I’m using the virtual-world of Minecraft as a metaphor for the real-world again.
How would an efficient programmer design a simple yet captivating virtual world? By inducing a constant state of high anxiety within the player.
Using Minecraft as an example, my emotions are most invested when I’m in survival-mode with the normal difficulty setting that allows for aggressive enemies. I build a small cave in the side of a mountain and stay indoors most of the time and I don’t explore too far beyond my home. In this mode, my known world is tiny and my resource requirements are minimal, I care only about maintaining my existence.
But when I’m in survival-mode with the difficulty set to peaceful, my known world increase substantially and my resource requirements grow rapidly. I care about exploration and the adventure of reaching faraway places. I also care about the creation of impressive structures, tall buildings with artistically placed materials.
And when I’m in creative-mode, my known world is at its most expansive state. My resource requirements are enormous as I build large structures within small cities. I have no care for hunger or falling or any other dangers, as they don’t exist, so novelty and artistic expression are needed for maintained interest. This mode obviously requires the most work from the game-designer.
For an even simpler example, hide-and-seek is a very minimal yet exciting game. Just sit still inside a dark closet for many minutes as you’re entertained by the thrill of the hunt. Fear is an all-consuming emotion that engages us completely. So if I don’t allow myself to be at least slightly frightened, then hide-and-seek loses its excitement — I’m just waiting around — boring.
We can therefore see that fear is an easy way to captivate players while utilizing minimal effort. And the things players fear need not ever exist, the game can simply allude to their existence. But what we as players must do, is properly balance that feeling of fear. We need to pull back on our emotional investment if the fear reaches a level we don’t enjoy.
We can readily assume that life is employing this same type of fear-induced captivation technique. For instance, I was taking life way too seriously and my anxiety levels were unenjoyably high. I then started distancing myself until my emotional state reached a manageable level – and I’m enjoying myself much more nowadays.
The way in which I distanced myself was to invest in the idea that the world is a computer simulation. Nothing is physically real, only a mirage. Some people might not need to go to that extreme, but for me it’s necessary. What this belief means is that I no longer maintain any fear. Scary thoughts still appear but they’re dismissed.
My physical surroundings haven’t changed, but the way in which I interpret stimuli has altered dramatically. In Minecraft terminology, I’m still in survival-mode with enemies on, and I’m still in my little cave, but I’m happier here. I no longer imagine zombies banging on my fragile wooden door. I sit relatively comfortably just entertaining myself.
But it’s a strange transitional place I’m at. In one sense, I don’t hear zombies moaning outside my door, yet every form of media I consume assures me that they’re there, just waiting to get me. I don’t want to completely disengage from the world, so I have to take everything with a grain of salt, devising ways to interpret things from a pleasant perspective.
Think about this though: boredom is a state we must always avoid, as it’s unbearably uncomfortable. Unless I can successfully entertain myself in creative-mode, I’m actually better off in survival-mode. Creative-mode remember, requires artistic expression and novelty. But I think I’m ready to handle it, so that’s my goal, getting into a creative-mode mindset.
To illustrate the difference, let’s go back to hide-and-seek. If I’m no longer using fear as a means to induce a thrilling time, I would need to entertain myself through the creative selection of hiding spots, or by tricking the seeker in some amusing way, or by imagining some humor in the situation.
An important aspect to keep in mind is the assumption that this computer simulation is designed for entertainment purposes only, not as a means to torture inhabitants through perpetual discomfort. The discomfort we feel is due to our own misunderstanding — and once righted, we’re free to engage the world in a more enjoyable way.