I've previously threatened on numerous occasions to write a dissertation about the concept of religion in the ReBoot universe.
Well, I finally did it.
Be warned, it's a little long.
I come from the Net;
Through peoples, cities, and systems to this place: MainFrame
My format, Guardian;
To Mend and Defend,
To defend my newfound friends,
Their hopes and dreams,
To defend them from their enemies
They say The User lives outside the ‘Net and imputs games for pleasure
No one knows for sure, but I intend to find out.
The last two lines have begged the question for four seasons and seven years. The concept of the user is referenced throughout the entire series, but not until extremely late in the fourth season is it addressed in any detail, and even that is minimal. Opinions on the user vary from the atheistic views of Fax Modem- “There is no user. That’s just mass psychosis induced by the Guardians,” (#22, Trust No One)- to Bob’s “radical” theories about a kind and loving user that would not knowingly release evil into cyberspace (#42, What’s Love Got to Do With It?). Most, however, seems to view the user as a polar combination of provider and punisher. Games and viruses plague the city, tears continue to pop up, all of cyberspace is nearly overrun by a Kron virus, and yet its citizens believe that their user is ultimately there to look out for them; “The user sends what he can to make our lives a little better…usually,” (Phong: #11, Infected). Sprites’ interpretations of the user also seem to vary from system to system. Witness the citizens of MainFrame and those of the run-down system in episode #28, Icons; both are isolated home computers only recently hooked up to the wider world of the internet. Each has a single user who is viewed as a deity. This seems to be the consensus of most systems. Indeed, the theology is reminiscent of ancient Greece in that each system has a local patron deity (user) that ultimately governs their domain. This is most likely a continuing tradition leftover from the old green-screen, 8-bit days of Tron.
In The Beginning
Tron (Tron, 1982, Walt Disney) was the original Guardian. In the ancient days of the late 70s and early 80s, cyberspace was in its pre-history. The text of those times seems almost Biblical with the Command.com acting more like a prophet than an administrator. Sprites were able to interact with their user directly. There was no world wide web, no internet, only one bulky machine which they called home. The user had made the system and everything in it- and then came to check things out. The MPC- in a fit of Lucifer-like vanity- pulled a HAL (2001: A Space Odessy, 1978, Universal) and subsequently made life extremely difficult for both the user and the citizen’s of the system. Through the joint efforts of Tron and his user Flynn, order was restored and out of these acts of heroism came the first collective of Guardians.
Time passes, however, and by the time ReBoot rolls around, the sprites seem to have a slightly more relaxed, yet strangely cynical view of their user. Most citizens appear to have a “keep out of his way, and he’ll keep out of yours” attitude towards him; only invoking the name in prayer (“User have mercy on the ‘Net…” Turbo, #43, Sacrifice), praise (“Thank the User! We are saved!” Phong, #39, End Prog) and, one would assume, cursing (not unlike many organic citizens of the “user” world). With the exception of Phong, who appears to share the position of Command.com with Dot, assuming the role of spiritual leader while Dot handles the paperwork- most do not seem to be terribly concerned about their relationship with the user or even his existence until a game descends on the city. This seems to be a rather universal mindset if Dixon (#42, What’s Love Got To Do With It?) and Turbo (#31, The Episode With No Name) are any indication. However, there does appear to be a distinct difference in how citizens of individual home computer systems and those of the SuperComputer and larger universe of the ‘Net interpret the concept of the user.
If the citizens of individual home systems are monotheistic, those of the SuperComputer would appear to be polytheistic. While this seems to vary from sprite to sprite, (both Bob and Turbo appear to have a more traditional view of the subject), Dixon’s comments to Bob indicate that she is speaking for the Guardian collective. What gives her away most is her grammar: “A User made him (Kilobyte) this way. A User programmed him to destroy, to infect, to corrupt. Why a User does such a thing is beyond our capacity to understand so there’s no point trying” (Dixon, #42, What’s Love Got To Do With It?). Whereas Bob and Turbo and most of the rest of the cast use the singular “the”, Dixon instead uses the plural “a”, revealing the fact that she acknowledges that there is more than one user- perhaps recognizing every user of every system. In Dixon’s mind, all those users are individual, separate, each with their own identity and temperament. She probably developed this concept playing multi-player networked games such as Ever Quest and World of Warcraft on the ‘Net (#16, When Games Collide). Bob uses the plural “a” here as well, but this is most likely a subordinate response, matching his speech to that of a superior office. In all other instances, Bob refers to the user as a singular entity. Indeed, he seems to have adopted a unique system view that either masses all users into one overarching deity, or establishes a higher power above the individual system users.
Fight the Good Fight
Guardians, beginning with Tron, were originally established to execute two commands: to play games and to repair corrupted data, a mission still evident in their statement of purpose: to mend and defend. The original Guardians were specially written to be faster, stronger, and more adept at game play and problem solving than the average sprite. As time wore on, however, it became possible for average citizens to obtain the necessary upgrades and training in order to join the Guardian collective as demonstrated by Bob giving Enzo a field commission of Guardian, First Level (#23, Web World Wars).
While no longer a special breed, Guardians are still an elite class of sprite. They alone have the ability to mend tears and are immune to almost all forms of viral infestation. Guardians protect the citizens of the ‘Net and play games in their place. However, the stationing of Guardians throughout the ‘Net does not seems to be equally distributed. Captain Capacitor remarks, “I’ll wager a Guardian would fetch a mighty price in any system, we could even use him in ours!” (#07, The Crimson Binome). Later, as we follow Enzo and AndrAIa as they travel across the ‘Net, the software pirate’s statement is confirmed. Unlike MainFrame, not every system has a resident Guardian. Turbo himself laments that the ‘Net has become so vast that it is becoming extremely difficult to police (#42, What’s Love Got to Do With It?). Judging from the few examples of the non-infected Guardian collective we can assume that the Guardians function much like a military unit acting as a sort of military police with jurisdiction above that of the local CPUs (City Protection Units) (#21, Gigabyte; #22, Trust No One; and #23, Web World Wars). But how do these soldiers relate to the entity they interact with on a near-secondly basis?
The Face of God
The viewer is presented with the same confusing dichotomy as the citizens of cyberspace; a user who downloads much-needed upgrades only to play ever more complex and difficult games that may or may not destroy the very beings that keep the system running. The user is initially presented to us without a face in the form of driverless vehicles: a space ship (#01, The Tearing), a race car (#02, Racing the Clock), and an empty suit of armor (#03, The Quick and the Fed). It is not until episode #05, The Tiff, that the user is actually given a face; the smug sneer of an escaped convict. Granted we do not know the plot of the game Starship Alcatraz, but it seems telling that the first glimpse of the user is that of criminal and villain. We do not see the user again until episode #08, Enzo the Smart. This time he appears as a four-person team of athletes. While these users are not villainous per se, they have entirely too much ego to make them likeable; the same goes for the band of users in the Ever Quest homage, A Dungeon Deep (#09, Wizards, Warriors, and a Word from Our Sponsor). The only other group of users featured in the series is the trio of golfers- this time three individual players accessing a networked system instead of one user puppeting multiple characters- indulging in a game of Fairway Frolics (#30, Number 7) who seem not only harmless but cuddly.
Games vary in difficulty and quality and so, it would seem, do users, most notably the tank in Basic Combat (#12, Identity Crisis I). That episode is unique in that it is the only one to depict a decidedly inept user. Enzo goes so far as to remark that the user may not yet have learned how to drive and Bob urges him to “do everyone a favor and put it out of its misery” (#12, Identity Crisis I). It is a marked departure from what is commonly presented in a user. The user wears other guises, all of them vastly different, depicting everything from an indifferent submarine (#19, AndrAIa), the sheer off-the-wall madness of Rocky the Rabid Raccoon (#25, Between a Raccoon and a Hard Place and #45, Life’s a Glitch), to the malelovant battle demon Zayten (#27, Game Over). Despite the fact that as the ones playing the title role of the games, and therefore the hero; few, if any, users feel like the “good guy”. The only possible exceptions to this rule would be Santa Clause (#26, Firewall) and Austin Powers (#40, Daemon Rising) who are too foolish to be perceived as a legitimate threat. The commonality shared by all but those three users is a tough, almost unbeatable prowess that can only be vanquished through quick wit, creative ingenuity, determination, and a healthy dose of plain old dumb luck. This is the case in almost every game played in MainFrame and other parts of the 'Net. How then, does one approach a deity like this?
We have yet to see any churches, temples, or houses of worship in the show, possibly because they do not exist as individual institutions. Using Phong, Wise One (#28, Icons) and Daecon (# 40, Daemon Rising) as examples, it would seem that Church and State are still intermixed with the Principle Office acting as both city center and place of worship. Whether or not there is “church on Sundays” is up for debate, especially since the user visits the system on a fairly regular, if not always friendly, basis. Games descend upon the city often and citizens must either run for their lives in order to get out from under the game cube before it reaches the ground, or brave the challenge the user has set before them (#19, AndrAIa). Bob is the only one- aside from Enzo, initially too young to fully understand the potential danger- who appears to enjoy the near-secondly havoc that games incur. Granted he has the advantage of being a trained professional and is extremely competent in his job, but Bob seems to derive a pleasure and satisfaction in facing off with the user that is not exhibited in the rest of the cast.
Dot, perhaps due to her tragic family history, has a deep resentment, even fear, of games. However, she is a highly competent player and will more than do her part to help win should she become trapped inside one. She has won several games either on her own or with assistance from Bob, Enzo, or another cast member (#05, The Tiff; # 13, Identity Crisis II; #24, To Mend and Defend; #41, Cross Nodes). Unlike the boys, there is no personal joy in her victories, only relief in seeing her friends and family emerge safe.
Enzo, likely due to Bob’s influence, is an avid fan of games. As a child, he doesn’t begin to grasp the full significance of losing a game until late in the second season (#19, AndrAIa). Regardless, he does manage to win several games, three of which entirely on his own (#03, The Quick and The Fed; #08, Enzo the Smart; #16, When Games Collide; #43, Sacrifice). Enzo’s enthusiasm for games does not wane over the years, but his respect for the danger they pose increases exponentially. However, he does not seem to lose any of the enjoyment he receives from playing games even as an embittered adult. Indeed, games seem to be the only other joy in his life besides AndrAIa. Enzo has more experience in dealing with the user than most. His best friend (later, girlfriend) is an Artificial Intelligence game sprite and they eventually use games as a method of travel (#19, AndrAIa, #28, Icons). This enables them both to gain a great deal of experience in an extremely short amount of time. While angry at the hand life has dealt him, Enzo does not seem to hold a grudge against the user, that dubious honor belongs to Megabyte. Enzo has proven himself a worthy opponent of the user, and seems to glory in the challenges presented to him, enjoying the resulting hero-worship. However, each victory is a notch in Gun’s handle. The adult Enzo likes being the one to come out on top, the reassurance of his own strength and intelligence. His victories are often forced through cheating as often as sheer brute strength, a strategy that will, eventually, fail.
Bob, as a Guardian, is specially trained to make system repairs and to play and win games. He clearly enjoys games, but recognizes the risk he is taking in facing off with what is, to him, God. One wonders if he sees the games as an almost religious experience? In contrast to the grown-up Enzo, Bob seems less consumed with proving himself. Instead, he treats the games like an endless round of sparring matches, facing the user challenge after challenge as a student to his master. Bob plays games in order to learn from the user, to meet with him in person the only way he knows how. Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, Bob continues to fight, refusing to give up until he is blessed (Genesis 32: 24-27). What is more remarkable is Bob’s ability to repeatedly pull victories out of thin air. It is almost as if he is waiting for the user to show him the answer and in many cases that is what he does. Bob discovers the user’s weakness and is able to exploit it, but it isn’t vicious; such discoveries happen almost entirely by accident, as if the user is purposely giving himself away. Whether this is true or not, we probably will never know. Regardless, Bob doesn’t measure himself by his ability to win games- indeed when he takes the Code Master into the game and attempts to lose on purpose he seems very much at peace with his impending nullification (#15, High Code). It is his ability to keep up with- not necessarily beat- the user that is important.
A Fair and Just God
While Bob’s ideals may or may not be true, they are undoubtedly unique and he is apparently the only sprite to hold such beliefs. No one else in the cast shares Bob’s conviction that the user is ultimately there for the good of the system. It seems even the inhabitants of cyberspace struggle with the puzzle of divine logic, and the age-old question of why bad things happen to good sprites. Dixon in particular has a rather cynical approach toward games and the user, especially concerning the subject of viruses. Where Bob struggles with the concept of evil running around unchecked, Dixon simply passes it off as either too complex, or not worth her time; “Guardians are here to mend and defend okay, not sit around trying to work out the way a user thinks and why viruses are introduced into systems,” (#42, What’s Love Got to Do With It?). She is there to do her job. Period. Attempting to understanding the psyche of a user does not interest her and she makes this abundantly clear to the rookie in her charge.
Perhaps it is because Bob views games as a form of worship that he is able to believe in a loving user that would not knowingly put his people in danger. According to Bob’s philosophy, the user would not intentionally create and then release a virus into the ‘Net. From Dixon’s reaction was can assume that Bob’s philosophy is unusual in the extreme. She is not simply boggled, but ashamed of his ideas, going so far as to remark that she is glad the Prime Guardian (Turbo) hasn’t heard about them. However, Bob has already voiced his opinions to the head of the Guardian collective and Turbo evidently agrees with Dixon by labeling Bob’s theories as “radical” (#42, What’s Love Got To Do With It?). Regardless, even after countless mishaps and failures such as the death of his partner, the destruction of MainFrame’s twin city (#40, Daemon Rising), the return of Gigabyte (#21, Gigabyte), and Megabyte’s Trojan Horse capabilities (#47, Crouching Binome, Hidden Virus), Bob’s faith remains unshakeable. He is determined to prove his theory that not all viruses are incurable; that system healing does not have to come in the form of deletion. Hexadecimal is proof of this. However, she is very much a law unto herself and it is uncertain whether or not Turbo would have accepted her conversion as legitimate. Still, in Bob’s mind she was a success, validation of his belief that even the worst beings have some good at their core programming.