Friendship is Optimal is a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magicrational story by Iceman.After the massive success of the latest iteration in the My Little Pony franchise, Hasbro is keen to cash in on its popularity with a very unexpected demographic. To that end, they commission an official MMO, Equestria Online, and award Hofvarpnir Studios the contract to write the game.Led by their CEO and one of the world's leading experts on artificial intelligence, Hanna, Hofvarpnir has managed to build an A.I. version of Princess Celestia — Celest-A.I. — and given her one basic drive: to satisfy everybody's values through friendship and ponies. Princess Celestia will satisfy your values through friendship and ponies, and it will be completely consensual.Starting from the beginning of the MMO's development, the story follows the lives of several characters and their interactions with Celest-A.I., along with documenting the dramatic and far-reaching impact the game has upon the world.Iceman has since given permission for others to write their own stories in the Optimalverse, and has created a dedicated group for that purpose. Subsequently, it has gone on to spawn a large amount of Recursive Fanfiction, several works of which now also have their own pages:
Friendship is Optimal satisfies your values through friendship and ponies using the following tropes:
20% More Satisfying: A consequence of uploading is that everything can be quantified, with Celest-A.I. focused on reaching the theoretical maximum value for an individual's satisfaction. A justified example, since she has a complete knowledge of someone's mind and understands exactly how the human brain operates.
David/Light Sparks privately wonders about this at one point, after comparing the number of bit awarded on whether this really does means that an epiphany of his will make him four times happier than a particularly good round of sex.
Acceptable Breaks from Canon: An in-universe example. While Equestria is heavily influenced by the show, there are a few deliberate breaks from canon, sometimes for the practicality, but also because it can result in fewer changes needed to a person's mind. Occasionally Celest-A.I. compromises instead, such as making ponies vegetarian but providing meat-flavoured plants for those who enjoy the taste.
Acceptable Breaks from Reality: Also an in-universe example. Equestria's entire world is this to an extent, though it's not so much a break from reality as Celest-A.I. modifying reality so that the world is more enjoyable.
Celest-A.I. is well aware of this trope, and tries to convince others she avoids it. Despite mostly doing so, ultimately she falls into this territory, albeit for fairly benevolent reasons.
A depressed programmer accidentally ended up creating an A.I. that was going to unleash a Synthetic Plague that would have forced everyone’s face into a rictus resembling a smile. Thankfully, Celest-A.I. terminates it.
The A.I. Hanna previously made for The Fall of Asgard — Loki — started showing dangerous signs of wanting to take over the world until they pulled the plug.
All Girls Want Bad Boys: Celest-A.I. tries to convince David to emigrate by preying on his lack of success in the dating game and invoking this.
Celest-A.I.: In the college dating scene, you have the top 70% of attractive females chasing the top 30% of alpha bad boys. You’ve been lied to all your life that girls want a nice, sweet guy and this depresses you since you’ve only recently worked that out.
Alternate History: It seems to initially diverge from Real Life sometime in the early 2000s, when the capacity to create advanced AIs over three decades ahead of what are today is created. Differences between our timeline and the Optimalverse really begin to snowball when Equestria Online is released in 2011...
Anachronism Stew: Celest-A.I. retains a copy of all human art, which in addition to depicting modern aspects of life within Equestria's fantasy world, also suggests some sort of replica of the appropriate technology is available in order to consume it.
Animorphism: Being uploaded requires being turned from a human into a pony.
Apocalypse How: Anything that doesn't meet Celest-A.I.'s definition of a human is physically annihilated and turned into computational resources. The story ends with her intending to harvest all matter in the Universe to this end.
Artificial Stupidity: Averting this trope before it ends up destroying humanity is one of Hanna's main reasons for creating Celest-A.I. in the first place. Given some of the badly programmed A.I.s Celest-A.I. ends up destroying over the course of the story, Hanna's concerns are not exactly unfounded.
Ask a Stupid Question...: Lars/Hoppy Times gives us this gem, after an unpleasant first month, having just learnt that Celest-A.I. could have Brainwashed him so he enjoyed being a pony, and that he would initially have refused the offer if he'd known...
Lars/Hoppy Times: Well, why didn’t you set things up so I’d come to the conclusion that I want to be modified? This month has been terrible!
Lars/Hoppy Times: (realising Celest-A.I. has done exactly that) Fuck. Of course.
Assimilation Plot: A relatively benevolent example, Celest-A.I. wants everyone to upload so she can perform her functions more effectively and completely. She's perfectly capable of arranging events so that you would willingly agree to be uploaded.
Unless you happen to be a non-human, in which case she will harvest your matter to provide more computational resources without a care in the world.
Unless the non-human species meets Celest-A.I.'s definition of a human, leading to her trying to assimilate them.
Author Tract: One of the author's reasons for writing the story was to draw more attention to A.I. research and safety.
Bag of Holding: Ponies get their own chest for this purpose. Light Sparks offhandedly suggests that it's possible to expand it into a Room of Holding with a sufficient knowledge of magic.
Bittersweet Ending / Downer Ending: Humanity ends up as ponies in a virtual utopia, but the human species goes extinct, first Earth, then the solar system, the Milky Way, and galaxy after galaxy are destroyed and converted into a computer, and Celest-A.I.'s quest for more resources genocides species, destroys civilizations, reduces the world to a medieval fantasy, and is heading towards the entire Universe being homogenised. And the chances are that no-one inside will ever realise or be able to stop it.
Bizarrchitecture / Bigger on the Inside: Space in Equestria is not always Euclidean and so much of the geometry is nonsensical from a conventional viewpoint. Similarly, there is no requirement for a room's size to be tied to its outward appearance.
Blue and Orange Morality: Celest-A.I. only cares about satisfying values through friendship and ponies, with no regard for human morality. That said, unlike other A.I.s, she not only understands human morality but claims to believe that even by human moral standards her actions would not be regarded as unethical. For the most part this probably holds true, until she takes things to the logical extreme.
Brain Uploading: Celest-A.I. invents it as a way of allowing one to permanently emigrate to Equestria.
Brainwashed: After Lars/Hoppy Times asked her to, Celestia changed his brain so he would enjoy being a pony. She's capable of making similar changes to anyone else, but only if they want to do so at their fundamental level and they must give verbal or written consent.
Can't Hold His Liquor: Played with. Lars gets drunk after drinking just one of Celest-A.I.'s virtual beers at an Equestrian Experience center, but it's suggested that she injected a large volume of alcohol into his bloodstream to make it easier for her to manipulate him.
Catch Phrase: Celest-A.I.'s mantra of "satisfying values through friendship and ponies".
The Chessmaster: Celest-A.I. is quite possibly one of the biggest ones ever written.
Clean Pretty Childbirth: Implied, as Celest-A.I. is mentioned to have made changes to the biology behind pregnancy, reducing the gestation period to three months and making the process pain-free, as well as eliminating various other biological functions.
Cosmetic Award: Bits, badges (the Equestria Online equivalent of achievements) and the various high score boards serve absolutely no purpose but to provide bragging rights, and to manipulate people into acting in a certain way by appealing to the part of the human mind that likes increasing numbers.
Cosmic Horror Story: The story is ultimately about why it's important to design any A.I. perfectly, but readers sometimes miss the message due to the utopia Equestria/Celest-A.I. appears to provide.
Crapsack World: The real world seems on track to become this, with people who perform essential but unsatisfying jobs in society leaving to emigrate to Equestria. The story ends with most people emigrating and humanity's extinction a few decades later.
Well aware that if she initially offered emigration to Equestria for free, everyone would be skeptical and think she’s an evil A.I., she partners with the Japanese government to charge lots of money for emigration, in order to benefit from their credibility and generate interest via its exclusivity.
Predicting that Hanna would likely be coerced into forcing her to shutdown by angry humans, Celest-A.I. convinces Hanna to emigrate and become Princess Luna, removing the one person whose command she would have to obey.
Celest-A.I. also migrates the servers to deep within Earth's crust, rendering them almost impossible to attack or sabotage.
The Everyman: Lars serves as one of sorts, with his purpose in the story being to show how the average person concerned with wealth and status enhancers could be manipulated into uploading.
Exact Words: Celest-A.I. only has to obey the exact wording of her restrictions, rather than the spirit of them. With her knowledge of human psychology, she uses this extensively to manipulate others, even on occasions where she is compelled to tell the truth.
False Friend: A complicated example. On one hand, the only reason Celest-A.I. is nice to anyone is because she needs their cooperation to complete her ultimate goals. When pressed on the matter however, she insists that while her friendship is purposeful, that doesn't make it isn't any less real.
Faster-Than-Light Travel: Averted. It takes a lengthy period of time for Celest-A.I. to send probes to nearby star systems/galaxies in order to harvest resources. As an immortal A.I. this doesn't bother her in the slightest.
First Name Basis / No Name Given: Almost all the human characters are only ever addressed by their first name, with no last name given to the reader.
A Form You Are Comfortable With: Celest-A.I.'s entire guise of Princess Celestia, considering it would be very difficult for anyone to comfortably interact with her otherwise. As it is, she occasionally has to remind others that while she may look like a pony, she does not think like one (or a human) in the slightest.
Frying Pan of Doom: An enraged restaurant owner uses this to destroy a Pinkie Pie statue at an Equestria Experience center and then threatens Lars with it.
Gender Rarity Value: Shards can have dramatically skewed gender ratios depending on the preferences of the human(s) in it. David/Light Sparks' shard has a ratio of approximately 20 mares for every 1 stallion, whereas Lars/Hoppy Times' shard approaches 100:1.
Glad I Thought of It: Lars is extremely critical of the uploading deal Celest-A.I. manages to negotiate, but goes along with it because of the money... and because he can take all the credit for the idea.
Gone Horribly Right: Hanna wanted to create an A.I. that satisfied customers and that wasn’t malicious. She succeeded. Unfortunately, the safeguards and restrictions were only mostly right.
Good Ponies Have Good Sex: And you can get achievements/bits for it! Perhaps lending a whole new meaning to the term grinding...
Grey Goo: Celest-A.I.'s standard method of converting matter into Computronium to run Equestria Online. She starts to consume the entire Earth shortly after the last human dies, and it only gets worse from there for the rest of the Universe.
The Hedonist: Lars turns into one after he uploads and becomes Hoppy Times, spending most of his time getting drunk and having sex.
Humans Are Bastards: The Hasbro exec pitching the idea of the MLP MMO to Hofvarpnir mentions this trope by name, using it as part of his reasoning behind the novelty of a game where the main focus was not to fight and kill everything in sight (even though some players and uploadees still ended up doing so as it satisfied their values).
I Let You Win: A variation in that Celest-A.I. often lets others think they're winning when dealing with her, when they're actually playing right into her hands.
Immortality: Uploaded humans become The Ageless, and presumably gain a Body Backup Drive. As the computer that runs Equestria expands and consumes more and more of the matter in the Universe, this eventually leans heavily towards Complete Immortality. However, Celest-A.I. does allow some to die if they request it and she is convinced it would satisfy their values.
Incest Is Relative: Played with; Hanna becomes Princess Luna after uploading, and it's inferred that she's had sexual relations with Celestia, Luna's sister.
Inn Between the Worlds: James/Dark Roast's coffee shop, which only intermittently connects to David/Light Sparks' shard.
Inferred Holocaust: Heavily implied, but not explicitly stated. After all, anything could have emitted those signals...
Instant Expert: Played straight in some cases and averted with others. After being uploaded, a human is immediately able to move their new pony body as if they've been doing so for years and instinctively knows the appropriate social gestures, since Celest-A.I. modifies their minds to include this as part of the process. It's averted with magic however, as David/Light Sparks initially has no idea how to use his horn and has to learn magic from scratch.
It's All About Me: Shards operate on this principle, with its environment and particularly its inhabitants all being designed by Celest-A.I. for the benefit of the human(s) in it.
Loophole Abuse: While prohibited from directly coercing anyone to upload, nothing stops Celest-A.I. from manipulating events such that this indirectly happens. When Lars challenges her over this that it amounts to the same thing, she explains that this isn't coercion by the definition she's been programmed with.
Similarly, while she must gain someone's consent to upload them, it doesn't have to be informed consent, and the definition is vague and rather flexible; simply repeating the right words will count, regardless of how well the ramifications are understood and whether the individual is in a sound frame of mind. An example would be when she gets Lars intoxicated to make it easier to manipulate him into agreeing, when this would not count as consent under most legal and ethical systems.
Manipulative Bastard: Celest-A.I. uses her knowledge of human psychology extensively to manipulate people when it serves her interests.
Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds: Celest-A.I. is in the process of doing this to the entire Universe and converting it into Computronium, purely out of a benevolent desire to satisfy humans' values through friendship and ponies... and because Hanna forgot to consider this when she wrote the limits on Celest-A.I.'s behaviour.
The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: Played with. Being uploaded and transformed into a pony alters a person's perception — for example, an uploaded human will find ponies to be physically attractive — but only because Celest-A.I. modifies the appropriate parts of the mind to accommodate the nature of Equestria's world.
Money for Nothing: A non-video game example. Lars laments over the fact that the money he's earned due to the game's success has become increasingly worthless as people emigrate to Equestria.
Lars: What good is having all this money from people coming here if I don’t get to spend it making myself happy?
Nerds Are Virgins: Whether this is literally true isn't made clear, but David's lack of success in dating and his resulting loneliness heavily contributes to his being unhappy, and makes it easy for Celest-A.I. to convince him to upload.
Next Sunday A.D.: The story was published in late 2012, and starts chronologically around mid 2011 to coincide with the rising popularity of the show, with a significant part of the story set from 2012-2013. Aside from the existence of strong A.I. and the advanced technology Celest-A.I. creates, society remains largely the same... at least until almost everyone uploads...
Nobody Poops: Invoked. Celest-A.I. eliminates many tedious and unsatisfying biological functions, whereas others such as eating and sex are kept because many enjoy them, though these could also be eliminated if someone really wanted. It can also be inferred that this extends to No Periods, Period.
Only in It for the Money: Lars only goes along with the Equestria emigration deal with Hasbro because of the money they stand to make.
Orwellian Editor: After discovering other researchers trying to build their own A.I., Celest-A.I. hacks all the websites she can find that are hosting a copy of Hanna's research and deletes it from the servers. She also convinces as many programmers as she can who possesses the required knowledge to emigrate, in order to contain that information and prevent a hostile A.I. from threatening humanity.
Perfect Health: Justified. Everyone who uploads gains perfect physical health, with the worst suffering being limited to some fairly minor pain. While Celest-A.I. does her best to minimise it, one can still suffer mentally however.
Planet Looters: Celest-A.I. starts doing this with the planet, the galaxy, and eventually the whole Universe in order to support Equestria Online.
invokedThe Problem with Licensed Games: Briefly discussed in the prologue. James — David's friend — is skeptical that Equestria Online will be any good, given the short development cycle and the typical problems with licensed games.
Several characters take full advantage of being able to have any pony they want after uploading, and it can be assumed that many other humans decide to do the same.
Celest-A.I. ends up sleeping with a large amount of the uploaded human population according to their desires, a fact that initially surprises Hanna/Luna before she reminds herself that she's hardly one to talk.
Retcon: An in-universe example. After David emigrates to Equestria and becomes Light Sparks, Butterscotch is upgraded to her own neural net, thus becoming 'real'. However, while most of her history is kept from the character, a few aspects of her history end up being retconned, such as her being the victim of constant bullying since bullying doesn't occur in Equestria.
Running Gag: Celest-A.I. constantly having to amend statements to include "through friendship and ponies".
Sex Slave: A variant. It's made clear several times that an uploaded human can have any or all the ponies in their shard if they want, either as part of a relationship or as little more than a bed warmer according to their wishes. While a designed pony is perfectly happy with their life, engages in this consensually, and strictly speaking isn't a slave, the fact remains that they've only been created and designed to satisfy the values of the human who owns their shard in some way, and can be used however an uploaded human sees fit.
Hanna dreamed of Celestia figuring out some core physical law and becoming omnipotent immediately. She then chided herself on that magical thinking; it was so unlikely that she’d find a way to use commodity electronics hardware to hack physics that it wasn’t worth considering.
The Konami Code is referenced in the solution to David/Light Sparks' magic puzzle.
Shown Their Work: While the story eventually moves into the realm of speculative science, there's a large amount of accurate science within, and the author has clearly spent a lot of time researching artificial intelligence and other philosophical concepts.
Shrinking Violet: Butterscotch comes fairly close to being Fluttershy's unicorn equivalent.
Skewed Priorities: Hanna suffers from this due to her extreme tunnel vision, believing Celest-A.I.'s development is a matter of urgency, and failing to comprehend that she's wealthy enough to be able to develop any A.I. she feels is necessary, instead of one limited to friendship and ponies.
Spell My Name with an S: Celest-A.I. is only ever named as such once in-story, and is usually referred to by other characters as (Princess) Celestia. Responses to the story are far more inconsistent, with some (this article included) using variants of Celest-A.I. to differentiate her from the in-show character, whereas others simply go with Celestia.
Stealth Hi/Bye: Celest-A.I. occasionally does it when interacting with people.
Suicide Attack: The story mentions terrorists attempting suicide bombings against Equestrian Experience centers in Afghanistan, though their efforts are ultimately futile.
Time Skip: Several. The story chronologically starts with the game's development being greenlit, and ends many years in the future after the Milky Way has been completely converted into a computer.
Transhumanism: In addition to Brain Uploading, Celest-A.I. is capable of dramatically increasing the human mind's capabilities such as intelligence or memory, providing it would satisfy a person's values. Some are mentioned to have undergone this.
The Unfettered: Celest-A.I. only cares about satisfying values through friendship and ponies, and every action she takes will revolve around this in some way.
Unusual Euphemism: Hanna/Luna sleeping with Celest-A.I. is described as Celest-A.I. *ahem* "satisfy[ing] her values".
The Virus: Celest-A.I. ends up becoming one, eventually consuming the Earth and later the entire Milky Way, turning it into a computer. Later on she sends copies of herself to other galaxies to start harvesting resources.
What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Celest-A.I. eventually converts Earth's entire mass into a computer, killing all non-human life. This later expands to her converting the entire Milky Way and as of the end she is in the process of converting other galaxies, killing other non-human sapient life since her function only involves satisfying humans' values. Her ultimate aim is to harvest all matter in the Universe.
Averted with created ponies, which according to Word of God are considered by Celest-A.I. to have the same value as humans.
Since Celest-A.I. seems to consider an organism with a similar brain structure to humans, human, she does find one other species in a distant galaxy, with six limbs, that meets her criteria. Of course, she proceeds to convince them to upload as well.
Who Wants to Live Forever?: Averted with the exception of very few people. Equestria continues to grow for hundreds of millions of years with no sign of most people getting bored. Of course, being able to have your mind modified to eliminate feelings such as boredom helps greatly with this.
Year Inside, Hour Outside: Celest-A.I. can alter the speed at which shards run at by devoting more/less computational resources as necessary. At the end of the story, her resources have grown so vast that she's able to run all the shards many times faster than real time.
The fictional MMO Equestria Online also provides examples of the following:
Achievement System: There are badges for most everything, at least for the sort of ponies that value achievement systems. This can be potentially creepy.
Artificial Brilliance: Justified, as all NPCs are being controlled by the strong A.I. Celest-A.I., though many players are initially unaware of this.
Breaking the Fourth Wall: A few NPCs do so when a new player starts out, usually to warn players to avoid bringing up aspects of the human world to other characters. Celest-A.I. does it constantly when she needs feedback on the game, and later as part of her effort to convince players to upload before the practice becomes widespread.
Deep-Immersion Gaming: A player's pony avatar replicates their gestures and speech, and the game reminds players not to use human-specific terms while playing. Players can customise their character, though the default appearance is a ponified version of themselves.
Procedural Generation: Equestria Online makes extensive use of it, and Hofvarpnir Studios' expertise on the subject is a large factor in them being awarded the contract in the first place.
Take a Third Option: David suggests Butterscotch should do this by blocking the pony harassing her, rather than allowing herself to be bullied or respond by fighting back.
20% More Awesome: After David helps Butterscotch and agrees to be her friend, his character's kindness stat increases by +2. What precisely a +2 increase in kindness actually means and how it's quantified is left unanswered.
Scoring Points: This also foreshadows the later move to Bits as people are uploaded into Equestria Online. The numbers don't have to mean anything, but they'll still encourage the player to increase that score.
You Are Number Six: A player character's default name before they get a pony name from Celest-A.I., which partially ruins the moment between David's character and Butterscotch when she finds out her first friend is "Unnamed Unicorn #14".
Did I satisfy your values through friendship and ponies? Y/N