The Video Game that Made Elon Musk Question Whether Our Reality is a Simulation


By Jake Anderson at


In June, a team of programmers will release a ground-breaking new video game called No Man’s Sky, which uses artificial intelligence and procedural generation to self-create an entire cosmos full of planets. Running off 600,000 lines of code, the game creates an artificial galaxy populated by 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 unique planets that you can travel to and explore.

Though this artificial universe is realistic down to the dimensions of a blade of grass, faster than light-speed travel is available in order for players to bridge the unfathomable distances between stars.

Chief architect Sean Murray says No Man’s Sky is different than most games because the landscapes and distances aren’t faked. While most space-based games utilize a skybox that simply rotates between different modalities, No Man’s Sky is virtually limitless and employs real physics.

“With [our game],” Murray said in an interview with The Atlantic, “when you’re on a planet, you can see as far as the curvature of that planet. If you walked for years, you could walk all the way around it, arriving back exactly where you started. Our day to night cycle is happening because the planet is rotating on its axis as it spins around the sun. There is real physics to that. We have people that will fly down from a space station onto a planet and when they fly back up, the station isn’t there anymore; the planet has rotated. People have filed that as a bug.”

Even the animals on the game’s planets have unique behavioral profiles, created with a “procedural distortion of archetypes” that requires a sequence of algorithms categorized as a “computerized pseudo-randomness generator.”

The game’s Artificial Intelligence programmer, Charlie Tangora, says,

“Certain animals have an affinity for some objects over others which is part of giving them personality and individual style. They have friends and best friends too. It’s just a label on a bit of code—but another creature of the same type nearby is potentially their friend. They ask their friends telepathically where they’re going so they can coordinate.”

Playable characters include astronauts separated from each other by millions of light years. According to The Guardian:

The overarching goal for players is to head toward the centre of the universe. This common destination will increase the chance that people will encounter one another on their journey (even if the game sells millions of copies, when your playground consists of 18 quintillion planets, a single encounter is statistically unlikely).”

This presents a degree of existentialism to the game, as it does not shy away from the mind-numbing vastness. Rather, it embodies and celebrates the wonders of the universe, even imitating fractal geometry in an homage to the repeating patterns found at every level of existence.

“If you look at a leaf very closely,” Murray explained, “there is a main stock running through the center with little tributaries radiating out. Farther away, you’ll see a similar pattern in the branches of the trees. You’ll see it if you look at the landscape, as streams feed into larger rivers. And, farther still—there are similar patterns in a galaxy.”

The similarities between the real cosmos and the game cosmos presented by No Man’s Sky have actually provoked philosophers and scientists to ask whether a simulation like this, or perhaps one even more vast, could also be a repeating pattern in the universe.

To discuss this as it relates to the game, writer Roc Morin interviewed philosopher Nick Bostrom, the Director of the Future of Humanity Institute and the author of the now legendary “Simulation Argument,” a controversial paper that has garnered a cult following in the last several decades. The Simulation Argument hypothesizes that since advanced civilizations throughout the universe are almost certain to have created vast numbers of cosmic simulations, statistically speaking it is quite possible that we are living in one — that in fact, our universe and our reality exist within a computer simulation created by an extraterrestrial or future humans (or posthuman AI).

Bostrom’s paper starts with the following abstract:

“This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation.”

In other words, the Matrix.

Incredibly, in recent years, scientists have actually sought to prove the Simulation Argument, running experimental computer tests that look for anomalies in the laws of physics. In a piece for The Ghost Diaries, I wrote about a team of German physicists using lattice quantum thermodynamics to try to discover whether there is an underlying grid to the space/time continuum in our universe. Though they have only recreated a tiny corner of the known universe, a few femtometers across, they have simulated the hypothetical lattice and are now looking for matching physical limitations.

One well-known constraint involves high energy particles. It turns out our universe does in fact have a physical limitation that is not fully understood. It is known as the Greisen–Zatsepin–Kuzmin or GZK cut off. And this limitation is eerily similar to what physicists predict would exist in a simulated universe.

Additionally, in the last couple of years, theoretical physicist S. James Gate has discovered something rather extraordinary in his String Theory research. Essentially, deep inside the equations we use to describe our universe, Gate has found computer code. And not just any code, but extremely peculiar self-dual linear binary error-correcting block code. That’s right, error correcting 1’s and 0’s wound up tightly in the quantum core of our universe.

Remarking on the incredible verisimilitude of No Man’s Sky, Murray recalls a query by none other than the creator of Tesla and SpaceX.

“Elon Musk questioned me about this. He asked, ‘What are the chances that we’re living in a simulation?’ ”

Murray’s answer:

“Even if it is a simulation, it’s a good simulation, so we shouldn’t question it. I’m working on my dream game, for instance. I’m more happy than I am sad. Whoever is running the simulation must be smarter than I am, and since they’ve created a nice one, then presumably they are benevolent and want good things for me.”

Of course, the game isn’t 100% realistic, as Murray did take some creative liberties. For example, he defied Newtonian physics by allowing for closer moon orbits (presumably to facilitate more cinematic landscapes featuring giant skyward moons). He also had his programmers reconfigure the periodic table to allow for varying atmospheric and particle light diffraction. The purpose: so that some planets could have green skies.

Being the God of a simulated universe does have its perks.

This article (The Video Game that Made Elon Musk Question Whether Our Reality is a Simulation) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Jake Anderson and Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email [email protected].


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  1. Is it wrong that I actually like this concept and that it may become one of my favourite games? I get that they are being used for malevolent purposes but the concept themselves are amazing

  2. It’s a good simulation, we shouldn’t question it, they’ve created a nice one…for this guy. Let’s not take into account the rest of the world that’s currently in flames. If this is benevolence, unplug me.

    • I like the extra step of consideration you took. It is uncomfortable to feel like everything is awesome when the apocalypse is going on in the third world. How do we even sleep at night? But we do….

  3. But if we recognize that the existing universe we live in is a simulation, then there is a slight chance that we are smarter than the ones who are running it, for they might try to cover that little secret.

  4. UNLIKELY? (that should read LIKELY — presumably)

    “(2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof);”

  5. If it is possible to do such universal simulations it must have been done countless times by emerging civilizations. Logically there is a pretty high probability that we live in one. Determining if it is so could prove to be very hard or even impossible depending on the skill of the simulators.. :DD

  6. why is Elon Musk’s name in the title and James Gate’s only in the article? This article could have easily been improved by just inserting links to both of Isaak Asimov debates where James Gates blew Neil deGrasse Tyson’s mind (and our too) with this theory.

  7. And reality is not an illusion… Why I can create such big unique ideas that can delete wrong history and bring nature to its place again with that accuracy… There is no simulation or the entire elite will go down, because i have that gift remember… if it is a simulation why does the elite think they have power… So continue with this idea and I will end your eliteness because it is a simulation, so if i can be between the real world and the dream world who is the elite… that is not part and does not constitute the simulation, because of all leaks and energy in activism in history… so the elite continues with their simulation its their end… with simulation, be water my friend, no distinction and no difference… are we so equal, are we so different… se biological evolution in there… why do they need to lie… if they don’t have their eliteness right now… what happened to that smile in your face…. ho eliteness ended… shut the fuck up… and rip off your PHDs because you unlearned all common sense in life rich people… you wouldn’t need wars and use of force to gain and retain and maintain yourselves in power, and that is not a simulation… end of elite, no simulation… follows proportions of tree of life… everything borns and grows… these guys are not friends of nobody not even aliens… at least be friends of all other beings… now try again saying to all humanity reality is a simulation, i wanna laugh… the first thing is to make sure everything will be peaceful, calm, equilibrated as it should be… just even try a release a sound with that intention… because your PHD’s in the end with those mouths don’t value a shit… there are poor people that their silence values more than your loud noise… if it is a simulation why can you be progressive evolution and discovering yourself… and nature… total fail… all the variables are changing so its not a simulation… there are no constants in life… so all your PHD’s, richness is useless… they don’t taste the same, hun? or why do you think no one can prove it, because you can’t either… this is what happens when rich people try to scare every human with their words and intelectuality, just because they think they can use those words or prove it, so who are they to carry and transmit those words… liars…

  8. where comes all your reasoning, perception and awareness from and why are you question it?? because you think human language can explain everything and you can make people and some beings fear your words? like simulation is a word like love…

  9. Yet another thing has chosen to obsess about/believe in, but cannot prove, just like believing that a god made everything. Nutcases.


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