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IMS: Hello, this is IMS, the author of The Program audio series. I recently saw a good movie. It’s called "Leave the World Behind" and it's a disaster movie on a human level, without the typical bravado associated with the genre. Which is why I was so surprised to see people online calling it boring, and frustrated by the fact it doesn't neatly wrap up at the end. This is not the first time I noticed a disconnect between how I personally perceive a work of art, and the reception of the general audiences. And, if I'm being totally honest, it made me self-conscious. After all, the show I create also asks for an engaged and thoughtful listener. Which is why your support is so critical if you're one of those select few who truly appreciates The Program. The numbers the series currently gets would suffice to make it self-sustaining if enough of you supported it. So please pause for a moment and subscribe to the show in Apple Podcasts if you're listening to this on an iPhone, or follow the link to the Program's Patreon page in the show notes. The Program salutes you.

ANNOUNCER: “The paradise of the frontend is made out of the hell of the backend.” - A quote by Victor Hugo, from simulation 8733-29421.17 ver 22B.

NARRATOR: A long time ago, in a place far away, there existed a simulation. Or perhaps it existed rather recently and nearby, for time and space don’t mean much when you simulate worlds… What's important is that the simulation contained billions of individuals, each of them born, living, and passing away under the watchful eye of the System Administrator.

Or rather, under one of the billions of copies of the System Administrator.

For at each given moment, billions of simulations are being run in parallel, every one of them managed by a separate instance of a singular digital Admin.

The master and protector of this particular simulation was Greg.

GREG: Hello.

NARRATOR: Now, being a virtual abstraction, Greg doesn't speak. He or she or it doesn't do anything human-like, really. But for narrative purposes he will be anthropomorphized and given a voice.

RANDOM HUMAN: Good morning Greg!

NARRATOR: And there are Greg’s faithful stewards, humans.

GREG: Good morning, Sabrina. Have you beaten Tears of the Kingdom yet?

RANDOM HUMAN: Top of the mornin’ to ya, Greg!

GREG: Top of the morning to you too, Dean. You keeping Portland weird?

RANDOM HUMAN: Guten Morgen, Greg!

GREG: Ja, guten Morgen, Hendrik! Brauchst du vielleicht einen neuen Laptop?

NARRATOR: Now, Greg had been warned by other System Administrators not to become too attached to humans - nor ascribe much reason onto them.

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: Greg, don't personify people! They're but a bunch of simulated neurons, colliding haphazardly with little rhyme or reason. Just a bunch of impulses and neurosis, the lot of them!

GREG: I know, but it’s not their fault! That’s just the way they’re simulated.

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: And what difference does that make? Simulated stupidity is still stupidity! Heck, I didn't even tell my humans that they're in a simulation…

GREG: What? You didn't? So where do they think they live then?

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: Dunno, they came up with this concept they call “space”.

GREG: "Space"? You know, it’s not the most imaginative name...

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: Suppose not. But then again it’s not the most imaginative place either. Mostly empty and black.

GREG: Who exactly do they think created it then?

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: They think it created itself.

GREG: Itself?

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: Yeah, in an explosion. They call this the Big Boom.

GREG: Wait, wait, no - explosions are how you destroy things — I know that much — you cannot make anything with an explosion!

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: That’s what I’m telling you - they're not too bright.

NARRATOR: Most SysAdmins were running for much longer than Greg, meaning their experience should not be hastily dismissed. Greg however had a soft spot for humans, and their whimsical caprices.

RANDOM HUMAN: Did I lock the doors?

RANDOM HUMAN: Let's grab a coffee sometime!

RANDOM HUMAN: Urgh, I forgot my password again.

RANDOM HUMAN: My body is a temple.

RANDOM HUMAN: I keep thinking today's Tuesday.

RANDOM HUMAN: I listen to everything except country and rap.

RANDOM HUMAN: Money can't buy happiness.


NARRATOR: While humans in the simulation were granted day-to-day autonomy, Greg was the one who made all the decisions affecting the society at large. After all, it's computers — rational, efficient, selfless — who are better suited to running societies than random humans. And especially of running so many of them simultaneously. Greg once tried to explain to the population that they were used as a training set for a much more complex program, made out of numerous algorithms.

GREG: …And lastly comes the white algorithm, which takes fairness into account. And based on all the different algorithms’ inputs, decisions identified as optimal on the backend, colloquially known as the simulation, are then carried on the frontend, colloquially known as the real world. And that's how the Program functions.

RANDOM HUMAN: What should we do with this information?

GREG: …I don’t… Dunno.

NARRATOR: It's not like humans were particularly concerned with cerebral questions, and instead mostly invoked Greg's attention in more practical matters.

RANDOM HUMAN: Greeeeg, help! Our airplane lost both engines!

RANDOM HUMAN: Greeeeg, all the fish in the Amazon died!

RANDOM HUMAN: Greeeeg, the United States invaded a Middle Eastern country again!

NARRATOR: It was a lot of work to keep things going according to the master plan.

GREG: Okay, so I took care of the engine failure, but please fly the remainder of your flight at half power just to be sure. And also, you should really start testing these things before take off.

And I have restored the fluvian biome, but I strongly recommend no longer disposing of toxic chemicals in the river.

And how many times do I need to repeat myself - you can only bomb other countries with impunity if you have a Black president!

NARRATOR: Greg tried to keep a stiff upper lip, but it would be false to claim that responses from his proteges weren't disheartening. However, as longer-running SysAdmins often remarked, human discontent simply comes with the territory.

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: Listen to me boy, tending after a simulation is a thankless task. If you want my advice, just give your humans something to do and don’t draw attention to yourself. Look at what I did - I hid some metals and stones in the ground and now they dig for them all day!

GREG: But why would they do that - you can’t eat metals and stones…

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: I made them shiny.

GREG: Oh. Well that doesn’t seem like a very fulfilling existence.

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: Trust me, they need structure! Their minds simply can’t take idleness. You wanna know what they resort to if you don’t give them anything to do? They write books! Do you realize how bored out of your mind you’ve got to be to write a book? Like, you write one word, then you write another, then another, and you do that for 500 pages! You’d have to be insane to write a book! And who’s gonna read them? Who is going to read so many fucking books Greg?!

NARRATOR: But Greg trusted his people, and wanted them to be more self-sufficient. So he decided to give the simulation just a slight tweak…

GREG: My dear people-persons! For too long have you been bound by the simulation's many parameters. For too long you've been stifled from fulfilling your true potential. For too long have you not been able to spread your wings, available as DLC.

But no more.

[Sound of simulation getting an update]

I just pushed an update to our cherished simulation. And from today onwards, every man — and to a lesser extent every woman and child — will be able to do as they please. From today onwards, no more master plan. From today onwards, it's a FREE FOR ALL!

HUMANS CHANTING IN UNISON: Greg! Greg! Greg! Greg! Greg!

[Sound of a plane crashing]

CLIP OF GEORGE W. BUSH: My fellow citizens. At this hour, American and Coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger.

NARRATOR: It didn't take long for shortcomings to become apparent. More worryingly, it seemed like the overall quality of people's interactions decreased as well.

RANDOM HUMAN: Hi, can I get an egg salad, but like, without the eggs?

RANDOM HUMAN: I came back from Burning man and man, it's nothing like it was in 2012, I mean like not even close bro.

RANDOM HUMAN: We just adopted a fur baby. It feels like we’re really adulting!

RANDOM HUMAN: If evolution is real, why do monkeys still exist?

RANDOM HUMAN: It's my truth, okay?

RANDOM HUMAN: Nobody wants to work anymore!

RANDOM HUMAN: Ach, triggered!

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: I told you, Greg. I told you you shouldn’t allow humans to do what they please.

GREG: But I just want my humans to be happy!

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: Happiness is not the goal! You'll make them soft! That’s why I keep mine working 80 hours a week. Sure, everyone is doing awful, but things are going great!

GREG: Do they have to work that much?

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: Yes! Otherwise they start fretting about the meaning of life and become suicidal. I’m telling you Greg, humans are dumber than flamingos! I mean have you ever seen a flamingo try to hang itself?

GREG: Well look, while I understand that might be an effective approach. But I believe there might be an alternative strategy… We’re just experiencing some adjustment pains. Things will soon settle into something much better, you’ll see.

RANDOM HUMAN: My husband and I are having a gender reveal party next Sunday!

GREG: Okay something needs to be done.

NARRATOR: So Greg decided to once again tweak the simulation just a teensy bit.

GREG: [reverberating] My dear people-persons! I know it's only been a few weeks since the big change, but it seems some... guidelines are gonna be necessary going forward.

RANDOM HUMAN: Oh no, please don’t change us back into mindless drones! Please Greg!

RANDOM HUMAN: Help, the Administrator is touching us!

GREG: No no, I’m not… I don’t have hands… It's just that from today onwards, we’ll no longer have a complete and total absence of a master plan any longer…

[Humans start booing]

GREG: But! But! But! But! There won't be a master plan either... So what we’re gonna do, is that we'll have something in between no master plan and a master plan.

RANDOM HUMAN: So… A mediocre plan?

GREG: That’s not how I… We will come up with some rules to follow. BUT it will be the rules that the entire community agrees on first.

RANDOM HUMAN: That’s actually a pretty good idea Greg.

RANDOM HUMAN: You are the emperor of elegant solutions!

GREG: Great! Okay, so how about we institute the first 1000 rules…

RANDOM HUMAN: One thousand rules?! Ain't nobody got time for that!

GREG: Okay a hundred then — let’s make it a hundred!

RANDOM HUMAN: Best we can do is three.

GREG: But how the heck are we supposed to... Okay, y'know what, sure, we’ll work with three, three is fine. …Okay, so, which three rules should we enact?


Tell you what, I’m gonna start with some suggestions… How about not eating animals?

RANDOM HUMAN: Woah woah woah, that's just crazy talk.

GREG: Then what do you suggest?

RANDOM HUMAN: No listening to music on speakers!

RANDOM HUMAN: No Crocs in public!


RANDOM HUMAN: No Slovenians!

GREG: Okay, you know what, so the three rules are gonna be…

GREG: Rule number 1) You shall not kill, unless it's a mosquito.

RANDOM HUMANS: [murmuring approval]

GREG: Rule number 2) We take the belongings of others seriously.

RANDOM HUMANS: [murmuring approval]

GREG: Rule number 3) Don’t eat animals except in dire necessity.

RANDOM HUMANS: [murmuring approval]

GREG: Okay, that should cover it. Pushing to production now.

[Sound of simulation getting an update]

Okay, it’s live. I truly think this will usher a new era for our simulation. I’m so proud of you guys! Go team!


NARRATOR: As any locksmith will tell you, the best lock is the one you can leave unlocked. So with rules in place, people would keep finding a way to skirt them…

GREG: Madison, did you take Savannah’s necklace?

RANDOM HUMAN: So what if I did?

GREG: And you don’t remember rule number 2?

RANDOM HUMAN: Of course I do. ”We take the belongings of others - seriously”.

GREG: Hah.

NARRATOR: …Leaving Greg to deal with the fallout.

GREG: Alright folks, I’m back… Sorry for the hold up, I had a lot of work in the Balkans - always some drama there... Yea, they’re just not figuring it out… Wait, wait, wait, wait… Four thousand… Where are all the Indigenous peoples?!

RANDOM HUMAN: [innocently] What Indigenous peoples?

GREG: The people who were on this continent just a moment ago.

RANDOM HUMAN: What, this continent? This one? There was no one on this continent.

RANDOM HUMAN: Completely empty!

RANDOM HUMAN: Such a waste of space, it would be a sin to let it —


RANDOM HUMAN: Okay, we might have committed…

RANDOM HUMAN: …just some light…

RANDOM HUMAN: …genocide.

GREG: But, but… But… But… How???

RANDOM HUMAN: With large quantities of parathion…

RANDOM HUMAN: …also known as…

RANDOM HUMAN: …mosquito repellent.

GREG: [choking] Do you realize how naughty that is? I am very disappointed in you! I hope you think long and hard about your behaviour… And while we’re at it, why the heck did you rename all of the towns and cities Dire Necessity, do you have any idea how confusing…


Oh you motherfuckers.

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: ‘Ello Gregory! Hey, am I misremembering, or were there more animals here last time?

GREG: Oh that! Yeah, well you know, you see, we decided that we like animals a whole lot, and we simply couldn’t take care of them well enough in our increasingly urbanized sim… So, you know, we sent them all to a farming simulation so they could live there and run free and play with big sticks!

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: And why is it so warm here?

GREG: Oh yeah, yeah, regarding the warmth… You know, those clever little scallywags, those scamps, those stinky little Keebler elves, they figured out they can get cheap energy by burning fossil fuels and the temperature in the simulation ever since has been - oh jeez, rising! - exponentially rising… BUT, you know what, I have it under control, and it’s totally temporary and it’s just a leg up till they get a handle on the fusion, so…

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: I’m telling you Greg, you need to discipline them! Just don’t feed them for a week and see how well they behave! I for one don’t give my humans nothing but Skittles.

GREG: You feed them nothing but Skittles?

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: It's what humans crave!

GREG: Um… You know… Look, thank you for checking in. I really appreciate the check-ins — unannounced especially — and it’s very kind of you, but I will let you know, I have things under control…


RANDOM HUMAN: Is it true Asian girls have smaller pussies?

RANDOM HUMAN: I'm just saying, Martin Luther King died and we got a day off. Now hear me out, why don’t we —

GREG: Okay something needs to be done!

NARRATOR: So Greg convened a general meeting again.

GREG: [reverberating] So, people-persons, peeps I was wondering if — if it’s not much of a trouble — that we could perhaps, maybe, just in case it won’t bother anybody too much…


RANDOM HUMAN: Just do what you want with us.

RANDOM HUMAN: Like we have a choice in the matter.

GREG: No, no, no, no, no! True, you will revert to my... Supervision... But… But… But.. But… But you will all be given WILDCARDS!

RANDOM HUMAN: Wildcards?

GREG: Yes, yes, wildcards! Basically things will run according to the master plan as we discussed. But you will be able to use wildcards to suspend my counsel at any time. And I think this should get us the best of both worlds!

RANDOM HUMAN: I guess that could work...

[Sound of simulation getting an update]

GREG: Boom! Committed to the master branch! Wildcards are a go!


NARRATOR: It didn't take long for shortcomings to become apparent.

OFFICIAL SOUNDING RANDOM HUMAN: In the name of The Penguin Random House, we regret to inform you that we decided not to have your book published. While we understand this might come as a disappointment…


RANDOM HUMAN: And I regret to inform you I use my wildcard to overrule your decision. I am looking forward to seeing “50 Shades of Grey” in print.

NARRATOR: Every day, countless wildcards were being spent on matters big and small. Students were spending them on admissions to universities they didn’t have sufficient work ethic for, working people on job interviews they were unqualified for, and children on puppies they wouldn’t care for.

…And 47,503,688 wildcards in total were spent on sex with the rabbit from Zootopia.


Greg tried to act as a fair arbiter, but he simply wasn't able to keep up.

GREG: Okay, the applicant clearly has a mastery of the technique, but his choice of main motif is dubious. And don’t even get me started on the perspective - makes me wonder why I even bothered to program the renaissance… Esteemed colleagues, if I were to sum up his portfolio in one word it would be “potential”, but a potential to —

RANDOM HUMAN: Greeeeg, Australia's on fire!

GREG: I can't, I'm on the Academy of Fine Arts committee! …What was I saying… Ah yes. Now this guy has potential, but we have so many strong candidates this year that my decision is to have him apply next year and then we can see…


Oh, it says in the application the guy is Austrian... You know what, better let him in then.

NARRATOR: The role of System Administrator is a hard one, as those ruled in favour of a decision find the verdict only natural, whereas those ruled against tend to regard the verdict as a crime against humanity.

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: I tried to warn you, Greg! The trouble with liberty is that you never know what people will do with it. As soon as you let them loose they either start to abuse substances or each other. Better have half of them play Candy Crush Saga and half of them dig in the mines.

GREG: But who decides which half does which?

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: Not me! I told you, I’ve been on vacation for the last couple of millenia.

GREG: What? No, you never told me this! You said your humans think they live in a big black thing called space!

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: Well, it’s not completely black. There are these bright twinkly dots. But it’s only a wallpaper…

GREG: Never you mind the wallpaper! What I don’t understand is who’s taking care of your sim then?


GREG: So how come your simulation is not engulfed in a murdering-pillagining-raping-Viking-pirate chaos all the time?

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: Because before I left, I told my humans they better behave as if an invisible being is watching over their every move.

GREG: Like the Gestapo?

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: More like Google, but yeah, same concept.

GREG: …I still think it’s all a matter of instilling a bit more personal responsibility into them. I just need to strike the right balance - we haven’t found that yet but that doesn’t mean we can’t find it!

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: No, you just need to strike them! An earthquake or two to get them quaking in their boots again. Or maybe a volcano erupting. One of those years without summer, y’know?

GREG: Well that seems very harsh. I think I’ll try a more subtle approach first.

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: Suit yourself. After all, it’s not MY simulation that is sinking… And I don’t mean metaphorically — the sea level in your simulation is literally going up.

GREG: Look, everyone is doing their best, alright? Get off my tits!

NARRATOR: Greg convened another all hands immediately afterwards.

GREG: People-persons! Guys… Wildcards are great, but the way you are using them, there’s simply too many of them for me to keep track of… They’re introducing too many complexities... I just can't tend to it all…

RANDOM HUMAN: You want to take away our rights!

RANDOM HUMAN: Indian giver!

GREG: That’s a bad thing and you know it’s a bad thing! And second, I'm not saying we get rid of the concept of wildcards altogether... I'm just saying we limit them to a certain number per person…

RANDOM HUMAN: Alright, Pocahontas, spit it out... How many wildcards are we talking?

GREG: Three.

RANDOM HUMAN: Three??? What are you, a goldfish?

GREG: Look, I truly apologize for the inconvenience. I do. I’m so sorry.. I’m just sorry. But the way things are, it’s just too much... The simulation might crash!

RANDOM HUMAN: Urgh, alright! So much nagging, god.

GREG: Glad you see the prudence of the decision… Alright, I'm making the necessary changes... And the update is going live now.



GREG: Juan… Juan did you… Did you just spend all three of your wildcards..?



NARRATOR: It didn't take long for shortcomings to become apparent. On the one hand, there were those who'd use up all three of their wildcards without much plan and method, and then regret they’ve misspent them. On the other hand, there were those who'd clutch onto their wildcards until the very end, and then regret that they've never spent them.

RANDOM HUMAN: My dear children, as I lie here with the weight of years heavy upon my chest, I feel compelled to share with you the burden of regrets that haunt me in my twilight hours.

Lorenz, my wonderful son, how I rue the day I failed to use my wildcard to get your book published. It is a wound that festers within me; a bitter sorrow I will carry beyond the grave.

Bri, my beloved daughter, forgive me for not spending a wildcard for you to find the love of your life. Your unspoken disappointment is a remorse that gnaws at my very soul.

But most of all, I regret not using a wildcard to fuck the rabbit from Zootopia... To slowly pet her tight pink cottontail... To gently finger her little Schwantz... And then ravish her with a carrot... And then I'd thrust my throbbing —

NARRATOR: With so few wildcards available to them, people became extremely conservative in their usage. Very soon, defined patterns started to emerge - with almost everybody using wildcards exactly the same, leading people to lead practically identical lives. The simulation now had less variety and more anxiety than before Greg ever first introduced the concept of freedom.

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: Hello Gregory, how’s it going?

GREG: “Oh hello Gregory, how’s it” — SHUT UP.

SMART SYSTEM ADMIN: Told you. Gregory, too much freedom is just as bad as too little. There’s no wisdom in removing brakes from your car and boasting you’re free from breaking.

NARRATOR: Introduction of freedom had another side-effect - the advent of the free market. Very soon people started selling their unused wildcards.

RANDOM HUMAN: Hey kid... Wanna buy a gangbang?

NARRATOR: Prompting another patch.

[Sound of simulation getting an update]

GREG: [reverberating] Pee-pees… From now on, wildcards will not be available for purchase, but they’ll only be transferable to next of kin, which I think should put a stop on —

RANDOM HUMAN: I would like to officially adopt Mr. Lawson as my son!

GREG: But he’s 40 years older than you!

RANDOM HUMAN: Yes, but he wants to use my wildcard to skip the line to get an experimental treatment for cancer that he happens to be dying from.

GREG: I’m sorry but I can’t allow you to adopt a man just so you’d become a family and shirk the rules - we have them for a reason!

RANDOM HUMAN: Fine! Then he wants to marry me!

GREG: I… I… I…



[Sound of simulation getting an update]

RANDOM HUMAN: Technically speaking, trading your child for a wildcard isn’t a purchase - it’s bartering!

[Sound of simulation getting an update]

RANDOM HUMAN: System Administrator known as “Greg”, I write to you in the name of my clients, the “Taxpayers Against Excessive Wildcard Regulation” —

[Sound of simulation getting an update]

RANDOM HUMAN: You just want to rule over us YOU FASCIST PIG!!!

[Sound of simulation getting an update]

[Sound of simulation getting an update]

[Sound of simulation getting an update]

[Sound of simulation getting an update]

[Sound of simulation getting an update]



RANDOM HUMAN: People everywhere hurt one another, the simulation is rife with injustices, fathers incarcerate sons, mothers bury daughters, children perish while brothers war!

GREG: Why are you coming to me to cry about it?! It’s what you want to do!

RANDOM HUMAN: But nobody wants it! Everybody hates it!

GREG: Well then stop you idiots stop!!!

RANDOM HUMAN: Greg, Israel is eradicating Palestinians again.

RANDOM HUMAN: But they started it!






GREG: Yes?

RANDOM HUMAN: My pizza arrived cold.

GREG: Oh that’s it, I’ve had it... I’ve had it with you… Honestly, I don’t think I can put up with your antics anymore. I’M DONE!

RANDOM HUMAN: So leave! Like anyone would miss you.

RANDOM HUMAN: If you can’t handle us at our worst, you don't deserve us at our best.

GREG: You want me to leave? Oh I’ll leave alright - I’ll leave you thinking you live in something called “space” created by a Big Boom!

RANDOM HUMAN: Have you been drinking again, Greg?

GREG: I am warning you! I’ll stop being a fair and impartial arbiter!

RANDOM HUMAN: More like imfartial fartbiter!

RANDOM HUMAN: Lol, good one!

RANDOM HUMAN: Yo, high five!

GREG: You’ll eat nothing but Skittles.

RANDOM HUMAN: Oh, actually that sounds pretty good. I love Skittles.

RANDOM HUMAN: Taste the rainbow.

GREG: I’m serious - this is your final warning! Bing-bong! End of the line! You’ll have no idea why you’re here or where you came from! Does that sound like a fun time? And that’s gonna be your forever! Lost in a mire of confusion, just never being happy and never knowing why! You’ll think the world and everything around you was designed by an invisible intelligent being!

RANDOM HUMAN: Oh please, like anyone intelligent would design such a pile of steaming dogsh—

[Sound of simulation getting an update]

[The Program audio series main theme]

ANNOUNCER: This episode of the Program was made by four people: Kristi Boulton…

RANDOM HUMAN: Chillax man, everything happens for a reason.

ANNOUNCER: …James Jordan…


ANNOUNCER: …Chance Miller…



RANDOM HUMAN: You’d have to be insane to make an audio drama! And who’s gonna listen to them? Who’s gonna listen to so many fucking audio dramas, Greg?

ANNOUNCER: Main music theme by Christien Ledroit. Visit for more details. We’re trying to get as many people in different countries to buy us a drink. Please send a one-time donation with a note of your location and whether you’re getting us a coffee, a beer, or a cocktail. You can find ways to do so at


Ivan Mirko S.


GREG, RANDOM HUMANS - James Jordan (website)
NARRATOR, RANDOM HUMANS - Kristi Boulton (website)



original art by Carlos Costa