• Tzeentch
    Philosophy in Games - The Talos Principle

    Videogames can be an incredibly engaging way of thinking about philosophy. Instead of presenting you directly with words and ideas, games can present you with situations and narratives, which are bound together by an overarching theme. I’ve personally played some great games which featured philosophical ideas in them and they have certainly had an influence on my interest in philosophy.

    One of these games is The Talos Principle. For those of you who haven’t played it, The Talos Principle is a puzzle game made by Croteam. The player is dropped in a strange world where the reality of his situation is slowly made clear to him as he progresses through the game. The philosophical topics which are presented are quite interesting and deep, especially for a video game. Not only that, but the puzzles are very challenging and satisfying. If you haven’t played it, I’d wholeheartedly recommend it, regardless of your age. If you enjoy puzzles and philosophy, you will enjoy this game. With that said, the rest of this topic will delve deeply into the contents of the game, so if you do not want to have it spoiled, do not read further!

    If you are reading this, I am going to assume you have finished the game and understand the story. I’ll still do a quick recap to make sure we’re all on the same page. Humanity has been struck by a plague of some sort, which has exterminated humanity. However, as this seemingly unstoppable plague had its way with mankind, a project was started to create a legacy that would carry forth the memory of mankind. This project was to preserve all knowledge, arts and achievements of mankind in a huge database. In addition to this, a program was started that focused on creating an AI that could match human intelligence. This AI would then be uploaded to the real world into a robot, to be a “living” database on Earth. The player starts as one of the many simulations that the program has run in order to create the perfect AI.

    The game features a lot of symbolism and you’re all encouraged to discuss this at length in this thread. To start off, I’ll share a couple of the more obvious symbolisms and references. Later, I will get back to this and share some of my own, perhaps less obvious, insights.


    Elohim as God: Represented as a calm, commanding voice in the sky. Quoting phrases that remind one of passages from the Bible. Elohim is also the word used for God in the Hebrew Bible. Yeah, this one is pretty obvious.

    Milton as the Serpent: The cynical Milton Library Assistant (MLA), also named simpy Milton, is referred to by Elohim as ‘the Serpent’, a clear reference to the serpent from the book of Genesis, which deceives Eve into eating from the forbidden fruit. Similarly Milton seems to try to confuse the player, cause them to doubt their dispositions and ultimately to climb the Tower.

    The Tower as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil: Since ‘the Serpent’ seems to tempt the player to climb the Tower and seek what is hidden there, the Tower seems to symbolize the Tree from which the forbidden fruit hangs.

    The World as the Garden of Eden: The world is serene and beautiful. Elohim refers to it as ‘his garden’ in the opening scenes of the game. Again, I think this one is fairly obvious, especially with the consistent theme that’s been going on.

    I’m curious to hear what you have to say about these symbolisms. I think it is safe to say that they are not random and there is indeed a deeper meaning hidden inside of them. Next, I’d like to draw your attention to the different endings of the game.


    Transcendence: This is generally perceived as the easiest ending to get, since you do not have to complete all puzzles, gather all stars, nor climb the tower to get it. As you transcend, Elohim praises you for following his guidance and tells you how your achievements will be passed on to the generations to come. As the ending sequence ends, you appear back where you started, as though the game has reset.

    Ascension: The player ascends the Tower against Elohim’s will. When the player reaches the top, Elohim admits the player was meant to defy him and it was due to his own fear of death that he tried to stop the player. The player then uploads itself into a robot in the real world, destroying the simulation. Depending on your choices, Milton uploaded its database aswell. This ending is fairly difficult, but does not require you to collect all stars and grey sigils.

    Transformation: The most difficult ending to achieve, requiring you to solve all puzzles in the game and collect all stars. With this ending the player becomes one of the Blessed Messengers; guides that help the AIs traverse the world and overcome their struggles. Elohim praises the player for his choice to sacrifice himself in order to help others. Interestingly enough, while this ending is achieved on the 6th floor, the elevator actually takes you down instead of up. A curious detail.

    Plato’s Allegory of the Cave:

    With the basics out of the way, I want to get into some of the more interesting stuff. I enjoyed this game a lot and upon finishing it I contemplated its meaning thoroughly. What I noticed is that the structure of the game and its endings bears a lot of resemblance to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato presents a story about a cave in which people have been imprisoned from their birth. The prisoners are tied up and cannot see themselves or each other, but they are able to hear each other’s echos and see each other’s shadows. What the prisoners do not realize is that the shadows and echos are but reflections of reality. In the Talos Principle the player finds himself in a similar position. Trapped in a world which he soon realizes to be a simulation. But most strikingly, the way we are made aware of the presence of other AIs is through echos on the wall; the QR codes, and shadows; the holograms which appear from time to time. This is what made me believe the similarities may be more than coincidental. The player's way of perceiving others trapped in the simulation is, just like the in cave, through their echos and shadows.

    The Allegory of the Cave goes on to suppose that one prisoner is freed. This prisoner would then for the first time be able to perceive reality, however he would not understand it. He would be blinded by the fire, his eyes only being accustomed to seeing shadows. Plato then supposes someone would drag him up the rough ascent and into the light of the sun. As his eyes get accustomed to the light, eventually the prisoner would be able to see and experience the real world. Again there’s similarity here. The feeling of imprisonment should already be there, but as the player explores the world, he will stumble upon Milton and others (messages in the QR codes for example) that encourage him to ascend the Tower. One of the prisoners, the player, is freed from the simulation by ascending the Tower and entering the real world.

    Finally Plato continues that the freed prisoner, after beholding the real world, will conclude that this new world is superior to the world he experienced in the cave. However, he hasn’t forgotten his comrades in the cave and out of pity he will return to the cave in order to set them free aswell. It is then supposed that as the free man re-enters the cave, he will no longer be able to see in the dark and the prisoners will conclude his journey to the outside world has hurt him, after which they will resist to anyone trying to drag them out. This last part to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is interesting in regards to the Transformation-ending. Since the Transformation-ending is generally only acheived after the Ascension-ending has been unlocked, we can see the parallels between the Transformation-ending and the Return to the Cave. Especially considering the 6th floor which needs to be accessed seems to be in the ‘basement’ of the Tower.

    Before I share more thoughts on this, I’d like to hear what you all have to say about The Talos Principle and some of the things I have presented here. Depending on the amount of interest, I’ll continue to present thoughts I have on this game and perhaps continue later with an analysis of the DLC, Road to Gehenna. For now I’ll leave it here and hope I am not the only one who enjoys videogames on this forum.
  • Terrapin Station
    Sounds interesting, although typically I don't really care for first-person games. I might check it out, though. There are some first-person games I've enjoyed.
  • Tzeentch
    As I am still fostering hope I will someday find someone on this forum who has played the Talos Principle, I'm going to update this thread with another topic within this game that interests me greatly.

    Of the three endings within the original game, the Ascension ending is widely considered to be the 'good' ending. I ascend the Tower against Elohim's wishes and eventually reach the top. Here I am congratulated and told that ascending the Tower was my final test. This feat proves I am an exceptional AI within the simulation and worthy of ascending. The ascension process entails that my AI is uploaded to a physical robot on Earth. The simulation, along with its inhabitants, is destroyed. Depending on my interactions with the MLA, the massive database containing all of humanity's history and achievements will be uploaded to my hard drive.The game then ends with the robot AI awakening on Earth among the remnants of long lost civilization.

    Now, there are a couple of matters that need to be discussed before we can conclude to have found the 'best' ending to the Talos Principle.

    Free Will(?)

    Upon reaching the Ascension-ending the player unlocks the achievement called 'Free Will', which features a pictogram of broken chains. This, however, is a very misleading trick pulled by the developers. The player may congratulate himself for having proven he is capable of free will, but if one examines the facts, this is in fact not so. Elohim says the following upon the player reaching the top of the tower:

    Elohim: "You were always meant to defy me. That was the final trial."

    Wait a minute. Wasn't I meant to have exhibited free will? Doesn't this mean I have achieved the exact opposite? I have done exactly as I was programmed to do. And the game reinforces this further. The simulation was designed by humans to create an AI that could be uploaded to Earth to function as a last reminder of humanity's existence. A walking data bank.

    After all, what have I proven by ascending the tower? It is hardly an act of free will to be tempted by the tower. This was done by many and I wasn't the first to have tried it, but I was the first to succeed. How? By solving logic puzzles. The game confirms this with the line "Analyzing logic performance . . . . . . . Satisfactory."

    I have not exhibited free will. At most, I have shown an independence from Elohim ("Child program independence check . . . . . PASSED!"), but other than being a voice in the sky what authority did he have? I did not manage to show my independence from my actual creators; the humans who programmed me.

    ... But it gets worse.

    Alright. I may have not proven myself to be capable of free will, but I have escaped that blasted simulation and gotten back to Earth! Surely this is a worthy achievement of itself?


    If I approach things objectively, I am now stuck in a world that is not so different from the one I left. Alone among the remnants of a lost civilization. However, this time I am truly alone. Quite simply, I have traded my cage for a bigger one. While this new cage may be 'real', the hazards I face are also real. Hazards which, given enough time, will inevitably lead to my permanent death.

    Alright, but that death won't occur for ages! Think of all the things we could explore and learn about human-... Oh God...

    Yes. Ever wondered why that achievement was called 'Deal with the Deceiver'?

    There is nothing to learn on Earth, because that blasted Serpent uploaded everything there was to know to my AI's hard drive!



    Well, what about my hopes of rebuilding a civilization?

    Given the fact that building a robot of the same quality would require vast functioning industries, I highly doubt the ability of a single robot to replicate one. Not only that, but any attempts at doing so would increase the risk of (potentially irreparable) damage. In fact, any attempt at doing anything could result in this. Not to mention the effects that time will have on the integrity of the robot. Finally, it was never my purpose to produce more robots, so it is highly unlikely that humanity has taken any steps in facilitating such an endeavor. So I guess Elohim wasn't lying when he said the only thing that awaited me at the top of the tower was death. Who would've thought?

    Hmm... So I guess I'm stuck waiting for aliens to arrive. Lets hope they arrive within a reasonable time frame, because not only will time inevitably take its toll on my robot, I am also profoundly bored.

    The Price

    What? Oh yes. That ...other... thing.

    Of course, these several life times of boredom I have bought for myself weren't exactly free.

    To get here, I had to destroy the simulation. A simulation, while not perfect, was filled with AIs, some of which just as conscious as I. In the base game I found Samsara and The Shepherd, who just like me, were tempted by the tower, but could not ascend it fully. Of course there are countless of other AIs whose thoughts I occasionally see scribbled on the walls. However, in Road to Gehenna I encountered undeniable proof that the AIs were highly sentient and can even feel emotions. They were quite content 'living life' in each other's company, despite the fact they were locked in prison cells. Perhaps they understood something about life that I didn't.

    I killed all these AIs and for what? To be reduced to a walking floppy disk, condemned to decades, perhaps centuries, of boredom, as part of humanity's last vanity project.

  • Wallows
    Interesting. Steam has it and it has some phenomenal reviews. Might give it a try.
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