As a fan of puzzle games, dystopian societies, and the philosophical questions surrounding AI and virtual worlds, something like The Talos Principle is right up my alley.
Available right now on Steam and PS4, The Talos Principle is an incredibly atmospheric first person puzzle game with a strong philosophical storyline debating questions that I find popping up more and more frequently as we move towards our increasingly tech-based future: What does it mean to be human? To be a machine? What is the soul and when can something be defined as “alive”? Is there a God and if so, what exactly is She/He?
Yeah. Not too shabby.
While the puzzles are great (difficult enough to get you to think, but not so tough as to be discouraging and impossible to solve), the old-school gaming shout-outs (your end goal is to collect “keys”, which look like Tetris pieces) and breathtaking landscapes (old ruins, stoic chapels, abandoned seaside villages) all come together to make a game which well deserves the immense amount of praise and high review scores that it has garnered; for me, it’s the little snippets of mythology that they have sprinkled in that I find exceptionally impressive.
Most of the time, when I mention Talos, most people assume I’m talking Skyrim (which is understandable – the name is used in that game as well). But the Talos referenced in The Talos Principle actually stems from Greek mythology. Talos was a gigantic “man” made of bronze (a.k.a: an android?) who protected Europa in Crete by circling the island 3 times a day and hurling boulders at any hostile ships trying to access Crete’s shores.
Talos was eventually disassembled (killed?) due to a weakness in his ankle, which made the one “vein” he had running through his body (an artery?) exposed and vulnerable to attack. That is precisely what happened when the Argonauts sent Medea to drive him mad, convincing him to remove the bolt from his ankle where the vein was secured, thus causing him to “bleed out” like a mortal man might. A perfect way to tie-in the game’s question of: What makes a human being?
Elohim, who you encounter almost immediately within the game, stands for God or Gods in Hebrew. While a powerful presence in the game there is still something not…quite…right…about Elohim and as you move further along within this world, you begin to not only put puzzle pieces together but the issues governing Elohim’s reactions and emotions as well.
MEGA SPOILER!!! DO NOT READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW!
The Dark Tower:
After completing the first level of the game and finding yourself within one of Elohim’s temples, you are instantly warned by him that you should NOT try to ascend the Dark Tower. To do so will mean your death (banishment?). I see this through the lens of two different Biblical stories:
1. The Garden of Eden and The Forbidden Fruit. As I’m sure you’re aware, Adam and Eve were warned not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, lest they be banned from Paradise and lose God’s favor (basic story).
In The Talos Principle, you can argue that the quest of the protagonist follows a similar route. An android with no real knowledge of what or who IT is, hears the voice of God telling him IT is special and that if IT does what God tasks IT to do, IT can join God/Elohim (a.k.a.: ascend into Heaven). It is also warned that IT should not ascend the Tower. If IT does, IT shall face destruction and God/Elohim’s wrath. This warning is continually reinforced throughout the game. In contrast, computer kiosks scattered throughout the levels and full of personal journal entries by a female scientist drop just enough information as to spur you on and “tempt” you into climbing the tower (not to mention that the MINUTE someone says “don’t do that”, I’m going to do it! But I digress…)
Once you access the top of the Tower, you gain the forbidden knowledge that Elohim was trying to keep you from learning. You obtain knowledge of Self, knowledge of the virtual world that you have been traveling through, and knowledge of the truth behind Elohim. This leads to Elohim’s destruction, as well as the destruction of the virtual world (Elohim’s version of the Garden of Eden). The difference here between the Biblical Garden of Eden lesson and The Talos Principle storyline is that, rather than suffer banishment for not obeying God’s law, the player character goes through a positive rebirth via the knowledge gained and God/Elohim is destroyed/banished, rather than the other way around.
2. The Tower of Babel. While I see more of a connection between the Garden of Eden story to The Talos Principle, bits of the Tower of Babel do seem to fit. The Tower of Babel was designed as a way to explain the existence of multiple languages spoken on Earth. In The Talos Principle, you could apply the same “need” for the Tower. The Tower holds the key to multiple languages – the various languages spoken by the humans that are now lost to time, as well as the “coding” languages used by the player character to access information, QR codes left throughout the game, and the very existence of both the virtual puzzle world and God/Elohim.
In the Tower of Babel, God purposefully scrambles the language of Man so that they might not work together and grow in power, thus threatening his position within the Heavens, or simply not need Him anymore. In The Talos Principle, one can argue that, now that humans have destroyed themselves, there is only one “being” left on Earth who needs to learn and understand these various languages. That of the AI Android/player character. By ascending the Tower and learning the truth about God/Elohim and the virtual reality puzzle world (coding and computer command languages), as well as the history of the humans’ demise and what is left of their legacy (their written and spoken languages), the player character dethrones and destroys God/Elohim and replaces Him with Itself, now having the same level of power as Elohim and no longer needing Him.
So that, in a nutshell, is that. I’m sure MOST of this is me just having too many Fruit Roll-Ups and a lot of belly button lint to ponder over, but I figured it would be worth sharing. I would love to get into a bit more of this debate and what you may think underlies the storyline within The Talos Principle in the comments below, so PLEASE feel free to start conversations there! I WANNA TALK GGGAAAMMMEESSS!!!
If you have an interest in oddities and the unexplained, tune into my podcast, @Bizarre_States (iTunes and Nerdist.com, 12PM PST, every Wednesday). Andrew Bowser and I chat with guests and tell stories about the weird, wild, and wonderful world of the paranormal.
And as for me, you can find me at: