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Unlocking Reality: Using Philosophy to Design Worlds | Project Contrast Devlog 1


Watch the video above.


You awaken in a strange place wrought by pixels, with a frog before you, welcoming you to the world of Imus Obitus. LAain for, Going to Death.


This is the beginning of Project Contrast, my narrative-driven game that explores the nature of reality and consciousness. I’m developing it with a friend “Josh” at IM/MORTAL Studios. I primarily work on art, worldbuilding, and storytelling. And this is devlog 1: worldbuilding.


Imus Obitus is a layered world - on the surface, it seems quaint, even idyllic like something Studio Ghibli might make. As the world unfolds however, forgotten histories paint a place once home to a great civilization, that somehow fell to an unnamed malevolent power. This power, arising out of my interest in philosophy, takes it’s character cues from The Lich from Adventure Time, The Nothing from Neverending Story, or Azathoth from H.P Lovecraft. This still unnamed power is unchanging and perhaps more represented by the philosophy of pessimistic radical skepticism - more on that later.


Something that I wanted to lean heavily into though with the creation of Imus Obitus is the fact that worldbuilding is intimately caught up in perception, reality and illusion.


Here’s what I mean:

There are four philosophical ideas that I think are especially pertinent to the idea of worldbuilding: namely perspectivism, radical skepticism, objective realism, and subjective idealism.


Before I dive into this I should remind all my philosophy friends, my parents did not let me major in philosophy (but one of them did say yes to illustration, somehow), so apologies if my research misses something.


There are four philosophical extremes that can help us to look at worldbuilding from a different perspective. What’s cool about these four extremes is they make a 2x2 graph. And so you know, by “real”, I am referring to the objective existence of that thing.



First, Subjective Idealism: From this standpoint, individuals shape their own version of reality based on their perceptions, beliefs, and experiences. Your current reality is the world you built upon your beliefs and experiences. Essentially making you a worldbuilder. This places Subjective Idealism in the perceived reality is real, but reality isn’t real quadrant.



Contrasting this viewpoint is Objective Realism: From this standpoint, there’s an external, objective reality that exists independently of individual perceptions and beliefs. This perspective emphasizes the existence of a shared world with objective properties, independent from whatever someone might think about those properties. This places objective realism in the Reality is real, but perceived reality isn’t real quadrant.


Then there’s Perspectivism seeks to bridge the gap between these two perspectives by acknowledging that while there is an objective reality, our access to and understanding of this reality are mediated by our subjective experiences and perspectives. In other words, it recognizes that our perceptions and beliefs shape how we interact with the objective world. So, reality and perceived reality is real!


And then there’s radical skepticism, that says everything is an illusion. Reality, and even your imagination, essentially becomes imagination; which admittedly can lead to some logical paradoxes. “You are only if you are not.” So, nothing is real.


Of course this is a gross simplification, but for a short devlog youtube video I think it works.


The reason I bring up all this philosophy is because worldbuilding is intertwined with reality. When worldbuilding we essentially create alternate worlds - and depending on what philosophy you prescribe to, those worlds could exist, or not exist.

This is what I leaned into with my worldbuilding for Imus Obitus. In Project Contrast you load into a simulation - characters in Imus Obitus will confirm that - but is the simulation real?

In the game you play a Nomad, essentially a high tech avatar that interfaces with something called the Network Spear to connect your real-world computer hardware or consciousness, to the sensory aspects experienced by whatever Nomad you upload to. The Network Spear works something like an interplanar wifi connection for the hardware running Imus Obitus, aptly named the Vita Machina.

But wait, isn’t Imus Obitus just running on your computer? Hehe, this is the beauty of worldbuilding.


We are still nailing down gameplay mechanics, but we do want player choice to guide the outcome of the games story. For example If the player takes a radical skeptic route, this simulated world of Imus Obitus is no different from our own world - both could be illusions. If they take the subjective idealist route, then whatever they experience could be real. This world of Imus Obitus I developed could very well exist on the Vita Machina, in the same way that the characters from a really well-written book, movie, or video game, become real. I talked about this in my thesis paper on Project Contrast (flex) as something called suspended disbelief. I’m not gonna rewrite it because I already wrote it so, quote

“Suspension of disbelief occurs when, despite players’ knowledge that they are exploring a fictional world, (be it in any form of media)… Audiences become invested in characters, places, and things that never existed,” -but believe in them as if they were real.


And finally objective realism, which asserts that even if it feels and seems real, all my amazing worldbuilding ends up just being code, art, and words on your computer; or whatever the objective reality of things is. Realism is weird because it’s so straightforward that it’s difficult to conceive what it’s getting at because of how radically nonepistemic it is (big word alert: essentially how Realism relies on facts not being altered by individual perspective.) you literally cannot understand realism fully unless if you have complete knowledge and are able to put aside all of your individual beliefs and perspectives.


SO WHAT IS REAL? WHAT IS RIGHT? ARE YOU A WORLDBUILDER OR ARE YOU JUST AN IMAGINATION ILLUSION MACHINE?

As one of my philosophy professors once put it: What do you think?

Literally in the few philosophy classes I took, everytime I asked some sort of existential question about the nature of reality, I would get the question returned to me like some game of intellectual pong.


So, that’s why its up to you in the game.


The reason I’m having so much fun worldbuilding for Project Contrast versus say another D&D copy world like I did in High school, is because I can create other nomads in the game that are from other worlds than ours, and as a consequence generate a seemingly infinite amount of worlds from Imus Obitus.

Also from the philosophical view: some of those nomads are something called Rogue Nomads, essentially Nomads that believe, because Imus Obitus is a simulation, and simulations aren't capable of feelings, they can go around and harm the NPC’s without a second care in their mind (Think pacifist vs. genocide run in Undertale).


Thanks for watching this video - For me,life is all wrapped up together. I try to mentally separate subjects for means of organization, and to find a youtube niche, but everything ends up cross-pollinating anyways. Game dev, art, healthy habits, relationships, philosophy, design, everything ends up becoming inseparable in a way that makes it difficult to talk about one of them in detail without delving into another. So, I cooked up a video like this where I kinda just talked about everything. And I kinda like it. More to come soon!

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