As we become more like God — all progressing towards the same end point — will we lose our uniqueness as individuals? How can we maintain individuality as we become just like God? As with many questions, this one can be answered by recourse to the classic computer game Nethack.
Nethack (for the uninitiated) is a computer game that involves exploration of a large, many-layered dungeon full of monsters, treasures, and (sometimes magical) items. Nethack requires a good deal of patience and planning (and luck!); players are not so strong that they can simply attack every monster with reckless abandon, so playing Nethack involves going on carefully planned trips to particular places to seek out certain magical items; using the dungeon layout to one’s advantage; regularly running away from monsters that are too powerful to kill (or avoiding provoking them in the first place); and carefully currying the favor of the local priests and gods. It is quite challenging, and it can be a lot of fun; there are detailed strategy guides available on many websites.
Players begin the game in many different ways. A player can be any of a number of very different character classes — a wizard or a knight or a healer or a ranger, for example, or even a camera-weilding tourist. A wizard will be able to cast powerful magic spells to attack monsters, but must run away when her magical energy is depleted. A barbarian will be equipped with a sword and heavy armor, but may be vulnerable to certain magical attacks or defenses. A ranger will come equipped with a bow and arrows, but will not excel in fighting monsters who get too close. And a tourist . . . well, a tourist is pretty hard to play.
Each character also starts out with different “attributes” — different levels of strength, intelligence, and so forth. A barbarian will have high strength but low intelligence; she will wield a sword well, but will have great difficulty learning spells. A wizard is the opposite. A ranger will have high dexterity. And so on.
Because of these differences, a Nethack player’s first several levels of the dungeon will vary tremendously based on her starting class and attributes. She will be wielding her sword, or shooting her arrows, or casting her spells, all quite differently as she advances through levels.
Gradually, Nethack games and characters converge. This happens for a few different reasons. First, a player who does not die will eventually improve on her starting attributes. Through practice or exercise or magic, the barbarian will become smarter, while the wizard becomes stronger. By mid- to end-game, each player will have maxized each attribute (strength, intelligence, and so forth). Each player will also have gained magical resistance to poison, fire, and so forth. On an attribute level, the uniqueness will have faded.
Second, each player will ultimately need many of the same items. A blessed bag of holding — for carrying around one’s items — is indispensible. Speed boots (which, as the name implies, make the player move more quickly) are also useful for everyone. The same for the various types of dragon armor (the best armor in the game) and for the various types of enchanted weapons. Other powerful items, like life-saving amulets or wands that fire death rays, are also helpful for everyone. The standard endgame equipment is well enough known that it has a colloquial name — the “ascension kit.” Without an ascension kit, it is incredibly hard to win the game.
Third, each player is ultimately going to the same place. Thus, it makes sense that each player will need to acquire the same immunities and items and skills, because each player will ultimately be facing many of the same challenges.
[Side note: It’s possible to play the game trying deliberately to avoid the standard routes. There are known strategies for such “voluntary challenges.” They’re a lot harder to play. Though success in playing a voluntary challenge will give bragging rights, no one really disputes that the standard route — maximize your attributes and immunities and put together an ascension kit — is the strategy to follow for the greatest likelihood of winning the game.]
There will be minute differences, of course. One character will use one type of magical sword; another will use a slightly different sword. Different quests will result in slightly different strengths and weaknesses. But in the end, almost no one wins the game without maximized attributes, a full set of magical immunities, a bag of holding, a set of dragon armor (further enhanced by added magic), a highly-enhanced magical weapon, the right assortment of magical wands and rings, and so on.
It’s funny that characters who start out so differently converge to the same point, but it happens. It happens not out of a desire for homogeneity, but rather because there are certain choices, attributes, items, that are simply the best or most useful for arriving at the endpoint.
And even though all of the characters look similar, they all, arrived through different avenues. Yes, everyone shows up in the astral plane (the last stage of the game) with a blessed bag of holding. But one found her bag in the gnomish mines; another won hers after a game of a sokoban; a third bought hers from a shop in the dungeon; a fourth never did find the bag and ultimately had to use a wish to obtain one. Even when they end up at the same place, their stories make them different.
Can the same be said about eternal progression?
As we become closer to God and closer to becoming the people God wants us to be, we develop the attributes — love for others, knowledge, and so forth — that we’re going to want to develop anyway. And as we develop, in some says we become more similar to each other and less dissimilar. However, even as we become similar, our stories differ, and this is because even if we ultimately want to end up in more or less the same place, we all start our journey from different points.
Like Nethack players, we may all look the same when we have ascended — but we’ll each have vastly different chronicles of how we arrived.