately spot the differences where they existed. This particular quirk of her brain naturally made her of particular interest to Riken North’s researchers; since the very concept of Akashic was that it was a virtual world constructed of memories, who better to start populating its data files with than someone who had a literally perfect memory?
Rather than drawing comfort from the idea of potentially “living on” digitally long after the disease had claimed her body, however, Reina started to find the very concept extremely frightening.
“Before I knew it,” she admits to Reiji, “I became terrified that I could simply disappear, replaced by a machine without a trace. I was frightened that the copy of my mind within the computer would persist long after my real self had died. This idea scared me more than that of death itself.”
It’s perhaps an understandable concern when faced with your own mortality, as it starts to raise questions of “self”. If there’s a digital copy of your personality and memories on a server somewhere, is that “you”? And if so, what does that make your body in the physical realm? If that physical body were to perish and the people who knew and loved you started interacting exclusively with the digital recreation of your thoughts and memories, are they choosing to forget “you” and starting a new life with what is effectively “someone else”, or is it still “you”? Is it really immortality if your original consciousness is no longer around to enjoy it? Or is that consciousness also copied as part of the backup of your personality, thoughts, feelings and memories?
Reina found herself drawn to Judgement 7 because they accepted her exactly as she appeared to be — without knowing her condition, without knowing her background, without even knowing what she looked like. There was unconditional acceptance and love between Judgement 7 and her, and these became precious, irreplaceable memories for her — memories that subsequently found themselves part of the virtual Reina even as the real one crept closer to death.
“Judgement 7 were my first friends, allies, comrades, colleagues,” she explains to Reiji. “And they were the first group where I could really be myself.”
Some people say that the relative anonymity of the Internet allows them to be the person they always wanted to be — or perhaps try out being someone else for a while. Reina certainly came to understand the value in this aspect of an “immortal”, digital existence — and her virtual self continues to understand and appreciate it even long after the passing of her physical form.
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Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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