This was not an entry I had planned on making, but I am in a weird state of mind right now. Bad weird. I just buried my kitten, Egon. I live near a road, and that road is a bit infamous for killing cats. Back in january '16, a friend of the family gifted me with a lovely black cat, named Bastian, and just having the little guy around lit up my life. But as months passed, he became more playful and impatient than I could put aside time for, so I decided to get him a few playmates. At the time, I saw no other cats around, so I figured he was lonely. That would turn out to be somewhat ironic, but more on that later. I found someone who had three kittens they could not handle, and took them off their hands. All females, and I named them Alex, Charlie and Dylan, from the movie Charlie's Angels (except Natalie was too weird for a cat, so one was just Charlie). Bastian was not that fond of them, to be honest. I, however, instantly fell in love with the little things, as I had with Bastian. Keeping things cool between the three and him was a chore, but there was nothing to compare with the feeling of those little furballs tugging their noses into your side at night and purring away as they fell asleep. I have not been that happy in a long, long time.
The first warning signs were probably when I went off to work one day. The three girls suddenly insisted on running after me, having been introduced to the outside a few days before. I shooed them home, and they went, but as the bus began rolling, I suddenly saw them running around on the road behind it. It was a horrible day, and when I got home, I spent two hours walking the road, trying to find them. I did, luckily. They were on the wrong side of the small road, afraid to cross. I got them to safety, and started being very careful about their freedom. But in time, I had to let them outside. I live in the countryside, so there is not that much danger, and they wanted to catch mice. Besides, Bastian had never had any problems. I was naive, I know that now. I was stupid, and I fully deserved what I got. Only they deserved better.
Alex never came in for food one morning. I found her by the road, in pieces, spread across a sizeable area. It took me two hours to find most pieces, just to bury her, and I only found half her jaw the next day. That was ten days before last Christmas. I was not worth much on Christmas. I found out that we have illegal streetracers in the area, which explained what had done such horrible damage to her, and I began keeping them in during the night. In the morning, they would jump at the window to get out and play and chase mice. Streetracers never raced at that time, so I let them. I was naive, and deserved what I got. Again, they deserved better. I found Charlie by the road only a month after losing Alex. She was in one piece. A regular hit. I found out that the streetlights are pretty pathetic here, with long dark stretches between them. She had been hit right in the middle of such a stretch. From then on, Dylan and Bastian were not allowed outside during any dark hours, not even in heavy fog. Bastian objected heavily, and finally won the right. Dylan did not. Around that time, a small kitten looking a lot like Bastian was found following people about a mile down the road. I thought he might be his kid, and adopted the fellow. On my way home with him, an exact copy of Bastian crossed the road, proving me wrong. But the kitten, Egon, became part of the family. I loved him like the rest. Little over a month ago, Bastian never came back. He was not dead in the street. We had had a stray cat enter through the cat door and mark (yes, pee) all over the furniture, and Bastian had not been pleased. It had been the proverbial drop (no pun intended), and I have not seen him since, dead or alive. Some say they have seen him in the nearby woods, but I have not found him.
Egon got hit in bright daylight, no obstructions to sight, no nothing. Some jerk just had to get home a bit too fast and/or was on the phone. There is not much traffic out here, but I did note that people drove like idiots in the after-work hours that day. I went out to get Dylan and Egon early. He was still warm and soft when I found him. He only started bleeding minutes after I had carried him inside. A few minutes, maybe even seconds, was all the difference, and he was gone. I still have Dylan. She is never going outside again, unless in a harness. She is not pleased about it, but I will be damned if I lose more to that road. I edited out a lot of F-words from that sentence.
These last few months I have lost a lot. The kittens, and my dad has been diagnosed with ALS, so I still have him, but not for long. I lost my mom in '13 to cancer. I know my best childhood friend died from AIDS a few years back, and family and friends have been dropping like flies. I would be lying if I claimed to be a happy fellow these days. Even smiling is becoming a work out regiment for me.
I once saw a video of someone playing The Last Of Us, talking about how the emotional contents of the writing are powerful, especially Ellie, the girl character in the game. I never played the game myself, but while I understand the notion, I have a problem with it: She is not real. Sure, I can get emotional about movies, even songs or short online videos, if they hit a nerve. Games, too! But a game character is written and designed. If done well, something emotes inside you. But that's not the issue. The issue is that you cannot truly lose a character like that. She is always there. Just restart the game, and she is there. The story may hit you hard, but there is never a real loss, I would argue, because nothing is ever truly gone. A lot of the time, even the loss is not 'real', because it was designed as a part of the story. In the original StarCraft game, a soldier is lost in a battle, and she returns to the story as an alien queen. I loved this story when I played through it, but it lost a LOT of impact when a friend showed me how he played the level where she was supposed to be lost. He was a clever player, and he managed to make it impossible for her to die. The game finally had to force the issue by just cutting away and declaring her lost. Game characters cannot, in my mind, be truly lost.
But what if that just says a mile about current games, and not an inch about future ones? Procedural generation is still in its infancy. It creates generic-looking worlds and quick, disposable items and, more importantly, characters. Those characters are extremely simple, barely even worth calling AI at all. We all know the "arrow to the knee" meme from Skyrim. Procedural characters are never "well written". But what happens when someone figures out how to create deep characters through procedural generation? You meet someone in the game, and they have a background story, an interesting personality, seemingly unique and even somewhat believable. Not true sci-fi AI by a mile, but a well-written character that nobody really wrote. How will we feel about such a character? More to the point, how will we feel about the loss of such a character? You could argue that none of my kittens were really advanced. They had their own little oddities (I buried Egon in my old pants, because he loved to sleep inside them at the foot of my bed. Both Alex and Charlie were buried in boxes they loved to play in), like favorite toys and foods. They even had a kind of simple personalities; Alex was a fighter, who killed birds as big as herself even when she was just a month old, Charlie was a sneaky one, stealing the food of others, Egon was ADHD all over, constantly playing in my papers and any piles he could find and spread throughout the house. And as stated, Bastian refused to accept being locked inside the house, even if just for a few hours. Dylan, meanwhile, is twitchy and loves to burrow (if I raise my knees while under covers, she will dart in and hide beneath them). Those are not advanced traits, but they are/were their traits, their personalities. Any pet owner knows that you cannot help but spot such things after a little while, and they mean a lot to you. So what happens when procedural, essentially unique, game characters become compelling enough to show such basic personalities, or even more? Will the loss of an artificial pet, ally, or other mean the same to us? Will we keep backups of not just save points, but of individual 'loved ones', to load into safe worlds to meet again, long after they die or are lost in the main game?
Anyone who watched the old Arnold Schwarzenegger movie "Sixth Day" may have pondered some of this. The movie deals with cloning, but a lot of it transfers to this, easily. One example is the scientist whose wife has a terminal disease, so he clones her again and again. Is the clone still the one he loved, or just a carbon copy? Can we tell the difference, emotionally? If a game generates a truly unique character that you become as invested in as in Ellie, will you be able to emotionally distance yourself from it? How will it feel to lose a friend that never physically existed?
I don't know. But Dylan just complained that I will not let her out. All I can think is what I would give to have the ability to reload Alex, Charlie, and Egon. I hope every day that Bastian suddenly shows up. Would reloading a loved one feel like that? "Hey, I was lost, but now, I'm found"?
I miss them.