Who are we, outside of the fleshy organism we call a body? Is what makes us ‘us’ our thoughts and brains, and if so, what happens when you make a copy of them? SOMA is a psychological horror game released by Frictional Games in 2015 exploring the questions of self, brain scans, and what it means to ‘survive’ the downfall of humanity. It goes without saying that it’s worth a playthrough.
You play as Simon Jarrett, a recent car crash survivor with some severe brain damage who opted into some experimental treatment for brain injuries. The game begins with a full brain scan, and you close your eyes as the scan begins… only to wake up in a dilapidated underwater facility over 100 years later. Understandably, Simon freaks out. With psychotic nightmare machines wandering around, unknown future technology, and a shaky grasp on the situation, Simon sets out across PATHOS-II to figure out what happened and what to do now.
Making things even stranger are the variety of robots and AI wandering around the place, fully convinced that no, they’re not robots. “Are you crazy? We’re people, humans, just like you, Simon.” This dissociation is soon explained, as technology has advanced sufficiently to take the brain scans of different people and copy them into these robots as AI.
Of course, from their perspective, they’re simply human when the scan is taken and they then immediately ‘wake up’ inside of their new vessel. So… are they still human? The game doesn’t have a definitive answer, but it’s an interesting point of debate that both Simon and the player have plenty of time to chew over as you traverse the deep ocean on a last-ditch mission to save the vestige of the humanity’s consciousness on Earth.
To make matters even more confusing, the mind does an excellent job of warping one’s perception to something they can understand. Not even your own perception is infallible, as we can see some of the illusions Simon himself unknowingly made melt away with new information and new impossibilities presented to him. At one point, he copies his mind into another body and his form in the mirror is not what he thought it was.
Remember, they’re not transferring your consciousness from the human body to a robot one, they’re literally copying it. So sure, copy yourself into a suit designed for the deep ocean trench you need to dive into, but what do you do with the spare version of yourself? Is it better to kill them and spare them the loneliness of existing alone at the end of the world, or do you leave them to be, with no explanation, no closure, and no guidance? Neither is a true mercy.
Resources are limited, and SOMA presents this struggle as a flawed choice. Robots (people?) use up the precious energy that the base needs for communications, computers, and other functions, and you can’t continue without unplugging a few of them. And they scream. And beg. It’s an interesting concept, a debate of ethics, wrapped up in a deep sea horror bow. Would you save humanity while dooming yourself?
SOMA will make you question your own humanity while immersed in a fantastical underwater adventure. They say in space, no one can hear you scream, but the same can definitely be said about the bottom of the ocean.