Gideon has a game he plays on the computer. It’s called Scribblenauts. In this game you can create anything you want by typing it into a notebook and it will appear into the world. Then once it is in the world, you can modify it with adjectives to change the properties of the object. Like Mad Libs, where you can solve a problem in the game in whatever way you possibly want to by creating nouns and assigning adjectives to them.
Gideon loves this game. The problem is, he can’t read the situations to know what he is trying to accomplish, and he can’t write in order to control what he’s bringing into the world. So he just wanders around typing random letters and then selecting from a dictionary list until he finds something he likes.
He was having some trouble with this, the other day and called me over to help him.
“Dad,” he said, “Something is wrong with the gun I made.”
“What gun?” I stood behind him and watched.
“This gun. It’s here, and it doesn’t shoot right.” He pointed at a very odd-looking brown rifle that his character was struggling to hold still in his hands.
“Okay… It looks sort of weird. Let me see what you have created there.”
He agreed and said that he had to place it on the ground before you could see its properties. “But, I can’t place it on the ground right here, because… well, you’ll see. I have to… throw it very far away.” And his little dude takes the rifle and tosses it across the room where it immediately starts flopping around like a fish and shooting at him as he starts jumping and dodging the bullets.
“Wait, why is it doing that?”
“I don’t know! That’s what I’m saying!” he yelled, frantically running all around the room.
I pulled the mouse from his hand and clicked on the gun. Its description came up on the screen.
“Conscious Fudge Rifle!?” I read aloud. “Gideon what did you do?!”
“I don’t know. Tell me! What did I do!” He shook his head in dismay.
“You created a sentient gun! Then you forced that gun to be fudge. It’s no wonder that it’s angry with you now!”
He wrestled the mouse back out of my hands and brought up the notepad. “Okay. So, this is the only way I know to fix it,” he said as he very slowly and deliberately hunted out the three letters, R and then P and then finally G. A rocket launcher appeared in the world and he quickly picked it up and fired a missile at the conscious fudge rifle convulsing in the far corner. The missile hit squarely and the rifle exploded into a million tiny chocolatey bits.
We both stared at the screen in silence for several seconds as our heart rates slowly returned to normal. I looked down and found he was already looking back up at me.
“Why did you give that rifle consciousness?” I asked.
He gestured lamely at the screen, “I don’t know. It just happened.”
“But why did you make it fudge?”
He gestured again, this time with both hands, “I didn’t mean to make it fudge! Why would I make it a fudge gun?”
“Okay, but you understand why the rifle was unhappy with you now, right? Maybe it didn’t want to be made out of fudge? Maybe it didn’t want to be used as a weapon?”
He shrugged, “Yeah, and then I threw it. I guess that would have been frustrating… for a gun.”
“Right,” I agreed. “For all of us,” I said. “It’s hard to be God, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “I hope God knows how to spell better than I do.”
I thought about this as I turned and left him at his computer randomly typing letter onto the screen. I sat in a chair upstairs and continued thinking about it while I stared at a wall in the living room. That night, I went to bed, still thinking about this, and my dreams were filled with conscious fudge rifles. An ocean of them swaying like wheat. Frustrated. Lost. Dancing, trembling mistakes, weeping and forsaken by their creator. “Please,” I cried out from somewhere in the midst of them. “Am I too a conscious fudge rifle?” Softly a voice came to me, “If you really want to find out,” it said, “I know of only one way.” and I listened as it typed three letters into a keyboard and pressed enter.