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The Visionary

It took nearly two years, but I had completed my Magnum Opus. This was what I was going to be remembered for. I typed the last few lines of code. The final touches.

I put out my cigarette. A cool breeze entered through the open window alongside distant sounds of cars and crowds crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. Littering the apartment were crumpled-up diagrams and formulas along with unopened letters from my fans. Dirty dishes precariously placed on top of one another filled the kitchen sink above loose pipes that leaked droplets unto a rotting floorboard. I was an artist - I was expected to be a little strange. There was a knock. It was Sadie.

“It’s ready.”


We sat down on the couch. In front of us was a tall box the size of a wardrobe. It had a screen, a headset peripheral, grinding gears, and several thick cables which coiled around the apartment and into my computer. The screen started flickering.

“Impressive.” Sadie said.

I pulled a lever to begin the start-up sequence.

“This, uh, machine is your video game? This is what you’ve been working on?”

“Yes. I call it: Arcadia.”



“...Arcadia. Greek mythology, right? It’s paradise. A utopia of natural splendor and beauty. Sort of like the Garden of Eden.” Sadie said.

“No. Well, yeah. But I named it after Arcadia the play. By Tom Stoppard.” I returned my eyes to the machine. The screen was completely black now, showing only my reflection. “The playwright.”

I pointed at my copy of the play. It was on the coffee table, stacked above books and magazines. The cover was a painting of a serene garden - above it read ‘Arcadia’. Next to it was a Time magazine with my face on its cover: ‘Todd Montauk plays God - What is the Master Game Designer’s Next Project?’

“I don’t know Arcadia.”

“But you know Isaac Newton’s law of motion.”

“I do.”

“There’s an interesting idea that the play brings up.” I went on. “We think of ourselves as autonomous beings with free will. We choose what we want from life, and we act based on those desires, right?”


“The idea from the play is: ‘if everything in the universe, from the furthest planets to the atoms in our brain, acts according to Newton’s law of motion, what becomes of free will?’”

“Todd, wha-”

“To a certain extent, our being, our thoughts, and our desires are governed by these laws of the universe. Rules, if you will, like a game. It follows that, if we build a machine that adheres to the same set of rules that the human brain does, it must be possible to construct a mechanical brain - a sentient machine.”

The screen lit up with big red text that read ‘HELLO SADIE’. It was the world’s first sentient video game. “This is my Greatest Work.”

The motivation was quite logical. As a video game designer, my job was to create experiences for video game players. In games, we recreated experiences like being a Formula 1 driver or a warrior in a fantasy world. My job was to manipulate the player’s brain - to evoke emotions, provide psychological rewards, and engage the players’ attention all through virtual entertainment. I was the conductor and the player was my orchestra; I could make my musical ensemble play the most magnificent symphonies.

But designers are not without flaws, and mistakes are core to human nature. We look back on our world with rose-colored glasses and seek experiences disoriented by nostalgia and misinformation. A machine, on the other hand, can be far more accurate.

“The machine is intelligent. It can think for itself and respond without me, the programmer, telling it to. This headset has sensors that link with your synapses and pick up your brainwaves. Once it connects to your brain, the machine seeks your deepest desires and impulses. Then, the game will design itself - it will create an entire gaming experience catered specifically to you. Everyone who plays will have a wholly unique experience made only for them - their perfect game. If your deepest desire is the feeling of competition and accomplishment, then maybe the game will simulate a race in the Monaco Grand Prix. If you seek thrill and excitement, then perhaps the game will have you climb the peaks of the Himalayas. You get the idea.”

Sadie was intrigued. Part curiosity. Part wonder. Part hesitation.

“Here.” I handed her the headset. “Paradise.”

She took the headset from me and, after checking out its various lenses and knobs, got ready to place it on her head.

"Hold on, one more thing. This game might uncover desires that you yourself are not even aware of.” I said. “That’s the beauty.”


A few minutes later, Sadie took off the headset. “Todd...” Her eyes started to water. Pupils, dilated. “This...this is incredible.”

“What? What was it like? What was your game?”

“I don’t know how to describe it. It was... It was an underwater forest I was... diving... or flying? There were fish and…other worldly creatures, and there was... music... unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It was so full of life and color. I-..”

Sadie paused. She looked into my eyes.



"This game is going to change the world.”


It got dark outside, and Sadie went to rest. She laid on the couch, and I moved my game machine next to my desk. I kept working - writing code and fixing glitches. The game was playable, but it lacked polish and had occasional bugs and glitches. The scheduled reveal and exhibition of my game machine at The Met wasn’t for another couple months, so I still had time to work on it.

It was around midnight, and having felt I made enough progress I decided to play my game. Development of Arcadia was an iterative process. I would alternate between typing code and playtesting the game often.

It was wonderful. I had played my game machine countless times before tonight, but each time was a completely different experience - a new nirvana. A futuristic city with neon lights and flying cars. An Indiana Jones-esque treasure hunting adventure. Sailing the high seas as a pirate captain. Each world I was dropped into was vivid and detailed.

I put on the headset. This time, I was sitting on the porch of a large farmhouse. The pleasant scent of curing hay was carried along by a chill breeze. I stepped out into the light. Golden crops, ready for harvest, surrounded the farmhouse in all directions before blending into distant clouds. I could hear the bleats of goats from the barn. I headed there.

As I opened the doors to the barn, a horrible stench filled the air. The barn was empty, but the bleats got louder and louder. Suddenly, my vision froze, and the game shut off.

That was odd. It was rare for the game to halt and crash like that.

I typed some more code to try and fix the problem. What the hell was that?

I put the headset on again. I was in a dark alley. There were sounds of traffic in the distance but there was nobody around me. Then, I heard a whimper. A dog. It was a small dog - a terrier. As I moved closer, I noticed its hind legs were broken. I felt as if some hidden entity was controlling me. I moved my hands onto the dog. One around its torso. One around its head. Snap.

That couldn’t have been right. I continued my cycle of editing the game and playing, and with each playtest, the games grew more sinister.

A snow-covered field, and in my hand: a large meat-carving knife. And a few yards away, a man, perhaps in his fifties, with his hands and feet tied up. He was pleading through the ball of cloth in his mouth, but I no longer had control in my games. I felt the rush of adrenaline as I digged my knife inside the man.

I threw my headset off. I was drenched in cold sweat, and I felt sick. Why did the machine present me with these games? Why did it feel so real? Is violence my deepest desire?

No. It’s just a bug, a glitch, I told myself. This was the work my life had been leading up to; I wasn’t going to scrap it because of a few issues. I could fix it.

I looked at Sadie. She looked peaceful. And cold. I took a fleece blanket from my bed and put it over her. I brought the blanket up to her neck, and as I was about to head back to my desk, I noticed she was holding something. It was the copy of Arcadia I had shown her earlier - she must’ve started reading it before falling asleep.


If everything in the universe, from the furthest planets to the atoms in our brain, acts according to Newton’s law of motion, what becomes of free will? Are our desires truly our own? Do I, deep down, want to commit violent acts?

Or are they the impulses of a sentient machine.

The game is smart enough to know what the player desires, and the game is smart enough to know what the player condemns. If I truly seek violence then so be it - it’s not a fault of the machine. If, however, the opposite were true yet the machine created a game around murder, that is far more dangerous.


I sat staring at the machine for about an hour before I pulled loose a pipe from underneath the kitchen sink. I walked over to the machine, picked up the headset, and once more gazed into the world I helped create. The man I had murdered laid pale in a pool of blood seeping into the snow. I snapped the headset in half.

I placed the tip of the lead pipe in front of the machine’s screen. I swung.

After a while, all that was left was a smoking pile of gears and bolts spilling out broken glass. The whirring of the fans came to a stop.


The noise must have woken up Sadie.

Edited from a short story I wrote in 2021 titled The Visionary