What Video Games teach us About Ourselves and Reality
The concept behind massively multiplayer online games or massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMO’s, MMORPG’s) is pretty simple: you assume control over a character or “avatar.” You interact with others in the game world through the actions of this character. Depending on the nature of the game, and the challenges you need to overcome, your character collects “loot,” earns rewards like “experience points” and develops powers and abilities (learns magic spells, for instance), etc. These powers are relevant to the experience of the characters playing the game, not so much you, the player, playing the game. And yet, your ability to play the game increases over time. Your knowledge of yourself and others, and the nature of the game itself, grows.
Now sometimes people go a little crazy, and “lose themselves” in the game. They start believing they are the character they are playing. These games have an immersive, addictive quality. The sounds, graphics, action, violence, even sex, are very attractive. Characters can become uber-powerful with many powers, spells, abilities. They can buy many castles, lands, build dungeons that other characters must face, etc. They can form clans, guilds, and attract many followers to themselves. In other words, the experience of the game universe is very enticing and one can lose oneself in such a game for hours…forgetting oneself: forgetting to eat, sleep, go to the washroom, take phone calls, etc. One is completely mesmerized by the experience of being this character in the game…hypnotized by the game itself.
Anyone who has ever played these sorts of games (just about any immersive or addictive video game, really) knows how easily one can become lost in the game. You can become so engrossed in the game that you start thinking about it all the time, even when you’re not playing it. You read magazines and websites about the game, dream about it, practically lose all connection with the outside world, and start to eat, sleep and breathe World of Warcraft, Second Life, Minecraft, or whatever.
Now use your imagination…Imagine that a consciousness could be “split” so that the player playing the game, and the player “losing himself in the game world” were separated into two “selves” and 97% of the consciousness of the player became “trapped” INSIDE the character of the game universe. That separated consciousness, sensing its separation, it’s aloneness, erroneously identified itself as “I”, “me”, “myself” and acted and reacted in accordance with the MECHANICAL PROGRAMMING associated with characters in the game, along with the power, control, advancement and rewards systems built into the game world.
A player so lost in the game world would no longer know himself to be a player controlling a character in a virtual reality. They would now think of themselves as a self-aware individual in reality. Their thought process, dictated by the binary nature of the mechanical programming would be defined by dialectic reasoning: thesis-antithesis (1/0, on or off, black or white, right or wrong, me or you, us or them, etc.) desire for experiencing the game would seem absolutely natural to them. Natural and appropriate. Their craving for the sensation of an activated rewards centre—pleasure—would be equalled only by their aversion toward the sensation of an activated penalty centre—pain. For all intents and purposes, they have become the character, and the game world is not only “real” to them, their mind, self-aware, begins rationalizing a world-view reinforcing the “realness” of their experience, and the “I” of the false self.
This is the state of humanity. And it is all an illusion.
We have all but forgotten our true nature…that we are a player playing a game. We have fallen asleep, hypnotized by the sensations of pleasure and pain, and the algorithms associated with living according to the rules of the game universe: automatic mechanical reactions to stimuli: fear, anger, lust, greed, gluttony, pride, laziness etc. These programs serve a practical purpose: self-preservation, procreation, cessation of hunger, social hierarchical organization, conservation of energy, etc. And when held in check—as they are in most plants and animals, who rarely exhibit the kinds of excess humanity is capable of—they are not a problem.
The problem is we think our ego is whole, individual and real. It is not. The false self, the “I” is at any given point in time being controlled by any number of mechanical algorithms: one second we want the slice of cheesecake (gluttony), the next second we’re worried about looking good in a swimsuit (pride, vanity), or are worried about getting Type-II diabetes (fear), or a near infinite number of permutations and combinations of the basic elements of the psychological periodic table.
Our consciousness, trapped in the mechanical universe, is bounced around like a web browser on demo-mode, clicking on hypertext links sometimes seemingly at random. It is not by accident we designed the worldwide web to function in this manner…it is exactly analogous to how our minds work. We need only observe the “busy mind” to see ourselves being batted around from one thought to another, following trains of thoughts, images, memories, fears, worries, wants, judgements, fantasies in a never-ending game of thought-association.
Sometimes, we are able to consciously direct our thoughts. And then we feel in control and intelligent, as when we perform mathematical equations, think things through, concentrate, etc. What we need to comprehend is that what’s really happening is our browser is being “hijacked” by what amounts to a computer virus. An algorithm which is executing its programming. But said algorithm is sophisticated and wants to run, fuelled by the self-awareness of the consciousness it needs to execute. So, it calls itself “I” and shows us a memory of past pleasure/pain or some fantasy of a future of pleasure/pain to get us to go along with the program and execute a thought, word or action fuelled by the algorithm. This is how, in essence, it creates more “copies” of itself, just like a real computer virus. Again, it’s not by accident we created computer viruses which hide inside of image files, programs or other executables which, when opened or run allow the virus to execute its programming. These host files are often very enticing, attractive, and promise some reward.
The consciousness, when trapped inside this never-ending stream of process of thinking, but still sensing its separation from its true self, with each and every algorithm acting as a mind virus, using the above process to create the illusion of individuality, creates a self-awareness that is constrained inside the concept of “I,” “me,” “myself,” “mine,” etc.
In some cases, these mental viruses coagulate, conspire, create and even infect individuals in complex ways beyond the scope of the current discussion. Such extreme constructs and infections result in what we experience as “mental illness.” It’s clear that if the consciousness could be absorbed into a virtual reality to begin with, then it is just as susceptible to be re-absorbed or absorbed again into other constructed realities and fantasies. In fact, the basis for this entire didactic—video games—is a perfect example. Once a consciousness falls asleep and begins to dream, it is easy to manipulate it and change the nature of its dreaming.
Herein lies the relative ease with which mind manipulation, coercion, suggestion, hypnosis, advertising, religious fanaticism, materialist scientific dogma, societal and peer pressure, and all well-known and well-documented forms of delusion are made possible. It’s easy to shape a consciousness which is dreaming. A consciousness already accepting one illusion as reality will just as easily accept another, and another, and another.
the Good News.
All is not lost. We are not completely lost in thought. We may be 97% unconscious, 97% subconscious (on average), but that still means we are somewhat awake. If we make conscious effort, we can “snap out it” and actually observe the fact that we are observing. This level of self-awareness is related to the 3% free consciousness we have (on average).
Our free consciousness is responsible for intuition—gut feelings, premonitions, etc.—but also imagination, inspiration, true creativity. It is precisely with free consciousness that we are able to “change the game.” Were we 100% asleep, we would become complete automatons…mechanically executing a massive program of action-reaction, fuelled solely by desire. But this is not the case for most of us.
Most of us have had some form of intuition, inspiration, gut feeling, etc. Most of us have some consciousness which is not dreaming. Free consciousness is the consciousness that is still Self-aware. That is, the consciousness not yet lost in the illusion of the false self (which is self-aware on a mechanical level), the consciousness that is able to access the True Self (“the Player,” in our video game analogy).
Free consciousness is responsible for experience and knowledge gained through experience; in other words, self-knowledge. This is described by some as “wisdom.” The Greeks called it “Gnosis.” In Gnosis we see the root word (and antonym) of both ignorance and hypnosis. Sadly, a quick survey on the Internet reveals how the word Gnosis has been grossly misappropriated, misused, outright abused and downright slandered. This is not surprising, since the mind is ego, and Gnosis—belonging to free consciousness and the True Self—represents the greatest single threat to the ego’s dominance in our lives.
The ego can never know anything. The ego only thinks it knows. The ego’s way of knowing can never transcend its nature, which is illusion. Its self-awareness is made possible only by the nature of consciousness which it longs to ensnare and enslave—make us fall evermore asleep. As for the desire to transcend one’s nature—and the ego’s belief that the “I” can likewise transcend—comes from the nature of consciousness itself…which is to transcend from one level to the next. In other words, to evolve.
The problem for the ego is monumental: free consciousness transcends only by way of death, specifically, death of the ego.
Let us return again to the video game analogy, and the Player. Imagine yourself playing Super Mario Bros. (or any game). How do you get better? You play. And after you die, you play again. Your knowledge and experience of how to play the game grows every time you play. But your character DIES…many, many, many times. It takes many lives to become a master of Super Mario Bros. Much sacrifice to learn all the hidden secrets of Legend of Zelda. Evolution of the Player thus involves a process of dying. Death reveals to us “where we went wrong.” By dying, we become better players.
Let’s imagine a game a little more complex than Super Mario or Zelda. Imagine a game where you also gain “points” by sacrificing your interests for the sake of others. In the game of life, it is by far the most challenging thing to do, because the obstacles to sacrifice are many; the pressures to “succeed as an individual” and/or “be a productive part of the collective” are countless—societal, cultural, family, peer, material, practical etc.—but these can all be reduced to the most basic internal programming—greed, lust, pride, gluttony, fear, etc.—and identification with the illusion of the virtual world. Unlike any game we’ve invented (which we like to believe are “consequence free environments”) we must try to imagine a game where our “points” follow us from one game to the next…the kindness and sacrifice we show others in one round follows us to the next. But so, too, do our internal adversaries. The viruses which prevented us from showing others kindness and compassion? They don’t go away after we die and reboot. They come back. And the more we give into them, the more they take…from us and others.
So, just as evolution is a process of birth and death and sacrifice; so too devolution is a process of birth, death and desire.
This is where it gets really science-fiction-like, and where we bring in the inevitable comparisons to The Matrix films. It’s as if the game itself comes alive and starts to enslave the Player. Once it was a place where the player went for a while to experience a virtual life, gain experience and points helping others so that eventually he may Master the game and move onto whole other dimensions of gaming. Now, the “A.I.” of game world (our binary, reactionary ego-mind) enslaves the consciousness of the Player and siphons his energy by hypnotizing the player with the false self, the mind, all the cravings and aversions, and all the clever programming/conditioning (what constitutes our “Character”).
The game world itself is trying to transcend…to evolve. But its desire to do so comes directly from the nature of the consciousness it is enslaving (the Player’s longing to evolve), and its desperation for more, more, more comes from the sense of separation (the identification and attachment to the false “I”). It is the consciousness, corrupted…twisted. It is in a catch-22. Evolution requires death. The consciousness knows this. The ego, however, only knows that death is bad…that through death it ceases to be…it fears death. It wants to transcend the bounds of its programming and be as the Player.
The answer? The Singularity.
This is the recent concept of a global interconnected reality where all living things will be connected digitally. It is an idea first put forward by Raymond Kurzweil, now the chief cybernetics guru at Google and the man behind Google glass and other soon-to-be-available “wearables.” The singularity is, in essence, an actual Matrix-like construct which envisions every human being, machine, device and robot wired digitally to the Internet. Raymond Kurzweil is on record as not wanting to die…as wanting to download his consciousness into a computer and essentially live forever in a virtual reality simulation, until such time that robotics are advanced enough, and then he can be uploaded into a robot to “exist” physically again (although why he would want a mundane existence if he has an infinite virtual reality to play in, one can only wonder).
The entire concept is, of course, ridiculous. The “I” is an illusion and the consciousness is not a product of mechanical nature. It is what gives the mind and the false self that sense of self-awareness, that “I”-ness, which is a corrupted sense of our “amness”…the feeling of beingness, which is independent of mind, but which the mind says “I think therefore I am.” It is actually, “Amness is, therefore I can think.”
The idea of further enslaving humanity to mechanization and digitization is not ridiculous. We see it happening all around us. It’s not by accident that devices called iPod, iPhone, iPad running iOS exist (I, I, I), and that their counterpart are known as Android Devices (mechanical robots made in the image and likeness of human beings). And, it is not by accident that society is enamoured by these devices. With each passing day, we are becoming more and more reliant on them; the more we rely on something, the more dependent we are…the more dependent we are on technology, the less independent we are. This is a slippery slope to enslavement.
There was a time when people still had a sense of direction, a sense of time, the ability to know how hot or cold it was outside, how to dress appropriately, even answers to basic questions of importance in any given moment. Now, we are lost without our GPS, have no idea how to dress without our weather app, can’t answer anything in any given moment unless we can look it up on Wikipedia. These are all signs of our consciousness slipping deeper into sleep, deeper into the grip of ego, the mechanistic algorithms of nature, the virtual reality which wants to achieve a kind of godlike status over us and create a digital universe in which the “I” of false self can avoid death and live forever.
What the singularity might ultimately look like is a topic for science fiction. From our perspective it’s irrelevant. What matters to us is that we are unwitting and to a large extent willing participants in this process. By virtue of our identification with the false self, attachment to the virtual reality of the “game world,” we march lock-step with the grand plan of mechanical nature…to enslave us and use our consciousness and energy to try to avoid the unavoidable.
So what do we do? Awaken, of course.
Easier said than done, to be sure. But not impossible.
Awakening simply means comprehending and escaping the influence of the mind, the ego, the false self. It is a process of knowing oneself, directly, consciously. Not “thinking” you know what’s going on (like you may be thinking after reading this), but knowing you know what’s going on…because you’ve experienced it, first hand.
There is a new game. The game is “escape from yourself.” The Matrix is not “out there.” The Matrix is your mind.
And it is clever…very clever. Your mind will be screaming (if it hasn’t already been doing so throughout this article) not to believe in any of this…to doubt your intuition, to ignore your gut feelings, to listen to the voices in your head instead of the Still Soft Voice in your heart. Why? Because the mind doesn’t want to die. Your false self knows that with every comprehended defect and vice, it comes closer to awakening. With each hour spent in meditation, its stranglehold on your consciousness weakens…the veil of the false self lifts a little.
The problem is, so long as you identify with that “I,” so long as you believe what you think, feel, etc. is who you are—and ignore the fact that you are able to observe yourself having thoughts and feelings—you will remain lost in the game.
So remember your Self. Observe yourself. Remember “The Player”…who you really are. Remember that this virtual world you live in serves a purpose; but that purpose is most likely NOT what you think it is. Know that your mind will oppose any and all attempts at freeing yourself from its grasp. Just as The Matrix is populated by “Agents” intent on preventing individuals from “waking up,” so too your egos are clever and powerful. They are able to manipulate and control circumstances—because they can affect our reactions to situations and how we see the world—and their modus operendi is convincing us: temptation, rationalization, etc.
Here we turn to another popular mythology: The Lord of the Rings. The ring of power is the ego. The ring is what drives Smeagle mad and creates the creature Gollum…the false self. Peter Jackson’s films depict the inner dialogue between Smeagel and Gollum effectively.
What is important is to note that the term “Precious” is used to describe the ring, Smeagle, Gollum…it is the “I” of the ego. The self is, after all, precious to us. We value self-preservation more than just about anything. Our very existence is precious to us. Think of all that is precious to you: that which you identify with. It’s all an illusion. But oh how convincing the voice in your mind which tells you otherwise!
So how does one awaken? How does one fight the voices in the head? Just as in the Lord of the Rings, the Ring of Power must be destroyed. And, just as in The Return of the King, it must be destroyed in the fires with which it was forged. The fires of desire. The fire of sexual energy.