Masochistic Delight

So I’m sitting there in the War Robots lobby looking at the scrolling chat, and this guy is complaining about something not working right. And believe me, EVERY complaint about War Robots is probably legit — there’s so much to complain about –in fact, I do it all the time. Yet we all still show up to play the game. WHY!!?? The game literally abuses us in every way possible. So I contributed to the conversation and said, “well yeah, I think you gotta love some level of abuse to play this game.”

And then it hit me, I’m a freakin masochist!!! It’s like one of those M. Night Shyamalan moments when your life flashes before your eyes and all the clues were there, but you just couldn’t recognize them at the time. It’s dead-obvious now that I’m analyzing it — but I always thought it was such a dumb concept: who the heck would purposefully seek out pain? Uh, um, well, me I guess. Please hurt me!! Thank you, may I have another!!?

I’m always playing games in which I suffer frustrating losses. Even this blog frustrates me. My relationships frustrate me. Food frustrates me. It turns out, EVERYTHING frustrates me! YET, I keep going back for more.

So then I started thinking about memorable circumstances throughout my life. Would things have gone more smoothly if I had only trusted life and stopped trying to fight at every turn — if I had simply gone with the flow? And my conclusion was: no, not really. BUT, what readily and reliably explains the circumstances of my life: I’m a masochist! It’s as if the scenes I experienced were professionally designed to evoke maximum frustration!

If you think about it though, games are typically designed to introduce frustration, that’s their underlying nature. An obstacle prevents your progress — and until you overcome it, you’re frustrated by it. And the MORE frustrating a challenge is, the MORE it draws you in. That’s why the concept of “playing hard to get” can work in the realm of romance. If it’s easy, who cares. But if it’s difficult to attain, that’s a challenge that’ll keep you interested! That’s something you can dedicate yourself to!

If you quickly get through a game, it’s over — there’s nothing left to do. Whereas if challenges continually keep you from getting to the end, you literally might play for years. Sure you’re frustrated, but you keep going and going and going. You MUST reach the end no matter what it takes!!! So that’s life in a nutshell: a series of unconquerable tasks that string you along to the end. After all these years here, I haven’t mastered ANYTHING — and apparently, I’m not supposed to.

And if I did master life’s challenges, there’d be nothing left to accomplish. It’d be: “You Win!” followed by: “Game Over”.

So the question becomes: can I participate in this game-of-life while only experiencing minimal frustration? Must I always find myself maximally frustrated? Is pain simply my preference? I honestly don’t feel like it is, but ample evidence says otherwise. I would theorize that it’s possible to give up the pain-loving lifestyle if I develop an alternate means in which to appreciate life. For example, maybe I could develop a taste for winning.

As it is, I barely care if I win. But when I lose, oh boy, I can feel that frustration brewing. That’s something real. What a thrill it is to feel dominated and defeated!! In every path of life, I’ve felt that same frustration from my inabilities. I’m nothing but a weak and worthless moron that can’t do anything right. A loser. A loser lapping up frustration like it’s the tastiest cake on Earth. Sicko.

Therefore, having recognized my masochistic tendencies AND having recognized that I do not enjoy the level of pain produced by said tendencies, I hereby declare that I will work towards developing a new way to appreciate life. I will celebrate the victories and the revelry, the camaraderie and the creativity, the gentle and the loving — I am done delighting in despair and the not-fair.

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Taking a Step Back

I think you’ll notice that the game-of-life pushes the notion of a concrete physical reality mixed with the concept of random chance. And the reason for that, is because those properties maximize the intensity and excitement we feel here. Everything you see and experience is “real”, born of cosmic fire, created through millions of years of evolution and chemical reaction. There’s an epic-ness to it all. “And what’s this!? Any part of it, including me and everyone I know, will be struck-down by random chance?! Gasp!! Oh no!!! So exciting!!!”

But of course, it’s just predetermined pixels designed to appear as if they’re there. It’s obvious when you stop and stare at the gameplay itself, but when you’re lost in your character it certainly feels like the real-deal. And like I mentioned at the start, the game will keep attempting to convince you that it’s real and random.

If you consider the story of the Pilgrims, it’s the story of some people that put the concept of a non-physical-world to the test. Without any special skill or ability, they boarded a boat and went over to the “new world” trusting in their faith of a benevolent world. God will protect and provide — and in many ways He did. They survived the daunting voyage, there was a native man that just happened to speak English who was willing to show them how to procure food, and there was an “empty” village just waiting for them. While it’s reported that half of them died during the first winter, it’s still a miraculous feat.

There are lots of stories that tell of the non-random, non-physical nature of the world — yet for some reason we tend to say it was “luck”, just random happenstance that could never happen again. Yet, unusual things happen all the time, there are “amazing”, seemingly impossible narratives that happen again and again. The very fact that life occurs in story-like patterns is a give-away in itself.

Lest you think I’m trying to spoil the fun and ruin the surprise, far from it. I’m only attempting to provide some perspective. Without their faith in a non-physical world, the Pilgrims never would’ve been so bold. Whereas if you believe yourself a simple creature struggling for survival amidst a harsh and brutal landscape, you’ll dig a hole and hide away your entire existence — it’s the logical thing to do. But, if you know beyond a doubt that the world wants you well, then you’ll step into the sun, soaking up its warm rays as you seek out the adventure of a lifetime.

So consider this: the world is not real OR random. It’s a game of pretend. You’re a character meant to play out your role. Whenever the intensity of immersion becomes too great, take a step back and realize that you’re not just a character, but also the player that watches, the one having the fun.

Middle Path of Pixels

In terms of a video-game analogy, you do want to be here on Earth playing this game as a specific character. You’re not attempting to get beyond your character. “Enlightenment” is not transcending your character in order to solely identify as the player. That’s dumb — the player came to play, and to do that, he must become a character.

But as a player, you don’t want to over-identify as your character, it’s too stressful. Yet this is what happens: the player gets so lost in the game that he forgets he exists, he believes he’s actually the character. So what enlightenment is, is when the player finally realizes that underneath it all, he’s actually a player — but it doesn’t end there.

Once the player realizes he’s a player AND a character, he must balance those two perspectives into an enjoyable ratio. Too much character is too intense — and too much player lacks a feeling of immersion. All this Earth-stuff is here for a reason, you most certainly want to interact with it, but you need to do so with a lighthearted attitude, not taking things too seriously.

Imagine if you associated too closely with the character of Pac-Man for instance. You’d attempt to hide from the ghosts, you’d be petrified of being eaten, every step you took would be a step closer to your doom. You’d hover over by the power-pellets, your only source of safety in a world designed to destroy you.

Now imagine if you associated too closely with the player of Pac-Man, never immersing yourself in the game. “Who cares about gobbling those meaningless pellets?” — “So what if a ghost gets me, it doesn’t matter anyway.” — “Oh well, died again, and again, and again.” — “Meh, game over, so what.” — “That was quick. Now I’m bored and have nothing to do.”

Whereas if you strike the right balance between character and player: “Ooh! That was a close one! Ha almost got me ghost, but not today!” — “Oh, oops, well I guess his friend got me. But now it’s my turn to get you!! It’s Power Pellet Time!!” — “I can’t believe I cleared the board! Victory is mine!!” — “Second stage! Let’s do this!”

Balancing Perspective

Is life out to get you? Yes. Is life a benevolent experience? Yes. Will life beat your ass? Yes. Will life protect you? Yes. Is life going to scare you? Yes. Is life going to comfort you? Yes. Will you feel pain? Yes. Will you feel delight? Yes.

These aren’t inconsistencies, there’s different layers to life. On one layer, you’re in the shit, sloggin’ it out day after day. On another layer you’re having an awesomely immersive experience that you won’t soon forget.

If this doesn’t make sense, then I’m guessing you’ve never played a video-game. If you haven’t, then you should start. Life will make a lot more sense when you understand it from a game-playing perspective.

In a video-game, you willingly and purposefully and repeatedly subject yourself to constant torment. You die a thousand times at the hands of merciless foes — yet you keep going back for more. The challenge electrifies you, time and again.

If you get too engrossed, you WILL rage-quit. You’ll swear your head off at those freakin’ muther-farthing sons-of-bees. You’ll feel the sting of injustice as you’re robbed of the win by some cheap happenstance that shouldn’t have happened.

And that’s life, baby. You want that challenge. You need those obstacles. It’s the intermittent winning that hooks you in. But what you don’t need, is to over-do it. You don’t need to over-invest yourself in the game.

You’re a character in the thick of things, but that’s not all you are. You’re also a player that sits comfortably while enjoying the action. You need to balance your perspective, finding the spot where the intensity of the experience is just-right.

Dual Perspectives

Let’s play a game. How about Pac-Man? While playing, there are two simultaneous perspectives you’ll hold.

The character’s perspective: You’re a man on the run from a gang of ghosts that want nothing more than to kill you. It’s tense. You’ll barely dodge them as they chase you like prey around the board. And all the while, you have to gobble up every pellet you see. You need those pellets. The most important activity in your brief life is acquiring pellets. You’re obsessed.

The player’s perspective: First and foremost you’re there for fun — there’s no other reason to engage with the game. After all, these are just flickering pixels that don’t count for anything. Sometimes you lose yourself in the character to the point of visible frustration. You might yell or curse at the ghosts. Although ultimately, you understand that the ghosts are what make the game fun — just chomping pellets without obstacles would get real boring real fast.

Do you see the point? That’s life. BUT, some of us completely lose ourself in the character we’re playing — we only see life through the character’s eyes — which is anxiety inducing. Spirituality is the “player’s perspective”. So if you develop and maintain a sense of spirituality, then life becomes a lot more fun.

From a character’s perspective, spirituality is nonsense of course. I’M playing here. I’M in control. NO ONE is playing as me, that’s stupid. Life is EXACTLY as it appears to my eyes! I must chomp more pellets! I must run from ghosts or I’ll DIE! Whereas from a player’s perspective, THAT is a silly attitude. Why are you getting so wrapped up in the woes of a fictional character? Calm down, it’s just a game.

Our problem with life stems from taking the game too seriously and over-associating with the character we’re playing. We get so stressed and anxious that we eventually find no pleasure in the game. We NEED to step back and take things in from the player’s perspective. From that viewpoint, we can see how obstacles actually make the game enjoyable. We cheer for our character but at the end of the day it’s the fun and adventure we’re there for.

Behind the Curtain

If you analyze anything long enough, it’ll stop making sense. Take politics for instance, a bunch of people arguing is somehow considered to be “running the country” — and it’s funny how they always seem to enrich themselves in the process. Or take schooling, what the heck are kids supposed to be learning? I know a lot of people that never payed attention in class and they lived rich fulfilling lives — school-lessons never played a part.

So what’s going on here? Obviously, life is a fictional affair. All those “institutions” are superficial structures not meant to be examined. It’s like the set of a Hollywood movie — if you step through the door there’s nothing there but unfinished space. That shouldn’t surprise you of course, because you’ve always known that something isn’t quite right — you just weren’t sure what it was.

And it’s true, this world is a mirage, a mere charade pretending to be something solid. But that shouldn’t unsettle you, in fact you should be impressed and appreciative. Someone went to all this trouble to make you believe that you were in a “real” physical world. A Hollywood set doesn’t just randomly appear by accident. Structures need to be designed and built (albeit haphazardly), and the underlying story must be written.

Well, you’re in that story. Neat huh? Imagine a ride at Disney World, like Pirates of the Caribbean — it’s an immersive experience in which you’re a fly-on-the-wall watching all that pirate stuff happen. You’re supposed to keep your eyes on the pirates of course — but what happens if you start staring at the black ceiling tiles or notice the EXIT signs? You lose the sense of immersion, that’s what. Put your eyes back on the pirates. Oh look, there’s Captain Jack Sparrow!

In other words, take this world for what it is, and don’t over-examine it. Otherwise, that’s a great way to make it seem lame. You don’t attend a stage-play only to stare at a missed button on the actor’s shirt — you’re supposed to pay attention to the story. Likewise, if you’re not enjoying this world, it means you’ve been focusing on minutia that doesn’t matter. You have to zoom-out a bit and take-in the broad big-picture stuff. Your character is on a path and you’re there to experience the story arc.

Life isn’t hard — being an undisciplined audience member just makes it seem that way. It’s like you’re standing up in the ride-car and taking flash-photography the entire time. Remain seated and keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times. No one makes such an awe-inspiring spectacle of sight and sound just to torture and punish participants — this world you’re experiencing is for your enjoyment. Trust in it.

Making the Switch – Part 2

A part of the Overcoming Negativity series.

First, make sure you’ve completed the task from the previous post: Making the Switch.

Now, I want you to counter your own description. Poke holes in it, make it feel untrue to you. If you need any assistance, I’m here to help. Here was my example, which I will then counter-attack:

The world is a giant rock hurtling around a massive fireball upon which I was randomly born via natural selection. Daily life is about struggling to survive within a harsh environment that cares for no one. I guess I’m one of the so-called lucky ones that gets to exist for at least a brief period of time. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do here, but I’m certain that my vigilance keeps me alive. From this world, I expect stress and pain and an ongoing dissatisfaction that continually crushes my spirit. Once in a while something good happens, but even a broken analog-clock is right twice per day.

And to counter it:

It’s possible that the world I know exists solely as a computer-simulation. Perhaps nothing is physical. Or maybe it’s simply the dream of an ethereal being. And the neat thing is, whatever contains this world might be far beyond my comprehension. Just like the game Minecraft is only a minimalist re-creation of our current world, the world I’m within right now might be a minimalist representation of some greater world. Maybe this life is simply a game I chose to play, just a thing I did for fun.

And if I think about it, I really haven’t struggled all that much. I’m several decades old and the primary obstacle in my life has been my own bad attitude. I felt so certain that life was out to get me, but if the world was truly as wild and wicked as I’ve imagined, I’d be dead by now. It seems like my own thoughts have been the source of the stress and pain and dissatisfaction I’ve been experiencing. Maybe a better attitude is the only thing I’ve been missing.