Life in tutorial mode

Screenshot The Sims 2

Happiness abounds when you are playing an easy game and have someone to help you who knows the game much better than you do.

Watching my own melodrama about a normal human jaw infection, I am reminded of a humorous essay I read in Reader’s Digest as a child, called “There is nothing as sick as a sick man”. (Or husband, the same word is used for both in the Norwegian translation.) The gist of it was that her husband would react to the slightest physical ailment by going into full patient mode, lying down and demanding attention, nursing and special treatment.

In real life, women are far more likely to see a doctor than men, and men are more likely to die than women until around the age of 90. But of course there are ways in which women are tougher than men. As I thought to myself as I clutched my hurting jaw: “At least I’m not bleeding from my genitals.” And childbirth not only feels like you’re going to die: It still happens, although the incidence is much reduced, especially in the developed world outside the USA.

Not without reason did left-wing writer John Scalzi write that straight white male is the lowest difficulty setting there is. He was wrong about that, but not by much. Of the reasonably large categories, it is surely true. (Unless you have very specific life priorities, like being approached romantically by members of the opposite sex with no initiative needed on your side.)

But below the easiest normal difficulty setting in some video games, like “Settler mode” in Civilization, there is sometimes also a tutorial mode, for the absolute newbie who not only needs the game to be easier than the easiest setting, but also needs to be explained in detail how to go about the basic tasks of the game. And this, dear reader, is how I’ve largely lived my life. Or so it seems to me.


Let us first look at the difficulty level. There is white privilege, and then there is the whitest of privilege: Being ethnic Norwegian in Norway, a country routinely declared the best to live in by the United Nations. Pretty much the richest country that is not a gentlemen’s club with a flag, it is also known for all kinds of equality and small differences in income. Actually I am not rich by Norwegian standards. In fact, my income is barely working class despite now working full time. I am not unionized, so I have basically only had cost-of-living-adjustment during the almost 40 years I have been employed. I’m still pretty well off by global standards, but more importantly, a lot of things don’t cost noticeable amounts of money. Education didn’t, on the contrary I was paid for it for a while. Health care? Just a symbolic sum to keep hypochondriacs like me from circling around the clinics like moths around a lamp. Pensions savings? The state does that.

But as I say elsewhere, socialism fails because it can only redistribute money, and money is not really that big a deal except when you don’t have it. The state cannot redistribute health, intelligence, beauty, strength, endurance, wisdom, charisma… OK, I think I veered a bit into roleplaying game territory there, but you know what I mean. Not all of us are born with the same stats, and then there is the whole thing about being raised by sane adults. No, I don’t have maxed stats all across the board (strength is pretty low, and I’m not exactly attractive) but I got a large helping of intelligence just at the start of the time when that has become useful. It must have happened during my childhood, I guess, because most of my classmates clearly hadn’t gotten the memo until middle school.

In addition to general intelligence, always a good thing to have, I was also born to be hyperlexic. Autism spectrum hyperlexia is listed as disability actually, and in its most extreme forms that can be true. I got away easy though: I am nearly faceblind so I don’t recognize my coworkers if I meet them outside of work for instance, and I have a hard time meeting people’s eyes without creeping them out. Evidently there is something alien about me. But on the plus side, I could read at near adult level when I started school, and I have kept reading until now (although lately it has been less books and more Internet). I can’t speed read, but reading at a decent clip I can absorb pretty much anything just by plowing through it once, if I have the basic background knowledge to understand most of it.

My health was pretty bad in my childhood due to exercise asthma. Not only was it scary, but it set my physical development back by a couple years. I actually reached puberty quite a bit after my classmates, and was slow and weak and clumsy compared to them all the way. But after puberty this problem disappeared, and my health has been tutorial mode too for the most part. The fact that a mild jaw infection makes me start mourning myself should be proof enough of that, I guess.

Finally… I hesitate to even bring up this, but evidently my sex drive is actually lower than usual, not higher as I thought when I was young. It was actually lower then too (perhaps especially then) but I did not know, because I was generally surrounded by extra pious Christians, to whom chastity was very important. It was not a matter of whether or not to have unmarried sex, but whether you could always avoid looking at the opposite sex with the intention of desire, as Jesus admonishes us. “Extra virgin”, as they say these days. So that is how I spent my best years. By the time I was in my 20es and realized that I was not going to marry (out of consideration for the poor wife if nothing else) I already knew that I could live without sexual intimacy. (Also, how to wash my own clothes.)


But apart from being ridiculously easy, tutorial mode also has the benefit that some person who is not actually there – presumably the maker of the game – is teaching you step by step how to do things, from the simple to the more advanced. And true to form, the helpful Presence from Heaven (I assume that’s where it is from at least, strange as that might seem given my level of virtue) has been watching over me for decades, commenting where needed and pointing me in the right direction. I don’t actually hear voices, which may be just as well, it is more a telepathic thing, like sharing of mindspace? I guess you’ve got to have been there.

Anyway, this is not really something that should be talked about in detail, it is too intimate for that. But the point is, I usually don’t need to be in doubt. Sometimes I am, but then I often realize later that I was in doubt only because I did not want to follow the tutorial. Generally though it is incredibly carefree to have an invisible, loving older brother watching over you like that. (I actually had a loving older brother when I was a kid, the second oldest one. He’s a living saint as far as I know and there are definitely some similarities there. Maybe psychologists will decide that I created my invisible friend in that image, but I doubt I am such an awesome person that I can create someone wiser and more conscious than myself!)

And that is why what I truly fear is not death itself, but being separated from the one who has loved me and guided me all this time. If the universe is a fair and just place, I have hell to pay after a life like that. For despite playing Real Life in tutorial mode for all these years, I have accomplished nothing of value. That said, I have enjoyed my life greatly. When I play The Sims, I guide them in such a way that they can accomplish their goals that give them lifelong happiness, while at the same time they have all their needs met and have a good time along the way. And I take a sincere joy in seeing the little imaginary people go cheerfully about their worthless lives in unshakable happiness thanks to my guidance. I can only desperately hope that my own higher-dimensional guide feels the same way about my own happy but ultimately insignificant life. And, of course, that I am saved in the Cloud when the hardware eventually breaks down.

A small, late repentance

Screenshot anime Kamisama Memo

The voice in my head sometimes just… slips out. And that is the best part of me, I think. People seem to find it valuable, which I can’t say about my life as a whole.

I was thinking of buying something non-food today, and noticed myself thinking: “Nah, let’s first wait and see if I survive this week.” And that’s when I realized I should probably write a bit again.

Actually it is not statistically likely that I’ll die soon, it is just a bit less unlikely than usual. It is not like I’m diagnosed with a terminal illness or have decided to row across the North Sea. It’s just an upper jaw infection that has shaken off one antibiotic and is now barely contained by two others, while I wait for a jaw surgery on Friday. Also, when I had the same surgery on the right side, I had an adverse heart rhythm reaction. I survived that, but that was five years or so ago. So yeah, it should be interesting. A reminder of the mortality of body and soul. Spirit not so much. And I should probably say what I think about that, just in case.


To be honest, I think there is a fairly large risk that my soul will perish in Hell, for certain values of “soul” and “hell”. Now, this may not sound like a glowing recommendation of my doctrine, but think about this: How much of a connection is there really between self-esteem and actual performance? If you have been in the workforce for almost 40 years, as I have, you should have learned that this is a pretty shaky link. In particular, we have what is called the Dunning-Kruger effect, namely that truly ignorant people don’t even know enough to know that they are ignorant, and truly unskilled people cannot estimate the skills of others, or how much skill they lack themselves. As the joke goes: “Do you play the piano?” “I don’t know, I have never tried.”

This seems to also be the default position of the religious person. I read in passing some years ago that the average American was far more certain of his own salvation than that of Mother Theresa. (And this was before the atheist campaign to portray Mother Theresa as a terrible person who misused large amounts of money and caused untold suffering to promote her own glory.)

And I started out no differently: As a child, I have no memory of my parents teaching me about religion, let alone hear them pray or see them read the Bible. I tried to read in my grandmother’s Bible, but she got very upset and made sure that never happened again. But at one point during my childhood, I found an old Bible on a dusty shelf in a room we mostly used for storage. It was in archaic language and even the typesetting was unfamiliar, and some pages were missing. But I devoured it. I read about the prophets of God and decided to become one. (A prophet, not a God. That came later.) The appeal, in my vague memory, seems to have been the work benefits more than the final reward: Being able to call down fire from Heaven or summon bears to tear apart those who insulted me. (Elijah and Elisha respectively. I loved that part of the book.)

When I met the Christian Church of Brunstad and their message of becoming perfect according to the conscience, it seemed a great match for me. I wasn’t perfect yet, but it wasn’t that far off, I thought. I certainly had a solid lead on most other humans, surely?

And so I studied the Bible again. This time, after drinking of the spirit that was in the Church, I was able to also understand the New Testament, finally. Well, with the exception of the Apocalypse. I am really not sure why that one was included and the apocryphal Book of Wisdom was not, I would have swapped those. I was quite enamored of the Book of Wisdom and of wisdom as a whole. And so I prayed sincerely to God, as Solomon is said to have done, that God might give me the Spirit of Wisdom from Heaven. This also came to pass, or so it seems to me. In the decades since, when someone asked me or talked with me with sincerity – whether it was about the Bible, or some deep matter that is not directly covered by the Bible, or about their personal life, or even about work – the benevolent Divine Presence would reveal to me what was needed, then and there. I would be amazed at the depth of wisdom and insight, because it would often be new to me as well, or at least clearer than I had seen it before. There seemed to be no end to this, like a well that refills itself no matter how much you draw from it.

But the truth is that this was not my personal, acquired wisdom. I now believe that what I had received, and what I had truly desired, was what the Norwegian Bible calls “visdoms tale” (wisdom’s speech), as in 1. Corinthians 12: “For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit.” And if you turn over to the next chapter, there is a harsh lesson on these things:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” That doesn’t mean it didn’t work or wasn’t true, but it was a gift of grace that just passed through without any merit to me, because it was not my love, only God’s.

That is how I see it now. And Christ himself is quoted as saying: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” That doesn’t mean the prophecies were false or the demons were not driven out, necessarily. But it did no good for those who did it, evidently.

So yeah. My optimism is somewhat muted. That does not mean that I don’t believe in what I said. I just don’t believe in myself. I really ended up doing very little for others, despite playing Real Life in tutorial mode. In the end, I do not know whether I did more harm or more good. I suppose if there is a reckoning for me in the hereafter, I will know for sure. I am honestly not sure what way those scales would tip. But the real problem is my sins of omission, the endless list of good things I could have done but didn’t.


This isn’t depression. I have no desire to kill or harm myself. I don’t want to curl up in bed all day. I don’t suddenly start crying. I don’t lack energy. (I mean, sure I am lazy, but I usually walk for half an hour or two on a nice day, and am usually busy reading, writing or playing rather than staring at moving pictures for hours on end.) It is just that the snow has melted, the white fluffy cover that made everything look so clean and smooth. And beneath is the dead grass of last year, the rotting leaves, the sticks and stones and the trash that was left by the wayside and covered by the concealing snow of grace.

And in this lies my hope, in the warm sun that melts away the fluffy illusions I love. If I were to choose to believe what is comfortable, if I were to continue thinking that I’m at least better than the publican and the sinner and the pagans and the gays and the sluts – as if I had walked even around the block in their shoes – then I believe I would be truly lost. But there is still the tiny voice inside that cries: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” and “Remember me when you come in your kingdom!”

But my soul in the sense of my personality, my habits, my accumulated choices, all those things that were called by my name, all I cherished and took pride in… I think that will all shrivel and be undone. You may call that Hell, I guess. It is not a Biblical word after all, just a loose translation of many things: Sheol and Hades, the grave and the fading memories of life. Gehenna, the continual dumpster fire where corpses of criminals and unclean things are burned. Like the pages of a worthless book that shrivel and burn, one after another, until there is only ashes left. Looking back on my life, this seems to have already begun. Page after page shriveling and turning to ashes. And that may be a good thing. Whether this week or in the middle of the century, my body shall return to the dust; but I believe that my spirit shall return to God, who gave it.

And even though it all went wrong,
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.
-Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah.