The Free Guy

Imagine a multi-player computer game where everyone chooses from a set stock of characters with different missions. Something like Grand Theft Auto where some characters are played by real people and some are computer generated non player characters. Now imagine that one of the non player characters “wakes up” and realises it’s all just a video game. Wait, apparently that’s what the new film Free Guy starring Ryan Reynolds is about! A cross between The Truman Show, The Matrix, Groundhog Day, eXistenZ and Wreck-It Ralph I suppose…

Well, imagine that this computer game is so immersive, with such amazing VR graphics etc., that people actually forget that they’re playing a character and become completely identified with their avatars. Something like an actor on stage who for the duration of the play is so emotionally engaged that he comes to believe that he is Hamlet. The game would of course have to have a built-in time limit (like a play) so that people could return to their real lives. But you would be able to continue playing and pick up where you left off, which would be the dawning of a new day in the game: “And the evening and the morning were the sixth day”.

Imagine that you could choose between one of six kinds of character and that each of these had two missions:

Character 1 – Get Rich and Get Famous

Character 2 – Get On and Be Liked

Character 3 – Fight the Power and Change the World

Character 4 – Get Laid and Get Loaded

Character 5 – Get Hurt and Be Looked After

Character 6 – Kill and Destroy

If you’ve been following my ramblings, you will of course recognise that these six missions correspond to the six archetypes on the “Wheel of Babylon” (derived from the Tibetan Wheel of Life), the Divas, Muggles, Muppets, Addicts, Victims and Demons.

Now, imagine a computer game where you could switch missions mid-game so that you could potentially complete them all. Aren’t we getting uncomfortably close to our own real life “simulation”?

But what if there was a secret seventh mission? What if you could “wake up” and escape from the game world, like Neo, Truman and Guy?

Character 7 would be a kind of secret character that you could access through some kind of bug in the game. The irony is that then you would become a genuine non player character. Inside the game (in the film), the NPCs think that they are real people going about their business, whereas the strange larger-than-life characters who intrude into their lives as if from another dimension, with unfathomable motivations and behaviours, really have nothing to do with their world. In an NPC world, it’s the human players who are the NPCs.

Character 7 doesn’t play the game. Character 7 has no interest in money or fame or the rest of it. He (or she) is a non player character in a game full of players, free to do what he wants, a “free guy”. In the film it seems that he uses his freedom to do good: he becomes a “good guy”.

Doing good is important. But more important is the fact that, like Buddha or Christ, you are in the game but not of the game, in the world but not of the world, a “non player character” following a different program, called by some “the Dharma”, by others, “the will of the Father”.