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I am currently planning to create a world for a Pathfinder adventure where my players will be characters playing a VR game with sentient AI that thinks their world is real.

I want to ask: what kind of prevention could I put in place in order to prevent players or NPC PCs (basically NPCs who are aware they are in a VR world) from telling the NPC's that this world isn't real?

Currently I am thinking of saying that those who attempt to do that are banned and the NPCs react similarly to Westworld characters when they are confronted by reality, but that feels like it would break immersion for any of my players that attempted to talk to NPCs about reality.

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    $\begingroup$ It's a virtual world where you control everything! What problem do you have in implementing anything? $\endgroup$ – Cbm.cbm Mar 6 '18 at 10:55
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    $\begingroup$ but you are the GM, no? you are designing it. There's lots of ways of dealing with this question, and they are entirely reliant on the rules your universe is created around. The NPC's could simply say "thats nice dear" and ignore what the PC said, or they could freak out, or they could simply be deleted. $\endgroup$ – Miller86 Mar 6 '18 at 11:03
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    $\begingroup$ Well yes, however you control the information they receive! If an npc might know, and that is unlikely, then make it so that when he tries communicating that nobody can hear or see that information! $\endgroup$ – Cbm.cbm Mar 6 '18 at 11:06
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    $\begingroup$ You might want to ask this on Role-playing Games Stack Exchange $\endgroup$ – Binary Worrier Mar 6 '18 at 12:10
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with @BinaryWorrier. The protections you want to put in place are more associated with the players in your game than with the world itself. You have to figure out what protections need to be in place to stop the humans playing the game from mucking with the NPCs. It could be as simple as "please don't," or it could be some draconian ruleset (I mean that literally, "if you say anything about the real world to NPCs, a dragon is going to come and eat you) $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Mar 6 '18 at 17:09

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So, you want your NPC's (or at least some of them) to be fully fledged thinking individuals. But you want them to not decide they're in a simulation no matter how much the players try to convince them.

One option is to make them think like normal humans.

Then add some elements to their world. Add an evil empire to their history with a central belief that involves the world being a simulation. Make them really despicable, nazi-level villians who pretty much all the NPC's hate pretty much automatically. Make it so that in the worlds history the way the evil empire justified it's atrocities all revolved around this idea that the world wasn't real and was a simulation to the point that anyone talking about things that sound like arguments that the world is simulated sound very similar to famous speeches from VR-world-history-hitler.

Make their mythology involve keywords that match the sorts of things people would say while trying to convince someone they're in a simulation.

Fantasy Hitler Lizard hitler riding a dinosaur

Then add in some non-sentient bots who's job is to act as the random street-corner whackos. They occasionally wander the city streets ingame spouting clearly insane stuff mixed in with claims that the world isn't real and "we're all the dreams of lumps of metal"

"the Administrators (Illuminati substitute) control everything!"

Doomsayers

So that almost any right-thinking sane NPC within the game world considers it pretty much a point of honor and morality to outright reject the concept of simulation.

So a player makes some NPC friends ingame and while sitting round in a tavern decides to try to convince their NPC mates that the world is a lie.... so they start to talk about simulations and computers... and all the NPC's within earshot start to get disgusted looks on their faces because to them it's roughly equivalent to starting to spout nazi propaganda mixed with Illuminati/chem-trail/truther maddness.

The inkeeper insists they shut up or leave and their NPC former friends mostly start avoiding them.

Bonus points if a player tries to elaborate "look, I know you think there was a big genocide by the evil empire but it never actually happened! it was all a myth to stop you believing in simulation"

Through all this the NPC's maintain free will.

It's not perfect, some NPC's might get convinced... but the beauty is that they'll just be seen as evil crackpots too.

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I haven't seen Westworld, so can't comment on how they handle things unfortunately, but could you not take inspiration from our own simulation world?

How would most people handle it if someone revealed to them claimed that THIS world is a simulation, that everything is controlled by an omnipotent AI and we're all just an elaborate collection of properties and business rules?

Or, how would people react if someone claimed that the Earth was not the center of the universe, and that we were merely a large rock circling a giant blazingly hot ball of AI only knows what? Crazy talk, right? Pretty sure those people would be laughed at and put in padded rooms where they can no longer be a danger to themselves or others.

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    $\begingroup$ This is pretty much what my answer was gonna be. The only "protection" the simulation needs is the natural human tendency to disregard any information that challenges our beliefs. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Mar 6 '18 at 11:42
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    $\begingroup$ In any "realistic" simulation, the AI should be able to imagine the "unimaginable". The OP should only disable PROOVING that the world is a simulation. $\endgroup$ – Nahshon paz Mar 6 '18 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ Just add some arbitrary physical law in your Simulation like a "Law of Thermodynamics" or "Uncertainty Principle" that would appear to invalidate the claims about how/why you are in the simulation - no point in using Humans as power-plants, because Energy "cannot" be created. Can't simulate a reality because the more accurately you know a particle's position, the "less" accurately you know its velocity. And, of course, everyone "knows" that "nothing" can travel faster than light. $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Mar 6 '18 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Chronocidal This is one of the few ways to patch up the premise of the Matrix. (Explored at the bottom of this page, btw.) $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Mar 6 '18 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ My problem with this answer is that in the case where someone told me my world isn't real they couldn't give me proof of that. I can give the virtual people proof that their world isn't real. I can hack into the game and show them. Sooner or later they're going to start believing me since the proof will be undeniable. $\endgroup$ – Len Mar 6 '18 at 23:17
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The operating system of the VR should be able to parse what people are saying. If it catches a player attempting to tell an NPC that the world is not real, the OS can apply immediate punishment. This could be in the form of electrical shock, migraines, muting, physical trauma etc.

As an alternative or in addition to that, the NPC's might just be genuinely unable to parse the message. A conversation could go like:

-This world isn't real. We are in the Matrix. It is a computer simulation and most people are really sentient AI's.

-Why are you reciting the lyrics of What Does The Fox Say?

If you want to make it really frustrating, you may also have savepoints. Attempting an explanation causes the game to reload from the last savepoint. I suggest watching The Good Place for an even more cruel example - explain it and the world reloads from scratch.

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  • $\begingroup$ The parser filter was going to be my other suggestion. PC tries to say "we're all living in a simulation" and it comes out as "Lovely weather we're having today, isn't it?" $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Mar 6 '18 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ "You really like that fox song, don't you? You've been reciting it for two hours, whilst frantically waving your arms and ripping your hair" :-) $\endgroup$ – Nahshon paz Mar 6 '18 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ Players are intelligent humans. They will always find a way to circumvent your filter. Instead of directly talking to an NPC, they could carefully lay slight hints everywhere, and after a while some NPCs might pick up the hints and figure it out without the controlling system noticing. $\endgroup$ – Sinthorion Mar 6 '18 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Sinthorion How many NPCs are conspiracy theorists though? :thinking: $\endgroup$ – Feathercrown Mar 6 '18 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Renan, yes the mental health is a difference, and you're right. The AI in Westworld just ignores anything that looks out of place for their simulated world and they give a canned response. They don't confront it or argue with it. $\endgroup$ – JPhi1618 Mar 8 '18 at 15:43
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Your PCs will be considered to be religious evangelists.

John 2:15-17 King James Version (KJV)

15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

Lots of religions promise a real world or a better world to their followers. The world we live in is dirty and corrupt or in some other way an imitation or sham or fake, but the real world is the Kingdom of Heaven, or Nirvana, or what have you.

In your VR world there could exist evangelical religion which holds this as a tenet. When people start talking this way they are received by believers as fellow believers. If someone talks to this way to a nonbeliever they will considered to be evangelizing for this religion and will be received with impatience, or patience, or hostility, or interest according to the character approached.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ah, so the NPC's hide behind the sofa to avoid the evangelicals. I like it. :) $\endgroup$ – Murphy Apr 4 '18 at 14:51
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I would model this after the actual real world and just use plain old stubborn ignorance.

Player: "This isn't actually the real world"

NPC: "Ha ha, of course it is stupid."

Player: "No really, I am actually just playing a game right now. You only exist in the game."

NPC: "I really don't respect conspiracy theory nuts"

and then the NPCs start treating them different because they are a cooky conspiracy theory nut.

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Do nothing.

Think about it, if someone walked up to you and said hey were living in a simulation, what would your reaction be. You would think they were joking or that they were a bit <woo woo> crazy.

PC: Hey we are all inside a VR environment right now.

.

NPC: Prove it. Say your telling the truth and all of this is in my head, if I shoot you it wont matter...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWfh0OuTKKE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVhKNaJyzzg

Total Recall reference, lol

PC: really, I'm telling you its a simulation

.

NPC: ok prove it to me

.

PC: sure I will pause the simulation

<pauses> waits a minute <unpauses>

NPC: ok are you going to pause it or what? I don't have all day.

"Dang, the NPC was paused while the simulation was paused", thought the PC

A better question is how would you prove it to a NPC that the world was a simulation, when they are "embedded in it"

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I know an answer was already accepted, but here I go anyway:

Regular updates! Every night, or whenever, there's an update that wipes the memories of the virtual people of any hint that their world isn't real.

That's it. Simplicity at its finest.

Big brother polices the thing with a fine tooth comb and allows for no funny business.

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A different take on the problem:

The NPCs know

They just don't care.

If I told you that you lived in the universe, you would agree. If I asked you if you wanted to be trapped in a simulation, you would probably say no.

Similarly to these NPCs if you told them they were in a simulation, they would agree. If you asked them to trap them in a different world, they would say no. They would feel as if the simulation is where they are free in, and the "real" world is where they would be trapped, and would need to escape back to the simulation.

If your world allows, as far as these NPCs are concerned, YOU are the NPC who escaped the universe into the real simulation.

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Your virtual universe is about a game played in-universe. So when NPCs or PCs talk about "this not being the real world" it is naturally interpreted in a way that the game world they are playing in the VR world is not the real world.

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    $\begingroup$ People could just use phrases like "two layers up" etc. to try to get the idea across. Remember, this is human-like intelligence we're dealing with here! $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Mar 6 '18 at 18:33
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They treat players like mythological figures

There exist a race of beings that possess otherworldly knowledge. They are not merely 'above' NPCs, however. They have access to a plane of information that drives them subtly insane. Repeated use of it makes them stop perceiving the real world as real. Perhaps they can return after death, and such.

Intermix the players with other 'mythological' figures, whose powers work in a slightly different way, like berserkers who derive great strength from the plane of strength, but this also drives them insane, but in a way that robs them of coherence.

As long as the players are a feature, rather than unwelcome outsiders, the NPCs won't get existential crises, and can perceive the humans as eccentric (or dangerous) allies.

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  • $\begingroup$ This makes me think of Log Horizon, an anime / light novel / manga series that do look into this problem. $\endgroup$ – cytsunny Mar 8 '18 at 2:21
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Make them incapable of comprehending it. If you can make NPC's with that level of intelligence, you can certainly do this. Have some coding that makes them incapable of comprehending the fact that they aren't real. Also so that they won't ask awkward questions about why the players treat them like trash and can't go full terminator on us.

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