August 3, 2008
My explorations into virtual worlds have taken a turn for the surreal lately, as I have made a few new close friends who have been graciously teaching me how they play. I feel like I might be coming ridiculously late to the conversation (I don’t often play video games), but my experiences have given me new pause about the raging debate over the potential influence of sex and violence in games/media on people (not just youth).
I have learned first-hand how Second Life encourages people to articulate their fantasies in intricate detail – trying on new fashions, tattoos, piercings, behaviours, and lifestyles. From a few conversations, I am also pretty sure that much of this identity-play sometimes sticks, and often crosses back over into real life.
The whole process is spookily reminiscent of the “manifesting principle,” described in magickal/mystical systems like Chaos Magick (e.g. Carol’s Liber Kaos) and even Kabballah (The Three Abrahamic Covenants and The Car Passing Trick):
- Know what you want. Clearly and precisely understand what you want by doing the intellectual work needed to really know what you want and how much it costs (or how impossible it is.)
- Sacrifice your(ego)self to the task. Put your heart and soul into your endeavour. Do real work in the physical world towards your goal. Care deeply about the work you are doing. Work (and pray) well beyond your normal point of giving up. Do the work and show your caring anyway, even if it seems that [God] is not listening.
- Return your personal will to [God]. Give up, be infinitely patient, and pay attention.
The manifesting principle only works when a person has made a real sacrifice and has continued to work even while they have let go of their expectations of the outcome they desire. When a person short-circuits the full process, nothing happens. When there has been no sacrifice, there is nothing for [God] to respond to. (Stan Tenen, The Purpose of Prayer).
So, while Halo or even Grand Theft Auto might not cross some yet unknown threshold, I am mildly concerned about the World of Warcraft players. Sure, many of them are just playing, but some might be inflicting real emotional harm on other real people. Something to ponder.
I haven’t really worked this out in detail yet, but I also wonder if Geertz’s notion of “deep play” (introduced in Deep Play: Notes on a Balinese Cock Fight) might be useful and relevant here. The deep play he describes shares many characteristics with these mystical formulas and the magical substrate that Second Life has clearly become for some people. Something the Stanford lab is trying to systematically measure and observe, though I don’t think they have floating this particular hypothesis yet 😉
In many ways my conversations and immersion in the wonderful Play as Being project and community have helped me think about these relationships (especially ‘letting go’, the final step in manifesting), but I will save some of the direct connections for a future post.