Free Will vs. Predestination: Molinism’s Middle Knowledge
Molinism’s Middle Knowledge is a puzzle/god game prototype that is intended as a small part of a larger game about the debate regarding whether free will or predestination is a true description of humanity’s relationship with the Judeo-Christian God. This prototype explores the concept of “middle knowledge” defended by a philosophical & theological concept referred to as Molinism that attempts to support both sides at once.
Analysis after the jump…SPOILER ALERT
Everyone I talked to about the premise seemed very interested, while expressing very justified concern over the ambitiousness of exploring free will vs. predestination in a game. So I think the idea is good, but a lot of people have no concept at all of how that would play out. Therefore, my use of concrete imagery here was a good choice in order to give people a grounding to think about the subject. Finally, focusing on middle knowledge was a good choice because it is about counterfactual statements, which are like if-then situations. That seems pretty ideally suited to a videogame.
The biggest problem with choosing to focus on middle knowledge is that the prototype lacks context. Almost no one knows what Molinism is and how it fits into the free will vs. predestination debate. So to provide a solid context, all three concepts would have to be explained at least a little to move on to the details of what middle knowledge is in order for people to understand how it could work. That just wasn’t realistic to do during a game jam, so I think it’ll just have to be an unavoidable fault of the game and the context will have to be established by reading the Wikipedia article for now.
The gameplay is both the best and worst part about the game. Let’s start with the bad news. It’s biggest fault is that it’s obviously incomplete. It’s not clear at all that some objects can be interacted with and others can’t. Even a simple glow or some kind of outline to delineate those kinds of objects would be better than nothing. Another big problem is the slider. Dragging from left to right walks the character across the screen and causes a bird to fly out of a tree, but as soon as the slider is let go, the bird disappears. This is a bug, but due to the nature of the game, it seems to suggest some kind of meaning.
Another thing is that the character seems to just walk right off the screen and nothing else happens, which is very confusing. The intention was that the tree needs to be placed at just the right spot, causing a bird to get scared and fly out of the tree at just the right time, causing the character to trip over the log, causing a serene moment with a bright yellow butterfly perched on a flower, causing the character’s lifelong love of butterflies. But of course, none of that is in there, so instead the focus seems to be more on the bird and the now arbitrary placement of the tree. The tree placement causes what is presumed to be the same character to think about some kind of confusing math equation (probability of choice) that very few people would probably understand, followed by some arm-waving at two objects.
Now for the good news. In terms of translating the concepts into gameplay, I think I settled on a good direction for how the gameplay would work. As I mentioned before, counterfactual statements are very videogame-like, and a puzzle/god game seems to fit that well. In fact, the golden nugget of the entire experience is the real-time feedback of moving the tree and seeing all the agent’s arms combining into one. That experience lights up my brain in a way that no other medium could. Reading about and even watching a video of that happening didn’t and wouldn’t have the same effect on me compared to the feeling of moving the tree and watching that arm. So I definitely need to find more things like that and give the player a better understanding of exactly what that part of the game means.
Furthermore, I think my attempt at moving objects in the environment in a sort of puzzle format was a good idea, despite being incomplete. Theologically, from what I understand of Molinism, God doesn’t directly control free-will agents. So it makes sense that the game involves controlling non-free-will agents in order to change the agent’s probability of free choice to 1.
As was made clear when I demoed the game, if the prototype was properly fleshed out, I think it would show the potential for an interesting, full-fledged game experience. The general reaction to the gameplay was “Oh, this really can be explored through a game” followed by “It would be cool if the game could do __,” which seemed to be a good sign.
Overall, the graphics seem to work fine; not incredibly inspiring, but still pleasing. The colored silhouette style seems to suggest archetypal figures, which works well for this type of game. The character is clearly a human, but it could be any human. The tree is clearly a deciduous tree, but it could be any tree. And so on.
Visually, the biggest problem seems to be depicting choice on the left side. One jammer stated that it was unclear whether the objects the agent was pointing at were two choices or one. I think having multiple options there would make it much more clear that the character is choosing from multiple things. The depiction of the pictogram itself is a little unclear as well.
There are no sound effects unfortunately. But I think the music works pretty well to set a mood (found at incompetech.com). It’s maybe just a little too unsettling, but I was going for a mysterious vibe. Something that makes the player question if what they’re doing is right (in multiple senses of the word). It seems to work for that. It should not just play once and end, though.