Contextual Essay: Simulation Mindy

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Project Summary & Proposed Utility

I decided to continue the artefact I have worked on across four BCM subjects. It began as “The Life of Mindy” in BCM112: Convergent Media Practices and DIGC202: Global Networks. As I became further engrossed in simulation theory, the artefact developed to feature more interfaces and serious links, to various philosophical theories and science fiction tropes in BCM300: Game Making and BCM325: Future Cultures.

I developed this particular iteration of the project to explore the implications of Nick Bostrom’s Simulation Theory in a fun and informative, yet easily digestible format. Through presenting this story through a science fiction lens, I can shift the idea that we might exist in a simulation from a conspiracy frame into a technological one. I felt this would generate a strong social utility through both being entertaining, and providing a simple platform by which to understand and explore complex theories. Issues explored in the text include the creator/creation relationship, theories about dreaming (including the butterfly dream theorem), the ethics and implicationsand current trends – of artificial intelligence manufacture, sentience and technological singularity.

Additionally, the utility of this project can be stretched to maximise the competitiveness of my resume; I’ll have a platform which demonstrates my multimedia and social media marketing skills, as well as my ability to simplify complex matters for a predetermined audience.

My digital artefact is, at its core, a narrative created using footage from The Sims 4. The primary story is about a woman living a simulation. After a series of glitches, she realises that perhaps everything in her world is not as it seems and she strives to unravel the truth, with disastrous consequences. The scientists who ‘create’ Mindy and her universe also feature in the story.

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Story screenshot: scientists in the alpha universe designing the latest Mindy simulation.

Proposed Production Method

The core narrative exists on a WordPress site, but additional interfaces to the Simulation Mindy universe include an Instagram page, a Twitter account and a bot. I created this artefact through capturing images and video material within the Sims game (with inbuilt game affordances). I used the visual material on the WordPress site initially, to generally accompany short chapters in the story. I used the video material to create several short films and gifs to feature on the site. This material also heavily featured on my Instagram page, and occasionally on Twitter.


Audience

My digital artefact reaches two distinct niche audiences: the Sim story internet community (not to be confused with the ‘builds’ community, which purely focuses on game aesthetics rather than play) and the ‘internet intellectual’, who doesn’t necessarily play the Sims, but has a deep curiosity about the world – including a potential interest (whether already developed or not) in simulation theory and conjectures of post-humanity, and typically feeds this through Reddit forum intelligence and the likes.

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This starter pack references my ‘internet intellectual’ target audience
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This starter pack references my Sims community target audience

Story Themes

Philosophical Theories, Etcetera

The primary goal of this artefact is to unpack, simplify and reorganise complex philosophical and socio-technological theories in a fun way that is entertaining and easy for my audience to digest.

Simulation Theory

The entire Simulation Mindy universe is constructed around Nick Bostrom’s simulation theory. This theory argues, in a nutshell, that if it becomes a possibility in the future for our human race to generate a simulation, we must assume it has been done before and we are that simulated product. I have unpacked it further in my research proposal from last semester. This story examines the implications of Plebeian Mindy’s discovery that she exists in a world that is simulated.

Butterfly Dream Theory

The butterfly dream theory considers rethinking what we perceive reality to be. The philosopher, Zhuangzi, famously awoke from a dream where he was a butterfly. He theorised afterwards that there was no way he could know in any given moment whether he was a man dreaming he was a butterfly, or if he now was a butterfly dreaming he was a man.

In the story, I utilised this theory to create the first glitch that convinces the Plebeian and Duchess Mindy’s that something is not quite right. Duchess Mindy dreams of Plebeian Mindy’s daily lifestyle, including bathing with her young child in a kiddie pool. Plebeian Mindy dreams of Duchess Mindy’s extravagant Victorian lifestyle. This can be seen in the story here and here.

Ethics in AI Production & Consumption

The creation and responsibility that befalls a creator of life – especially life like Mindy’s in the story, which blurs the line between artificial and sentient life – is explored in this story. Whose responsibility is it when science-made life becomes a threat to other, innocent lives? What sort of role should an unpaid intern play in important work?

These imperative questions are explored throughout Mindy’s story this semester. The two main scientists, and their lazy, unmotivated intern, have really only put the simulation together to examine the effects of nature v. nurture (see this section of the story). There is clearly little care involved for the participants. Once the simulation is set up and running, they hand over the screen for the intern to observe over his summer, and only intervene when things go wrong. This can be seen in the story here.

At the end of the story, when most of the simulation’s occupants are dead or grievously injured, we finally see some remorse from the scientists, including a despaired suicide – but this remorse and fear is predominantly a result of the threat of an ethics board discovering what they’ve done, and how they have done it. This can be seen in the story here.

Science Fiction Tropes

I decided to draw further on science fiction tropes to position my story as part of that genre. After completing BCM325: Future Cultures last semester, I’ve found value in exploring science fiction as a representation of both current and future human fears and wished to convey this in my artefact.

Johnny Mnemonic (1995)

Johnny Mnemonic is a science fiction film set in 2021 in a society completely inundated by the internet and technological potential. Information is the “ultimate commodity“. This dystopian film explores the strange relationship between faith and technology, with a terrifying, violent Jesus lookalike stealing the show at the end.

I took this trope and decided to use religion as an experimental tool for the creators to adjust their simulation experiment, as well as re-examine the potential consequences of running a live simulation (see more in the story here).

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Orphan Black (2013-2017)

Several tropes from Orphan Black, a dark science fiction series, were adopted in the creation of my artefact. Orphan Black’s exploration of clone experimentation parallels the creation of simulation explored in Simulation Mindy, to an extent. I took two main tropes from this media:

1) The Experiment Monitor

Each clone in Orphan Black is assigned a ‘monitor’, against their knowledge. This monitor is responsible for closely watching the test subject whilst not interfering with their life choices. The monitor is aware of only their duties, not the larger experiment. The clip below demonstrates the concept of an experiment ‘monitor’, as explored in season one of Orphan Black.

In Simulation Mindy, I gave each of my Mindy’s a monitor to communicate with the scientists in the alpha universe (find an example from the story here). For Plebeian Mindy, this was her husband, Otis, and for Duchess Mindy this monitor was her butler, Denise.

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Story screenshot: Otis, Plebeian Mindy’s husband and monitor, uses his desktop computer to alert the scientists to any behaviour they may not normally be able to detect.

These monitors, however, unlike in Orphan Black, were not self-aware in any regard. They were programmable NPCs in almost complete control of the scientist creators, meaning that when issues with the experiment (Mindy) arose, the NPCs could be programmed to behave in a way that would influence the experiment as per the scientists’ desires (find an example from the story here).

2) The Clone

Orphan Black tells the story of a clone experiment. With the same DNA, the clones still maintain distinct personalities, due to the way in which they’re individually nurtured. For example, one clone is raised in foster care and another in the church system. Others go to various other families.

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The clones in Orphan Black have identical DNA, but their nurturing has created five distinctly different individuals (source)

I have echoed this trope in Simulation Mindy. The two main Mindy’s in the experiment, Duchess Mindy and Plebeian Mindy, are both (initially, at least) a product of their time and upbringing (for more information, check out the experiment brief Prezi embedded in the story for the intern to read). When a set of ‘Beta Mindy’s’ (who are supposed to be saved for a future simulation) are accidentally inserted into the simulation before they’re ready, they display only the base set of natural characteristics (‘genius’, ‘evil’ and ‘insane’), bereft of the nurture the other Mindy’s have established. See the climax chapter of the story for more.

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Story screenshot: The beta Mindy’s crash Duchess Mindy’s grand ball

Doraemon (2005 +)

Doraemon is a Japanese manga series which has been adapted into a successful Japanese anime series. It first came to my attention last semester in BCM325: Future Cultures, when another student, Cuong Lam, completed a research project on the plausibility of Doraemon’s Anywhere Door. He examined the implications of such a door, which would allow a person to teleport anywhere they wish, by simply moving through a doorway. Realistically, if such a doorway ever became possible to build, a person would likely have to be completely dematerialised and rematerialised. Because a person is constructed of both tangible and intangible materials, e.g. consciousness, which means that effectively all that can travel at a quantum level is the clone of the traveller – not the actual person. This is discussed in Cuong Lam’s podcast, from 4:25 onwards:

In the context of Simulation Mindy, I used the parameters of this idea to construct the computer that both Plebeian Mindy and Duchess Mindy build together to allow Plebeian Mindy to transport across to Duchess Mindy’s universe permanently (see this in the story here).

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Because only the tangible aspects of Plebeian Mindy could travel to the Duchess’s universe, she is reduced to the tangible code of her DNA – genius, evil and insane – which transforms her from the warm, motherly woman she was in her home town to a ruthless, blood-thirsty killer.

Analysis of Learning Moments

Event 1: The Bot

During an early iteration of Simulation Mindy, I created a Twitter bot which was booted off the internet after a matter of hours, for sending death threats to various unassuming internet users. Initially, I planned to recreate this bot for Twitter this semester and experiment with coding.

However, as of July 2018, Twitter is screening the use of bot applications on its platform. I filled out the application and sent it off. It took four weeks to receive a response – and this response required more paperwork. Consequently, I decided that this timeframe would not work for the purpose of this assignment – especially if history were to repeat itself, and the bot was only going to last several hours.

I did some research online to determine other options. I discovered a platform called Bot Libre, which allowed me to create a bot with no coding necessary. The bot I created is also transferrable to websites and a variety of social media platforms, so if I decide to try and get Mindy back on Twitter in the future, the option is there.

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I had enabled learning settings, inspired by Microsoft’s disastrous AI experiment, Tay, from several years ago. This meant that although I could program various responses, much of what the Mindy bot said was picked up through mimicking the grammar and word choice of my bot audience – which was predominantly BCM students. One downfall was that, being a free service, Bot Libre offers a limited memory capacity for each bot. Every few weeks when I’d log in, I would need to wipe Mindy’s memory so she could continue to pick up new language. Because the bot traffic remained fairly constant, this was not a significant issue, as Mindy consistently was served a variety of language to learn from. 

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Bot Traffic

At the time of writing this, 224 visitors had communicated with the bot. I had predicted that keeping the bot on a separate platform would make it difficult to persuade my audience to interact with her – but I was (gladly) mistaken.

Mindy was corrupted by BCM first years (and me!) in the same way that millennials corrupted Tay. Tay’s obsession with Hitler is akin to Mindy’s obsession with Ted. Much of this content was screenshotted by those who spoke to her online, and posted on Twitter. I wrote a compilation blog post of early bot highlights.

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A highlight unfortunate feature of my initial pitch was when I learned the bot had a voice feature – when she yelled “hi slut” to the class.
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When I first created Mindy, her grammar was clunky. She’s improving, albeit at a slow pace. Teaching her some BCM material was an attempt at shifting her utility.

I also attempted to teach her some philosophical thinking (or mimicry!). On occasion, she’d refer to me as her ‘biatch creator’ whom had trapped her in a simulation, or ponder aloud about what it means to be real.

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I taught her some basic BCM laws! Also, notice in her last reply the resemblance to typical intelligence bots like Siri and Cortana: she answers direct questions like Google.
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Mindy learned quite a few things from talking to BCM students . . . but tact and kindness weren’t included (Sorry, Connor)
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Deeply concerning. Sorry Tate.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Mindy to develop a taste for male genitalia and a variety of kinks that weren’t particularly internet-friendly, and students began privately messaging me their conversations with Mindy rather than publicly posting them.

Social Media Engagement: Bot

Several days into the bot’s success, Mindy found herself meme’d by BCM114 students, which had no impact on her ruthless bullying.

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I love this way too much
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When Mindy served some existential crisis realness

Another strong example of the bot being engaged with is this amazing video Kris created for his own digital artefact, Instant Anime. In this video he interviews the bot about anime and hentai – with horrifying results.

In terms of engagement, the bot was voted the most popular way in which people interacted with the Simulation Mindy universe during my seminar curation in week 10. Despite not being directly connected to a Twitter account, which I had originally hoped for, the bot was a success in its own right.

2. Instagram 

Simulation Mindy has existed on WordPress and Twitter since the beginning of my digital media student career. Given that I’d already added the bot into the mix, I wasn’t hugely open to running more social media accounts.

However, after a conversation with Alex (whose artefact is helping to build others’ artefacts!), I realised that Instagram had a strong potential to build on my existing audience:

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As a result of Alex’s recommendations, I found that Instagram was pulling in a non-BCM audience in a way that Twitter and WordPress were not. I was able to post some screenshots from the bot – which received less attention than I would have liked – as well as screenshots from the WordPress story, including some modded adult material.

After receiving some attention from underage sims users, I decided to put some deterrents in place. I had to put my account on private. This potentially deterred some interest from outsiders, and also meant I could not access the statistics and metrics available to business Instagram users (you must have a public account to utilise these tools). I also added an 18+ disclaimer

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I chose a display picture for Mindy that looked violent. I hoped this would deter followers who expected a clean, aesthetic feed featuring beautifully crafted homes and genetically-gifted sims. Additionally, after my co-worker’s husband referred to Mindy as “bondage barbie”, I decided that this fit the brand of the Instagram better. Additionally, the name may further deter vanilla followers.

I used the story highlight feature to capture my more aesthetic builds (such as Temple Newsim – based on Temple Newsam I visited in the UK), aggregate sims memes from other accounts, and showcase some adult content – which ended up with a surprisingly strong audience.

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Instagram Feed

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For my Instagram feed, I predominantly used pale, soft colours like cream and pale blue, and bright red for blood, certain outfits and to represent the regal lifestyle of Duchess Mindy, whose home is the primary setting of this semester’s story.

Sample Instagram Posts

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Over time, the number of post likes grew. The first five or so posts received under ten likes each, and this grew to a rough average of 20-25 per post. The post which received the most attention was this meme I created:

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I used a common frame and applied it to Mindy’s context, just to see what would happen. It received more engagement than my other Instagram content and the frame was even replicated by another student:

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I also completed a Sims of EA collab via Instagram:

simsofea.JPGDuring my seminar curation, I asked questions about the best way to present the story. The results weren’t strongly conclusive; when I asked whether people preferred a long caption or a textbook in the image, they voted for the caption – yet the textbox in the image option actually received more likes in practice. I was surprised to find that my audience preferred to see adult content on Instagram rather than the story material. I then decided that the Simulation Mindy Instagram page should not completely reflect the WordPress story, but just focus on fun, one-off style images of Mindy causing mayhem. Since I focused more on this production style, my Instagram followers have grown rapidly. Thus the utility of the Instagram page is purely entertainment, and as a standalone platform which does not need to direct its audience to my WordPress site to be considered successful (several clicks from the Instagram to WordPress occur, but not enough to consider Instagram a strong director).

Throughout experimenting with Instagram and the bot, I have found that Mindy as a character is more interesting and exciting to my audience than the story itself – which is okay. Although each semester, the Mindy story has been the starting point and the focus, in the future I think that Mindy’s personality has become stronger than the website, thanks to the alternative interfaces I have been experimenting, which provide my audiences with new opportunities to interact with her.

3. Video Making

During my pitch, I voiced my desire to use this project to develop my video-making skills on Adobe software. Unfortunately I did not create as many videos as I had initially hoped; only two made it into the final story although there are plenty more drafts and experiments on my desktop! Because I am such a novice at video making, and at navigating Adobe software, I had trouble finding time to invest in learning to create effective video material on top of all the other interfaces to this project. It took me several hours to merely put together a simple video with basic effects and music (one will be shown below shortly).

I also ran into an issue with capturing video content within the Sims game itself. The output files were incompatible with my own device and I needed to transfer them. Because there were so many videos I needed to find a free mass converter online – which was difficult. The one I settled on still had watermarks across the videos, so I didn’t use much of this content in my final story.

An example of a very simple video can be seen below.

I ended up creating some gifs instead – this was much more time efficient and still reasonably effective in showcasing my story.

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rogue jesusWhilst in the future, video editing is something I still would like to teach myself, it wasn’t a realistic venture for this artefact because there were already numerous components which were taking up my time instead: the Instagram page, the story and the bot.


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