10 Souls: A Theodicy Engine

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If you created your own world, would you allow evil? I often wonder about that, so I made a little game called 10 Souls. In it, you can create a world of Good and Evil and let your people, the souls, make their way through it. I conceived the game as a “theodicy engine,” a tool for exploring different justifications for the existence of evil.

In this game, souls can go to Heaven or Hell. In the default setting, the souls always do the right thing and go straight to Heaven. But if you let them be free to go their own way, they can go the wrong way and perish. You have different ways of helping your souls save themselves. But if you are too heavy-handed, they are no longer free, are they?

The game has no fixed goal. You can make a world where the souls do terrible things and go straight to Hell every time. You can make a world where getting into Heaven is easy – or nearly impossible. I’ve found that the hardest challenge is to make the souls free and Heaven hard, and yet somehow to get everybody bouncing their way to salvation anyways.

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St. Thomas: Evil is Nothingness

Naturally, a game about these subjects will reflect the convictions of its designer. In this case, we’re talking about a heavy dose of Catholic theology. If monks freak you out, this is not the game for you! And I do sincerely apologize to those of other traditions and views. However, to indulge in a Catholic interpretation, the player in 10 Souls is God Almighty, the playing field is the world, and the bumps along the way are those moments where we can decide to do right or wrong. (What’s right and what’s wrong? Check the Catechism! In Catholicism, unlike Vietnam, there are rules.) As the souls go back and forth, Good and Evil actions pile up. If the souls go too far in the the wrong direction, they are annihilated  at the end – they disappear. This vanishing of the soul is consistent with Aquinas’ teaching on the nature of Evil as pure nothingness. It’s easy, as God, to get rid of evil completely: Simply take away the ability of souls to do bad things. But if you let souls be free, you can no longer be sure they will choose to be Good.

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St. Augustine: Our heart is restless until it rests in you

The player, as God, can grant freedom to his souls or take it away. He can make the Gate to Heaven narrow, or he can make it wide. He can create a Purgatory, where souls that otherwise would have been lost can wait and be saved later, after the passage of a little time. Eventually there appears a Deceiver, a Tempter, who lures the souls toward Hell. The God-player can vanquish that Deceiver with the click of a button, or let it play its role. Through all this, God can offer more or less Grace, pulling souls back to the right. And in the greatest miracle of all, God can send Redemption, which gets stronger when the soul is in more trouble. In 10 Souls as in Catholic theology, Redemption is the Good that makes something better of Evil: O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem

The notion of a happy fault shows how much our world seems like a designed game. The theological argument is that without the challenge of evil, there would be no joy in salvation. Yes; yes indeed: For what game without challenges brings joy at the end?

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