VR Game In ‘3 Body Problem’ Explained: Who Made The San-Ti Game?


Based on Liu Cixin’s book series, Netflix’s 3 Body Problem is essentially an alien invasion story. The species in question has been termed the San-Ti, and the planet that’s being invaded is, of course, Earth. In the 1960s, a young Ye Wenjie was taken in by the Chinese government to work on a project that involved communicating with aliens. She was successful, and even though the aliens warned her about an invasion, she went ahead with the decision to allow it to happen to Earth. In 2024, the laws of physics started to go haywire on Earth. Several scientists started seeing countdowns before their eyes. Many of them died by suicide. And then there were some who got their hands on a weird, logo-less VR headset. It was a mystery for Detective Da Shi, but when he started to surveil Jin Cheng and Jack Rooney, the headset’s mystery became clear.

Spoiler Alert

How Did Jin Get The San-Ti VR Game?

After Vera’s death, Jin visited her house to comfort Ye Wenjie. While going through her stuff, she got her hands on the aforementioned VR set. She was mesmerized by the realism of the virtual reality that it was able to create while being perplexed by the lack of branding and company logos on it. When the awe wore off, she started playing the game where a man and a child (who bore a resemblance to a young Vera) guided her to their supreme leader to come up with a solution to a unique problem that his subjects were facing. Apparently, the planet in the game had a chaotic era and a stable era. The player had to figure out how long either of those eras would last, thereby informing the ruler if he should allow his subjects to rehydrate or stay dehydrated. What does that mean? Well, the species on this planet looked like humans, but they weren’t humans. This species apparently dehydrated themselves into a ball of skin to survive the extreme climates brought upon by a chaotic era. During the stable era, the ball of skin was thrown into a water body, and they became whole again, which allowed them to go about their daily lives.

Jin figured out that she was up against the AI of the game, which was running simulations on the durations of the stable and chaotic eras, and the child was there to give her someone to save because if a player doesn’t have the incentive to save someone, they wouldn’t be invested in the game. But that didn’t help her a lot because she couldn’t figure out a way to solve this unique problem. She roped in her friend, Jack Rooney, but when he put on her headset, a lady with a katana kept chopping his head off because the headset wasn’t meant for him, which indicated that there was some kind of unique ID associated with it. However, if the headset was Vera’s, how did Jin get to use it? Well, I’ll come to that in a bit. Coming back to the narrative around the game, Rooney got his hands on his very own headset and faced the same problems that Jin did. They tried to tackle the issue by entering the game at the same time as two separate players, and the game adjusted accordingly, thereby becoming a multiplayer or cooperative virtual reality video game. That was when they started to make some headway.

What Did the San-Ti Want to Teach Humans?

The first solution that Jin and Rooney arrived at was that the planet in the video game was in the middle of three suns. When the planet was pulled towards one of the suns, and it revolved around it consistently, it entered its stable era. When the planet was pulled by the gravitational forces of all three suns, thereby making it revolve around all of them in an inconsistent way, it was in its chaotic era. That didn’t stop the in-game world from going up in flames, as it usually did at the end of every round, but Jin and Rooney got to level up because they had figured out the titular Three Body Problem. In the next level, they managed to figure out that there wasn’t any solution to the aforementioned problem. Making a correct assessment of the chaotic and stable eras wouldn’t ensure the survival of the species, but helping some of them get to somewhere safe would mean that they’d get to rebuild their civilization without being bullied by three bloody suns. In case the point of the game wasn’t clear enough, Rooney and Jin sat down with Tatiana, who told them that since the alien species, known as San-Ti, couldn’t live on their planet, they were aiming to relocate. When Ye Wenjie gave them the green light to come to Earth, they started their journey, and they’ll be there after 400 years.

At the cost of repeating myself, the whole point of the game in 3 Body Problem wasn’t to find a solution; it was to empathize with the plight of the species who were doomed to suffer because of a cosmic anomaly. Jin understood that, but Rooney didn’t. That’s why he was killed by Tatiana, and Jin was welcomed into this sect or cult that was preparing for the arrival of the San-Ti, led by Ye Wenjie and her lover and colleague, Mike Evans. Yes, Wenjie and Evans were integral to the creation, distribution, and monitoring of the virtual-reality game. They picked out the best minds in the world. With the help of the aliens, they gave them a taste of what it was like to live as a San-Ti. And if they understood and empathized with their predicament, they were allowed to enter their group, which essentially worshiped them as the species that’d liberate mankind from their self-destructive habits. Vera never got her hands on that VR set. It was always meant for Jin because Wenjie knew (through Vera) how gifted she was. She used Jin’s love for Vera and her curiosity to make her a part of the project. That said, Wenjie didn’t manage to get Jin fully on board with their efforts to welcome the San-Ti because her empathy for humans was greater than what she felt for the San-Ti.

Who made the San-Ti VR game?

3 Body Problem didn’t fully explain how the San-Ti game came into existence, how it functioned, or how it was being monitored in real-time on Mike Evans’ ship, Judgement Day (too on the nose). So, all I can do is speculate. At some point, Mike Evans and the San-Ti must’ve arrived at the conclusion that the best way to create a group that’d allow humans to learn about the San-Ti and vice versa was a virtual reality game. The San-Ti were able to communicate with Mike via their sophisticated computers, called Sophons, in real-time. However, they weren’t able to send any physical devices to Mike, which means that the San-Ti couldn’t have made the VR headsets. It was manufactured by Mike and his billion-dollar company. They hand-picked the brightest minds in the world and then delivered the headsets to them. We can assume that the headset functioned as a medium between Judgement Day, the San-Ti, and the players in question. The data was probably transferred from the headset to Judgement Day via the Sophons or some complicated WiFi internet system, and the results were recorded on that red hard disk. So, even though it seemed like Mike’s man was in charge of the simulations that Jin, Rooney, and several other players were in, he was merely monitoring them while the San-Ti were puppeteering every aspect of them.

Yes, Jin and Rooney’s obsession with the San-Ti game in 3 Body Problem was an allegory for gaming addiction, as we saw them losing touch with reality, their family, and their friends. But on the flip side, it showed how educational a game can be. While reading and watching documentaries about certain issues can teach people, problem-solving games can be more immersive, and they can embed the underlying message in a concrete fashion. That said, the final result will always depend on the player. If someone is empathetic from the start and the game wants to teach empathy, they’ll get it. If someone is not empathetic to begin with, regardless of the quality of the game, they aren’t going to get its point. Do I think that San-Ti’s way of conveying their message about why their world was doomed and why they were traveling to Earth was elegant, and a role-playing game instead of a problem-solving game would’ve been better? Yes. Was it a good way to recruit geniuses? Yes. Did the game have bad graphics despite that? Also, yes! I don’t think that was the show’s way of telling us that since San-Ti was using man-made technology for their VR game, the graphics were bad. I think that the Netflix show just had undercooked VFX and CGI, period. Will we see the VR game evolve in a potential second season of 3 Body Problem? Yes, absolutely. We saw Tatiana getting one of those headsets. Who knows how Sophon and San-Ti will use it this time? Well, whatever it is, I hope it’s interesting and has good graphics.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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