Video Games – Ascending to High Art!?


Video-Games-Ascending-to-High-Art

Transcending history and the world (& the vast majority of other video games)…

EDGE OF SOUL

 Transcending history and the world, a tale of soul and swords eternally told

To love!  To shine!

We all need to shine on, to see
how far we’ve come on our journey
How far yet to go, searching for our star

Deep in the night, I pray in my heart
for that special light
to shower me with love
to shower me with power
to shine from above

I got to get to the Edge of Soul, to carry on what I believed in from the
very start
I got to get to the Edge of Soul, to carry on deep in my heart

To love, to shine!
To love, to shine!

To love!

Come strip down and face it, you’re all
About time you broke down your wall
Free your mind
A brand new world waits for you, you’ll find

Nobody can just do it for you
It’s time that you knew
It’s up to you to love
it’s up to you to shine
the light true and blue

You got to get to the Edge of Soul, to carry on what you believed in from
the very start

You got to get to the Edge of Soul, to carry on, deep in your heart

You got to get to the Edge of Soul, to carry on what you believed in from
the very start

You got to get to the Edge of Soul, to carry on, deep in your heart

To love, to shine!
To love, to shine!

To love!

– SOBUT (YOSHIYA/ MOTOAKI/ SOBUT)
(Intro Theme to “Soul Edge.”)

Why Video Games are so Compelling (& Addictive)

All addiction is self-loathing; the self-medication to dull the pain that we are not what we should be. We KNOW we have the potential, but our failures and shortcomings (the gap between self and Self) causes pain and the “I” cleverly finds a balm–and in some cases, SUBSTITUTE…be it real world, fantasy world, virtual world, or virtual fantasy world. Can you start to feel the COMPOUNDING gravity of something like WoW? Instead of just reminding us of our own personal Hero’s Journey on The Tree of Life (descending into dungeons, slaying our demons, collecting lost treasures, gaining xp and advancing levels as we quest toward ‘god-like’ max level), it does a bait and switch; compels us to forget our actual path and replace it with its fascinating, mesmerizing facsimile. That facsimile is SO hypnotic, that it draws our attention away from the self-loathing it creates (although you cannot help but feel bad/guilty after binging, so you KEEP PLAYING, like any alcoholic keeps drinking, problem gambler keeps gambling, et al). This phenomenon applies to many physical obsessions, from extreme sports to ping-pong.

The reality is, being that we have 3 brains, our egos will tend to exploit us in our DOMINANT CENTRE(S). As a Gemini, Air/Air-Rising (Air/wind=mind), it was clear that an obsession would express through the element which flows most easily within us. In the same way, the Truth mostly flows through us in words, posted online for others’ benefit. In others, their obsessions and addictions might flow through their emotional centre, or physical centres, or a combination of centres (i.e. emotional eating). Thus, we can learn much about ourselves from our addictions / obsessions.

Using Games to Manage a Troubled (and troublesome) Mind

The mind is certainly a dungeon, a prison where all of us are prisoners. We need to evade that prison if indeed we want to know what liberty is; to know that liberty which does not belong to time, that liberty which is not of the mind.
– V.M. Samael Aun Weor

On this question of using video games (and challenging traditional games like chess, go, Sudoku, etc) “to make it through the tough times.” Even Master Samael Aun Weor said that games can be GOOD, and necessary distractions at times. YES! Can you believe it? The reality is, sometimes our own heart-minds overwhelm us and we need an escape. Games occupy our minds (in the same way physical labor and exercise occupy our bodies, singing occupies our hearts, etc) and give us something else to focus on, other than our suffering. Archetypal games like RPG’s like the very old Ultima series, Diablo, and more recent Divinity: Original Sin, are good because they remind our consciousness of our metaphysical demon-slaying quest, and give us a sense of accomplishment that makes us feel like we might actually be able to achieve mastery (especially if we play these games INTUITIVELY, relying on our Innermost Being as a guide). So long as we listen to our Selves, and know when to say “okay, that was enough, escapism for now,” we need not be dogmatic and turn our backs on a pass time which we KNOW helped us get through terribly difficult times in the past.

“I’m never playing video games EVER again,” while seemingly may be coming from a noble intention, may be a clever trick of ego-mind. Discernment is the key. For our part, we recently underwent a tremendous ordeal in hell, expressed through a 3-month bout of depression. A VERY ESOTERIC RPG game called “Divinity Original Sin” was one of our saving graces which helped us endure what otherwise might have done us in. Severity and Mercy is Love. Learn to connect to the Love of your Divine Mother, and allow that kind of “self-love” to permeate you and govern your life. Strict yet merciful. Firm yet kind. Scolding, yet never without cause. Always fair. Always loving.

Video Games & Astral Projection (Lucid Dreaming)

Research suggests that playing video games before going to bed raises the chances of lucid dreaming—Astral Projection.  If you are unfamiliar with the term, it refers to a dream in which your conscious awakens such that you are able to act freely, as opposed to being acted upon by the dream.

Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at MacEwan University in Canada, found that people who regularly played video games were more likely to report lucid dreams. She had 377 college students fill out dream reports and answer questions about their video game habits. She did the study after encountering research showing similarities between video gamers and lucid dreamers.  Apparently, both have higher-than-average spatial skills and low susceptibility to motion sickness.

“If you’re spending hours a day in a virtual reality, if nothing else it’s practice,” said Jayne Gackenbach said.  “Gamers are used to controlling their game environments, so that can translate into dreams.”

Gackenbach had been studying the phenomenon of lucid dreaming for years–secularly, of course–then became interested in video games in the 1990s when she watched her son repeatedly kiss a new Nintendo gaming console on the way home from a Toys “R” Us.

The last decade of game-related research has since yielded several surprises, although Gackenbach would be the first to caution that the findings represent suggestive associations rather than definitive proof.

Gaming as a means to Mystical Experience

Before we share the following first-hand experience, dearest reader, let us emphatically state that countless HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of people have played video games for countless hours on end and they have not widely reported experiencing samadhi, or any other mystical experience for that matter, as a direct result.  That said, we experienced just that, and we daresay it was perhaps when, where, what and how we were playing.  Again, we emphatically state that we make no guarantees that replicating our actions will produce similar results for you.  Not only that, if you were to replicate our actions with the intent on producing similar results (samadhi, etc), we guarantee failure.

As when we enter into any mediation or meditative activity, we must be focused on where we are and what we are doing–being–and not the desire / expectation for mystical experience.  Any such wantonness activates  the mind and mystic pride precisely when we are trying to quiet the mind and cultivate radical humility–surrender not just to the moment but to our Innermost Being and His will for us.  That is why, we feel, the following experience was made possible: because we in no way, shape, or form were expecting it…certainly not while playing a video game late into the night.

We were all alone in our bachelor apartment in Japan.  Our computer / entertainment centre is ALWAYS integrated into our altar, since we see and hear so much Truth in the movies we watch (if you read some of our other posts, you will soon understand why) and also the games we play.  In this particular instance, the game was Soul Edge on our PlayStation One developed by Project Soul and published by NAMCO in December 1996 (contemporary versions of the game are called Soul Calibur).  It is a weapons-based martial-arts fighting game, similar to Tekken and others.  The difference being that the characters, all steeped in rich historical, geographical, mythological, and cultural fantasy lore, are all on a quest to recover the legendary Soul Blade–essentially, Excalibur.  In single-player story mode, you pick a character and traverse the map according to their unique backstory and motivation, following clues to track down the fabled weapon of the gods.  As you do so, your chosen fighter must square off against the other characters (controlled by A.I.), until you eventually face Nightmare (the “boss”) and the final battle for the Soul Blade.  Fair warning: PlayStation One graphics, animation, and J-Rock soundtrack circa 1996-97 ahead.

So that was what we were playing and where.  It was late at night, after a long day of teaching English ESL classes.  In other words, we were tired, sleepy, even.  This is an important factor since cultivating the semi-sleepy state is very conducive to meditation and meditative activities.  As mentioned, we were alone playing story mode, and we decided we would complete the story mode for all the characters, one by one.  We should mention there was an in-game incentive to do so, since completing missions (winning battles) in story mode unlocked alternative weapons, outfits, etc.

It was well after midnight, after several HOURS of play, that we slipped into a deeply relaxed, semi-sleepy state.  We sat back comfortably supported by our zaisu (floor chair; you may recognize it as a meditation cushion with back-rest), spine straight, legs outstretched, body totally relaxed and at ease, eyelids heavy, completely focused on the screen and the epic mythological mano-e-mano battles with swords and soul.

We weren’t trying to win anymore.  We simply slipped into a state whereby thoughts left us, all concerns left us, then the apartment, room, everything faded away.  All that was left was us and being one with the controller, one with our character, one with the movements and motion of our opponent.  And then, we became cognizant of something rather curious.

We couldn’t lose.

Not only could we not lose, we couldn’t be hit.  Totally relaxed, utterly indifferent to winning or losing, completely void of any goal, desire or aim, we became impervious to the attacks of our AI opponents.  Whether avoiding, evading, overtly blocking, or proactive-counter-striking our opponent while they were in mid-swing, we were able to remain untouched.  And it wasn’t like we were playing on “Novice” difficulty.  But just to be sure that wasn’t it, we went into the options and ratcheted up the difficulty.  Still nothing.  Not a scratch.  Not a hit.  Not a pixel shaved off our health bar.  What was going on?  So we turned up the difficulty to max.  Still, the computer couldn’t hit us.

The movie The Matrix, hadn’t been made yet, but if you remember the scene where Neo fights Smith and awakens his potential, you begin to get an idea of what our experience was like.  We imagine Bruce Lee must’ve experienced something similar when he faced lesser rivals in tournaments with his legendary speed and famous axiom “the highest form is to be without form.”

As we mentioned earlier in the article, as a Gemini, Air/Air-rising, we are dominant in the mental body.  That means it is very unlikely that we could ever actually achieve the levels of martial arts mastery demonstrated by Bruce Lee (let alone the superhuman feats of Neo in the Matrix).  We know, we actually studied martial arts for a time.  We loved it in every way, and played an important role in re-connecting with our physical body, but it was not meant to be our path to mastery.  A video game, on the other hand, is mostly mental, needing more dexterity than agility.  It would take us a lifetime of practice and experience sparring to be able to achieve the same level of physical relaxation in a real fight as we now had in fighting AI opponents virtually in Soul Edge.  This was the key.  And, as it turns out, it was a key to the door of Gnosis.

For as we sat there, utterly in a state of relaxed heightened awareness and focus, defeating opponent after opponent without so much as taking a hit (able to avoid, evade, or block all attempts by the AI to strike us), reading mythological stories of archetypal heroes and heroines as we progressed from one fight to the next, we started going deeper into the why and the how of it.  This was not a mental process, it was a conscious one.  We began to realize we were somehow connected to the AI.  We knew what the AI was going to do before it could do it.

But hold up, AI is a machine…what conscious connection could we possibly have with a machine devoid of consciousness?  That’s when lightning struck: we were connected to the developer who had programmed the AI.  And we could feel that connection so viscerally, so intimately, we knew every tip, trick, and tactic our virtual opponents could pull on us.  We simply knew everything there was to know about them because in that moment we were absolutely one with the individual who created them.

But hold up, if we can be so connected to one man, who we have never met, is not physically present, and whom we only know through their work–the video game they helped design and the AI they programmed–what if we can be just as connected to all people…to all beings?  They say lightning doesn’t strike twice.  Well, we’re here to tell you it can, it does, and it did…in a big way.  And the second strike blew the doors of our consciousness wide open and a flood of knowledge and wisdom from the Great Universal Mind of the Universe began pouring into, out of, through us.

We dropped the controller.  We had no use for the game anymore.  It had served its purpose.  For the next 72 hours–without sleep–we would go on a journey of exploration beginning with profound universal truths and timeless axioms of wisdom, shifting to the physical earth and our immediate geography.  We became so stir-crazy with energy, we felt we would blow the walls apart of our tiny apartment, so we went on a Zen Walk which took us to the train station and eventually all the way to Osaka, where we at one point came across one of only two Ferrari dealerships in Japan.  We marched in, saw three beautiful and exorbitantly priced cars, and proclaimed so matter-of-factly to ourselves, as if we were ordering toppings for a hamburger, pointing to each car as we did so: “I can have that one, that one, and that one!” We grabbed a brochure, stuffed it in our backpack, and marched out of the dealership, without giving any of what had transpired a second thought.  We were so in the moment, the Ferrari dealership had vanished from reality the second the door closed behind us.  Every experience we had on our travels during our Zen walk were much the same.  No elaboration.  No conjecture.  No internal waffling.  Everything simply was what it was, and I was one with all of it.

The final day of our 72-hour sleepless sojourn into the infinite saw us return home, finally, with a backpack full of artifacts and oddities we had gathered on our Zen walk.  We dumped the backpack onto the carpet and began sifting through the items one by one.  It was when we finally came upon the Ferrari catalog the lightning struck yet again.  And we do not exaggerate, dear reader, when we say it was the most potent, eye-opening, collapsed-to-my-knees humbling wake-up call we had ever received.  There, in our hands, was the evidence.  There was no denying it; our experience in the dealership returned to us as a vivid reality and the overwhelming sentiment burning in our mind as if put there by the Sun spoke: “Aye, there’s the rub!”  And it was this absolute universal Truth which was the cause of it…

The line that separates Christ from Anti-Christ is a hairline. 

It was in that moment and for the hours that followed that we realized how wrongly our minds judge good and evil, how we place terrible monsters and altruistic saints on a gradient, and imagine a vast gulf between them.  It is not so.  What separates them is a razor’s edge…a banana peel on the sidewalk…a single moment of impropriety…a fleeting lapse of judgment…or a seemingly innocuous proclamation which was not comprehended in the moment for what it was: a profound temptation.

They say knowledge is power and power corrupts; and, absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Where then, does this leave someone who has opened the door to absolute knowledge?  Dear reader, we confess unequivocally, that this whole episode was a test and a lesson. And there, in our tiny apartment, holding the evidence of our failure, we collapsed in a heap of tears and shame.  For the Truth of the matter flooded into and filled us as profoundly as any we had received in the past three days, and we became utterly conscious of our potential to become a powerful force for evil, even as we dreamed ourselves of one day becoming a potent force for good.  You might be saying to yourself, “there’s nothing wrong with owning a few Ferraris.”  There may be nothing wrong with that for you.  But in order for us to do so, we would have to go against our destiny, the Will of our Innermost Being, abandon our work in the world, and most significantly, alter our present course: which is to give others the keys and help them open the doors to Gnosis so they, too, can experience what we have, know what we know, and meld as one with all beings and The Logos, as we have been at times in our life and as we are working toward being continually, completely, eternally.

And if all that was’t enough, dear reader, there were three Ferraris…as in three furies, three Witches of Macbeth, three traitors of Jesus and three accomplices in the murder of Hiram Abif.  The temptation was not literal.  Those luxurious and decadent vehicles were symbolic of the temptations of three brains: mind, heart, body.  And so it was not just a question of one day having the means to do so and spending money on cars, no.  Nor was it even the notion of abandoning my heart’s longing to pursue fame and fortune, no.  What was revealed to us was how easily and quickly and matter-of-factly we were tempted, not unlike Adolf Hitler.  It is said of Hitler that he was a skilled and knowledgeable initiate in his youth.  It is even rumoured that he was one of the candidates to become Avatar of Aquarius!  But, he was tempted and corrupted by the Black Lodge, and look at what he was able to accomplish for them with all his esoteric knowledge and power.  What was shown to me, dear reader, was the fact that what stands between my potential to be a vehicle and vessel for the Logos or a despotic ruler bringing unimaginable hardship and suffering to billions, is a banana peel.  One misstep.  One forgetful moment when I allow my ego-mind to usurp the power and knowledge which truthfully belongs to God, and must not be misappropriated  and applied to any purpose other than His Will, as it is expressed through The Cosmic Christ and our Innermost Being.

It should not be lost on you, dear reader, that the catalyst for this profound life-lesson in self-knowledge (awareness of the magnitude of our fallibility) was a video game in which the goal is to acquire the Soul Edge…a weapon of tremendous mystical power…Excalibur.  Like many such devices in science fiction (such as the Tesseract from Marvel’s Avengers) and fantasy (the One Ring from Lord of the Rings), great power has the potential to corrupt greatly.  The Soul Sword is no different.

Ultima Games and Virtue

Ultima_IV_boxWhat will you do, dear reader, should you happen upon such power?  Will you heed the tests, warnings and lessons?  Is it possible you’ve already had those lessons, and simply weren’t paying attention at the time to know your virtue was being tested?  Will you heed the call, here and now, and observe what is without question the greatest CRPG series ever made in terms of cultivating virtue)?  We are, of course, referring to Ultima, specifically the Avatar story line which began with Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar.  A game series which does away with the moral ambiguities of Dungeons & Dragons (which allows players to be “chaotic evil” if they wish with no real penalty) and most other games filled with senseless violence, questionable ethics, etc.

It is the first in the “Age of Enlightenment” trilogy, shifting the series from the hack and slashdungeon crawl gameplay of its “Age of Darkness” predecessors towards an ethically-nuanced, story-driven approach. Ultima IV has a much larger game world than its predecessors, with an overworld map sixteen times the size of Ultima III and puzzle-filled dungeon rooms to explore. Ultima IV further advances the franchise with dialog improvements, new means of travel and exploration, and world interactivity.  In 1996 Computer Gaming World named Ultima IV as #2 on its Best Games of All Time list on the PC. Designer Richard Garriott considers this game to be among his favorites from the Ultima series.[2] – Source: Wikipedia

In Ultima IV, you are called to the mythical land of Britannia by its benevolent ruler, Lord British.  From the outset, the player is made to understand that this will be a computer role-playing game unlike any other.  The character creation exists as a series of questions testing the player’s preference for one virtue or another.  Depending on how the player answers, they may end up as a Paladin (whose prime virtue is honor) or a Shepherd (humility).  But why read about it when you can take the Ultima IV Personality Test and experience it for yourself.

Once you enter the world of Britannia, Lord British asks for your help in aiding the people out of the darkness which has befallen the land.  Yes, there’s an over-world to explore, dungeons to raid, monsters to slay, and treasures to find, but in addition to these well-worn CRPG devices, there are also less common ones.  You can have veritable conversations with NPCs (non-player characters).  And you need to talk to everyone in the world honestly if you hope to get them to divulge valuable information and clues necessary to fulfill your ultimate quest (pun intended)–to recover The Codex of Ultimate Wisdom from The Great Stygian Abyss.  Without it, the land is in darkness, its people are becoming more ignorant and lost, villains are becoming more emboldened, and the denizens of the deep are clamouring up out of the darkness to roam the land, terrorizing its citizens.  Wow.  It’s like Gnosis itself has been lost in darkness and as a result the world is going to hell.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

So the world needs a hero to recover the Codex, but to do so you will first need to prove you are worthy of it.  You must become The Avatar, a perfected being of impeccable virtue.  To do so will require you to learn the location of the Eight Shrines of Virtue: Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Justice, Honor, Sacrifice, Spirituality and Humility.   Each shrine is protected by a guardian, however, and you cannot pass without having the appropriate RUNE.  The runes are hidden in eight dungeons.  Each represents the antithesis of a virtue and are named Deceit, Despise, Destard, Wrong, Covetous, Shame, Hythloth, and The Abyss.  You will have to find out where they are located before descending into them, vanquishing the monsters, and recovering the runes.  Next you’re off to the shrines to meditate.  But you can’t do so without knowing the right MANTRAS!  Are we beginning to appreciate the depth of esotericism this game was exploring?  To learn the mantra for each shrine you must visit each town associated with that shrine and corresponding virtue (i.e. Moonglow is a village of Mages and relates to Honesty).

After collecting the appropriate rune, learning the mantra, and finding the shrine, you could then enter the shrine and meditate.  Doing so would award you an eighth of an ANKH (the symbol of The Avatar).  Once you did so at all the shrines, you became The Avatar, and could now enter the final dungeon and retrieve the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom.  However, it should be noted that at anytime throughout the game, your actions could cause you to become barred from entering a shrine, or even lose an eighth of the ankh you had already earned.  If you lied, killed non-evil creatures, stole, etc, the game would respond in kind.  NPCs would refuse to talk with you, sell you goods, etc.  Shrine Guardians would turn you away.  And you would have to go visit The Seer, often, to check on your virtuousness.

You see, in the final analysis, this is what set Ultima IV apart from all other games of its type.  There was no “big boss.”  There was no mustache-twirling uber-villain hell-bent on conquering the land whom you had to stop.  No, the only person standing between you and recovering the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom (and saving the world) was YOU.  Your actions.  Your choices.  Even though you might have slain all the monsters terrorizing the land and plenty more in the dungeons beneath, your own defects and vices were your primary adversaries.  The game would throw temptations at you all the time: what Yoda would call the “quicker, easier, more seductive” paths leading “to the Dark Side.”  And if you fell for them, you could achieve wealth, power and notoriety, but not the rank of Avatar, and thus not the respect of the people nor the right to Hold the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom.  Chew on that for a while.

Ultima IV and its various sequels had such an impact on us during our formative years, that we are not surprised by some of the tributes it has received online and on YouTube.  Probably the most entertaining of these was Spoony’s series on the Ultima games, but it’s also a little childish and gamer-ish.  A more sober and philosophical approach (but still secular) comes from GaminGHD:

Clearly, we could go on.  We could certainly keep talking about the Ultima series, but since GaminGHD and others have already done so, we leave it to you, dear reader, to make your own inquiries.  However, if by chance you’re feeling like you missed out on a truly great gaming experience, fret not: there are actually a number of ways you can have the authentic “Age of Enlightenment” Ultima experience, including several different fan ports, upgrades, and complete remakes remakes based on more modern 3D graphics engines which run fairly well on Windows.  These fan-created remasters and remakes include:

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Ultima’s IV+V+VI, known as “The Age of Enlightenment” to fans of the series marked an extraordinary departure from typical gaming and elevated themselves to the level of High Art. (Note the THREE Shadow Lords).

That’s probably as good a place as any to leave Ultima for now.

Video Games as High Art

Like with most pop culture, the vast majority of video games are empty, superficial, pointless fluff good for killing time.  Mindless entertainment.  As nourishing to your soul as candy is to your body.  That said, we hope you now have an appreciation for the fact that all forms of art, even popular video games, have the potential to be much more than mere pointless entertainment.  The key is to use discernment, and keep your expectations low.  Let the rare diamonds scattered few and far between among the vast quantities of trash appear to you when you need them.  As for the trash?  Stay clear.  If you must must spend time in a “mindless” video game (we mean that, of course, in the positive meditative sense of the word), at least make sure it is feeding your consciousness visuals, archetypes, virtues and myths worthy of your precious time and energy.

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