Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Come back here and let me stab you.

So the reason for yesterday's late running Monday Morning Memento Mori was that your author was up until 2.30am on Monday morning playing Spore. Since I stopped taking drugs this is the probably the only thing I'd do until that time in the morning. Without my surgical gloves and balaclava on anyway.

I say this, almost, but not quite, without a lingering sense of shame.

My generation were on the cusp, where we could just about admit to playing video games without having rocks thrown at us in the playground. This was not always the case - when I first started reading Mean Machines (in 1989 or so), games were considered not just futile, but also shameful. Perhaps because, in those days, an interest in playing video games implied an interest in programming, which made you a viable target for rock-play. Or perhaps because of a wholly reasonable association between an escape into a fantasy world, brought on by vigorous wrist action, and the the act of beastliness. In fact all the things that people now say about videogames, that they cause apathy, alienation, violence or anhedonia, are all the things that Victorians used to say about masturbation. Although no one claims that video games give you TB.

It's one thing to play video games at 14, or even 18, but there's there's something fundamentally degrading about a 28 year old ignoring the world around him to crouch over a tiny screen to tap, tap away at himself. And if the indignity weren't enough, I find video games to be totally incompatible with normal adult life. I owned a PSP for a while, but I started isolating myself in my flat so that I could learn special moves on Tekken. I would encourage my girlfriend to rent dismal British-made films about anorexic nuns, so that half way through I could go "sorry, love, it's not really my bag, but don't worry, you keep watching and I'll just play this game." Such is the addict's cunning. In the upper reaches of Tekken 3 the button combinations become so complex, with holds and locks and arm-breaking maneuvers, that what with memorising them and developing the necessary manual dexterity to pull them off you might just as well be learning the piccolo or something. Then at least you could entertain idiots and the elderly.

Eventually I became so exasperated with myself I had to take the PSP to one of W12's many pawnbrokers.

But when I got this new Mac to replace the one the burglar made off with, I threw into my basket a copy of Spore, trying to make out to the Apple Store assistant that this was just a casual whim of mine - rather than the calculated relapse it has proven to be - much like an old alcoholic nonchalantly picking up a bottle of Gold Label to go with his dog-food and toilet roll.

I'm especially susceptible at this moment. Given my current circumstances, being burgled and made redundant in vindictive succession, a game in which I control an entire planet and everything on it does something to salve my sense of total powerless. There's also an element of work-replacement, performing a series of meaningless tasks assigned by others, for which I am rewarded with "points" which I can then spend on useless artifacts produced by the self-same system - it's like having a tiny ad agency in my own home.

The reason I keep playing, that I keep resurrecting and torture-starving my lifeform to death through incompetent resource management, is that it's so vastly preferable to real life. In fact I don't really want to keep playing at all, I just don't want to come back. Sherry Turkle identified this phenomenon in 1984 in her book "The Second Self" - it took till 2006 for someone in Holland to develop rehab for teenage gamers who have come to regard their World of Warcraft emanation as their true self, the version of them that chimes more closely with their idea of how the world should be.

Buddhists have this insidious means of coercion - when they'd like you to swallow an especially obscure piece of dogma, like for instance, the idea that, because of the vastness and near-eternal nature of Samsara, everyone you meet must be have been your mother in one of your past lives, and therefore deserves to be treated with love and respect, they will often say, "this may not be true, but it might be beneficial for you to believe it to be so".

And it's true that, by and large we will tend to believe that the worst kinds of mental activity are some how the most truthful.

You could frame a similar argument for only ever playing video games. And allowing your body to atrophy until you resembled a greying foetus.

Obviously there's an author that will tie all this together better than I have in this extended post which, I don't mind saying, has been unusually torturous to write. And he is Victor Pelevin (pronounced, I'm told, Pill y ee vin), the "Russian Will Self" (this does a service to Self and none to Pelevin) - Scamp is a fan I believe. Most of his novels take place at the intersection between electrical engineering, Buddhism and some kind of mental disorder. "The Helmet of Horror", his take on the Labyrinth myth, takes place in an internet chat room. The Helmet of Horror itself is a kind of hermetic device that he uses to investigate the idea that if you are experiencing reality in your head, where does that leave your head?

If you think about that idea for too long, it causes an unearthly terror. I have the same respect for people that can work cheerfully with these ideas as I have for undertakers and forensic surgeons.

The video up top, if you remember watching it all those years ago, is from Robbie Cooper's work called "Immersion". I saw this on Mike Laurie's excellent blog a while ago - a good source of interest biscuits.

Sorry not to have formulated all this more coherently. I'm basically losing my grip on reality.


Rob said...

I sometimes wish that work dealt out rewards more like a video game. When you cracked a brief you wouldn't have to present and defend your idea; instead giant gold coins would immediately start bouncing everywhere and you would have to jump around absorbing them with your body.

It would just be an altogether more satisfying way of getting paid.

Anonymous said...

I wish I had a sense of purpose in real life similar to the one I seemed to develop while playing Grand Theft Auto.

I would've probably achieved something by now. Something a lot more rewarding than a job at an ad agency. No matter what that job is.

Mike Laurie said...

Can I have the hat tip? I never get hat tips.

I too was obsessed with gaming at one stage of my life too. I spent about 12 hours on Metal Gear Solid once. Although I was single and getting paid £135 per week to pack orders at Littlewoods at the time.

mm said...

according to my wife I have a helmut of horror.