Virtual Free Will

If life is an RPG (role-playing game), what about free-will? Because it’s a game, there’s a bunch of preset missions customized for each character. And like a game, characters are of a particular type traveling an appropriate path. RPGs tend to lead characters to the correct checkpoints at the right times. Once at the checkpoint, the player can decide whether to cross or not — but if he doesn’t cross, he’s not allowed to do anything significant, he stalls and becomes depressed.

So as to maintain the illusion of control, life does allow mistakes to be made. In other words, if you try to break something, it’ll break. So yes, recklessness is possible and will likely cause your character to experience some unpleasantness. Manual-control provides the most immersive sensation possible and greatly amplifies the gaming experience — but the drawback is, you can derail your narrative.

But to remain on the rails, it’s not skill that’s necessary, it’s trust in your story — faith. Our character knows what he’s doing, it’s our consciousness that’s completely clueless. Characters are best on autopilot, it’s manual-control and mental-intervention that gets in the way, causing our character to trip over himself. It’s impossible to mentally control the complex process of existence.

Then were does free-will fit in? We enter with a preset personality and an appropriate set of goals that must be accomplished. But we do have consent in the sense that we can refuse to cross each finish-line. Our refusals come from fear or an immature devotion to an ideal. The game doesn’t force us into the next step if we’re not ready to handle it. But again, it’s not a skillset issue, it’s a trust issue — our character can handle it, it’s our consciousness that hinders.

Ultimately the game wants us to win — win in the sense that we engage enjoyably with the world we’re in. If at anytime we derail our narrative, the game is always patient and graciously waits to welcome us back. Our acceptance comes in the form of active-pursuit of the goal. We must head in its direction, doing whatever we’re inspired to do, not filled with doubt and trepidation.

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Role Playing Game

At this stage, life seems most like a role-playing game (RPG), where I’m playing as a particular character-type within a specific narrative. Disclaimer: I don’t have a lot of experience with actual RPGs. There’s a bunch of preset goals that must be accomplished — and the game will lead me to those points the best it can. I think there’s time between the checkpoints where I can screw around and do whatever, but eventually the time comes to cross each finish-line.

I think this RPG does a lot of hand-holding and leads me through without much effort or necessary knowledge on my part. The resources just show up when needed, ideas just form in my head, and any skills I perform are released at the appropriate time for my character. Easy peasy. Like any game though, the most difficult part is syncing with the rhythm of the action (e.g. pressing JUMP at the right time, etc).

But in this game, in which I’m supposed to be on autopilot most of the time, “syncing” has to do with not getting in my own way. In other words, my character functions fine without mental intervention. When I attempt to manually-control and think my way through a task, I trip over myself. The game allows manual-control because that provides the most immersive sensation possible — otherwise it’d feel too much like a scripted movie.

Yet I seem to be taking the game too seriously — the total-immersion scares the heck outta me. I really feel like a fragile little creature crawling around a big rock attempting to survive while surrounded by impending doom — it’s a bit overwhelming. Because of that, I find it very difficult to trust and let go. And even though it’s impossible to mentally control such a complex process, I keep trying to do so.

Relatedly, I think I’m required to actively and purposefully cross each checkpoint. I can stall all I want — I shouldn’t, but I can. This is probably where people typically screwup their narratives — by resisting their story due to fear or an immature devotion to an ideal. If you’re not prepared for the next step, why would the game force it on you — so you’re stuck right where you are, stalled and depressed.

I suppose acceptance comes in the form of active-pursuit of the goal. I must head in its direction, doing whatever I’m inspired to do, not filled with doubt and trepidation. I have to have faith in my story. When I do stall, I think the game often forces a change in perspective by applying so much negative pressure that I’m basically forced to give up and let go. I could continue denying the change, but at my detriment of course.

Video-games are most fun when they stretch our abilities yet allow us to win in the end. I think this game really wants me to win. I was confused and overwhelmed at first, caught off-guard by the intensity, but as my perspective broadens, I can see the underlying entertainment-value of it all.

Game Pace

If I play a game very conservatively, trying to manage my damage, then it’s not very fun, especially if I’m taken out abruptly by something unexpected — all that caution and care for naught. But if I play a game too carelessly, dauntlessly rushing in with guns blazing, then it’s over too quickly, I never get to experience any depth of gameplay.

So there’s a balance to be had. I have to pace myself. But it’s difficult to pace oneself unless you know what you’re up against — how difficult are the challenges and where’s the finish line? An easy game allows you to adjust to conditions as they become known. A hard game doesn’t tolerate mistakes, but expects you to adapt to its conditions by repeatedly playing from the start.

A lot of games depend on players playing them over and over — you win some, you lose some. Whereas some games are open-ended and meander along with rules and victory-conditions that are more malleable. Maybe life is all things to all people, perhaps for some it’s a harsh game with zero tolerance for error — perhaps for others it’s an open-ended stroll through a lighthearted landscape.

It seems as though we place these conditions on ourselves. From early on I used to take the game-of-life oh so seriously, setting many limits on what I could do, believing in harsh consequences for mistakes. But now that I’ve dismissed all that super-seriousness, I’m surviving just the same. Life was only as hard as I believed it to be.

As for pacing, maybe life adjusts to whatever amount we’re willing to give. If we’re in it for the long-haul, then we have a long life with a detailed narrative to match. If we’re here for high-intensity then BOOM, we’ll get it. Like every game though, we likely play again and again, perhaps selecting different perspectives each time.

What’s frustrating about a game is not usually the game itself, but our insistence on a particular outcome. If our goal is to simply enjoy the game no matter how it proceeds, then there’s not much to stress about. But yeah, it sometimes takes maturity and creativity to figure out how to extract the fun from a certain point-of-view.

Cannon Fodder

As someone that invests in the idea of simulation-theory and the virtuality of existence, I’ve been busy doing research by playing a MMOFPS (Massively multiplayer online first-person shooter game). It took me a few weeks, but I recently reached my goal of getting into the top level. The top level is highly competitive in its own right and contains higher leagues, but I don’t care about that, I just wanted to get into the highest numbered level.

There were times when I wanted to quit because I was fed-up with being cannon-fodder for higher-powered players. I eked out an existence by capturing points for my team while they did the bulk of the fighting, and other times I hid behind stronger teammates. But as my capabilities grew, there were times when I stood out front crushing those that dared stand before me.

Overall I had a pretty quick rise through the ranks. But this resulted in me being matched against tougher and tougher opponents, usually in a league or two above me. Although I know what it feels like to be the top guy in a match, I’ve been squashed like a bug many more times.

Was it hard-work and grinding through the lower levels that allowed me to reach my lofty goal? Somewhat. But like a lot of these games, there’s a lottery system. I won things that helped me progress at an accelerated rate. I don’t know if the lottery was rigged in my favor to entice me to keep playing, I simply accepted those wins as my very own good luck.

Another factor beyond my control is the matchmaking. Why am I teamed up with certain people while pitted against others? An algorithm controls my fate. No matter how good I think I am, I get crushed when placed amongst the higher league players. But other times I do the demolishing, it simply depends on the matchmaking. Of course when I win, I chalk it up to pure skill but when I lose it’s due to terrible matchmaking (which it is).

Regular life appears as though it has lottery-like resource dispersement. It has a matchmaking system that introduces certain people into our life while fading others out. We’re pitted against opponents in regularly occuring contests. There are preset goals we’re expected to achieve. Our character even comes with a particular set of attributes.

There are times in regular life when we feel like cannon fodder — and sometimes we want to quit because of it. In games, oftentimes our character is battered and tattered and limping through the virtual-world, yet we persist. So in life we must also persist. We must find the fun amidst the turbulence and keep progressing until we collapse.

There have been times when it was obvious my team was going to lose, we were smashed from the start, yet we stuck it out — fighting relentlessly until the buzzer — and we won. What a feeling that is, to be so close to defeat yet pull out a victory at the end of a hard-fought battle. It’s intense, minutes feel like hours and the prize is so much sweeter.

Of course, sometimes my team did lose badly, but it was that context that became the foundation for the elation that would occur with subsequent wins. Every narrative must have its ebb and flow, that’s simply how it works. We can plainly observe narratives taking place all around us, which proves life’s fictional nature.

It’s silly to yell at the screen when things don’t go as expected. We watch shows and ride rides specifically because of the rollercoaster inducing effects they provide. Essentially, I wanted to lose again and again just to increase the tension so that I could maximize the feeling of triumph.

So when life feels at a low, it’s the same thing — tension is building for the purpose of an eventual payoff. But realize that the outcome only comes when we stick around to see it. If we quit, it’s over — the tension and its reward dissolve back into the aether of potentiality.

Yet why doesn’t the gameplay always align with our preferences? Why are we taking part in contests that we can’t sync with? Why are we riding rides that turn out to be too fast? Why are we involved with stories that are too intense? That’s because there’s an exploration and discovery period where we’re supposed to figure out our perfect fit. Basically we’re shopping and experimenting — and that in itself can be fun.

For instance, when I started playing the MMOFPS game, I clicked with certain combinations of weapons yet couldn’t effectively use others. Even though some weapons were clearly effective at defeating me, I just couldn’t use them myself. So to determine which weapons I was best with, I had to try them all out. It was a turbulent time when I lost a lot, obviously — yet overall, the experimenting was entertaining.

We come into this game not quite comfortable with our role, so we spend time testing things out. And we must remember that every contest seems silly when overanalyzed. We mustn’t judge a mechanism of triumph. For instance, I feel triumphant playing an MMOFPS game. Someone else might feel triumphant overcoming a disease. Every life is full of triumphant episodes, even though outside observers might not appreciate them as such.

Untainted by Paint

In the MMOFPS game I recently started playing, I regularly and purposefully select to be brutally murdered by a horde of unrepentant killers — and I enjoy it. I don’t enjoy brutality per se, I just like the tag-you’re-it, defend-the-base style of gameplay. Yet I do find the violent way in which it’s depicted a bit amusing, there’s a dark humor to it.

So it makes me think about this world, you know? If this world is just a simulation, then why wouldn’t the gameplay be similar? Some people are just gonna tear sh*t up, blastin’ with guns blazin’ — right? But the neat part of this world, I’m guessing, is that players are segregated into different themes of play. Some do relationship-drama, some peacefully farm, some strive for objectives, some holler an’ fight, and some spectate, watching it all go down (what good is a trick if no one sees you do it, right?).

There’s probably a bunch of categories that people are assigned to. And sometimes we worry we might cross into other categories, but I’m thinking we can’t. So if you’re on the peaceful track, then you’re good, no need to worry about violence. But since this world is virtual, I bet a lot more people than you’d think have the brutality option checked. After-all, it’s fun to experiment with video-game characters we control, pushing them to their limits, testing their mettle.

If people cared, the world would be a safer, less-savage place — yet we don’t care. We regularly ignore the ceaseless violence, recklessness, and abuse that goes on around us in order to focus on our mundane daily lives. Why is that? It must be that we’re not meant to care or interfere — we’re each having our own little dream, but our roommates just happen to be freaks (no judgement, they’re just into some really freaky stuff — macabre themes, sadomasochism, restraints, choking — all of it).

Some might see this viewpoint as a form of existential victim-blaming, which it is. It’s implying that individuals are experiencing the world exactly as they themselves intended, brutality and all. It’s as if at some point prior to existence, we each browsed a dossier of details and selected our character’s traits and the approximate path he’d take. But to keep it interesting, we signed-off on the introduction of unknown challenges and other surprises.

In the MMOFPS game I’ve been playing, I’ll often charge into a group of opponents, blasting away, not caring a whit whether I’ll survive because it just doesn’t matter. We’re all just pretending to be painted pixels. The underlying player remains untainted by the splattering paint of the virtual world. And that might be true of this world as well. Perhaps there’s an underlying player that remains untainted by the splatter, unrepentantly enjoying the spectacle of existence.

Tale of the Gun

Recently I’ve been playing a MMOFPS (massively multiplayer online first-person shooter) game. It counts as research into virtuality and helps me to conceptualize certain real-world topics with game-world simplicity. A first-person shooter is a genre in which you blast other players with projectiles, and in this case you compete against other players from around the globe in real-time battles. I don’t have too much experience with MMOFPS games, but I’d liken the concept to a game of tag, except everyone is “it”, so everyone tries to tag everyone else (unless it’s team mode, then two teams attempt to tag one another).

This particular game was a struggle at the start because the controls were cumbersome and took me awhile to get used to. I was getting blasted left and right. But once you get blasted, you respawn within the same game and just keep at it. I struggled at the lower levels for awhile and often leveled-up by using more non-confrontational methods such as entering arenas against slow-moving NPC (non-player character) enemies. But eventually I got better and was able to hold my own against other real-time players, if not dominate in certain circumstances.

Again, I’m explaining all this because I’ll be using it as a foundation to discuss real-world concepts using game-world simplicity. For instance, I don’t enjoy matches that are too easy, I now appreciate my opponents and the close battles. And I also wouldn’t be relishing my current dominance if I hadn’t been repeatedly squashed like a bug so many times before. The game makes it apparent that actual existence cannot be too easy or else we simply wouldn’t enjoy it, we’re only satisfied through struggle. Not in a masochistic sense, but just a perspective sense, we need to see the bottom to fully appreciate the top.

During several unsuccessful periods in the game, I wanted to quit, never to return. I hated it, yet I was pulled back and stuck it out. Eventually I found a groove and started having fun. In actual existence I don’t feel like I’ve found that groove yet, but I’d say my gaming experience helps me to understand the totality of the path. A game without obstacles is not entertaining. And the games that provide the fullest most immersive experiences are the ones that keep us on the precipice of defeat. But once mastery kicks in, we can sit back a bit and appreciate the game in a different way.

When our skill-attributes are to their max, it can be fun to turn the tide of battle with a mere flick of the wrist. Or, help newcomers that wouldn’t fare well without a guiding hand. Or, purposefully limit ourselves to weaker tools and master new ways of doing things. But it takes a self-discipline to design and maintain our own fun I think. The easier route is to lose yourself to the game and let a narrative lead the way — but this can get too intense. I tend to get too wrapped up in narratives so I’m constantly reminding myself not to take things too seriously.

For the rest of my real-world gaming experience, I think I’d like to level-up to mastery-mode. Where whatever I do just works. Where resources flow freely. Where my presence is appreciated. Where teammates always have my back. I’ve been on the losing team long enough I think. I get it. I can clearly conceptualize a broken world. I can quite easily imagine tales of lack and suffering and injustice, but now I want my thoughts filled with fellowship and fun, experiencing the greatness of what life has to offer.

Gaming Economy

A bunch of friends decide to play Age of Realms, a multiplayer game in which participants attempt to build up their own regions within a larger shared environment. Players collect resources in order to grow their region and can trade or battle with one another.

John has never played before and doesn’t know much about the game so he struggles a bit but has some fun exploring this new adventure. Pete logged in under his older brother’s account and started with a lot of pre-collected resources. Sam is a natural gamer and takes to it like a fish in water, he even found a giant stockpile of gold early on. Like John, Jeff never played either, but he’s unsure of what to do and he accidentally wandered into a dense dark forest — he’s kinda lost. There’s a few other friends playing as well (Ted, Matt, and Lucas), they’ve played a few times and pretty much know what they’re doing.

As expected, Pete and Sam take early leads and their realms grow at a rapid pace. John and Jeff remain at their initial levels for quite some time. The other guys are growing their realms bit by bit. Because they’re still in the initial phase, no one has really traded or battled with each other’s realm yet. But eventually, Pete gets to the point where he bumps into Jeff’s realm. Without any resistance, Jeff’s realm is absorbed into Pete’s. Jeff spends the rest of the day playing a different game on his phone.

Ted notices what happened to Jeff and attempts to form an alliance with Pete. Pete likes the idea of being a feudal lord so he accepts Ted’s territory as a vassal state. Pete’s and Ted’s combined power is now enough to overtake Matt, who had been about to get pretty big. Matt sits and watches videos on his phone the rest of the day. Lucas has been doing his own thing this whole time, making a quaint little village in his realm, with shops and farms and barns and all sorts of pleasant sights. He’s quickly crushed by Pete and Ted. Lucas reads a book for the rest of the day.

All this hasn’t gone unnoticed by Sam who’s been busily upgrading his realm the whole time. John’s been busy exploring the new world and experimenting and just having fun getting used to it all — that’s when Pete and Ted come knocking. John goes running to Sam and asks for an alliance. Sam, feeling kindhearted, accepts the alliance, forcing Pete and Ted to back-off for a bit. John then spends less time exploring and more time working on boring stuff for Sam.

The grander purpose of a game is not winning, a game simply serves as a medium for merriment. Either all participants enjoy themselves or there’s no point in playing. In this scenario, unchecked dynastic wealth warps Pete’s options for finding fun. Pete is starting the game with so many resources that he doesn’t need to engage in an initial exploration and build-up phase. Starting out with limitations allows the other players to appreciate the little gains they experience. But getting a little more is worthless to Pete, so he needs to get a lot more. And seeing how his position makes it easy to conquer others, he pursues this particular strategy of attainment.

Players such as Ted attempt to attain more by teaming up with Pete. Now Pete’s power includes the ability to muster an independent army of followers. Players such as Matt and Lucas don’t offer much resistance because that’s not their style of gameplay, they’re easily overcome by players whose sole goal is conquest. Because of Sam’s ability and luck he’s able to serve as an initial counter-balance, but that doesn’t help other players unless Sam is in a charitable mood.

Severe imbalance ruins games. Without balance, things will quickly devolve into drudgery except for the top few. To alleviate this problem, gameplay must be regulated, caps must be placed on resources, and those excesses must be redistributed to players with less. Pete is not a bad-guy, it’s the lack of regulation that allows his excessive behavior. Banning him from the game is a short-term solution that doesn’t fix the overall issue. Players like John and Jeff need to be provided with adequate resources and education. Players like Matt and Lucas need to be allowed to develop in their own directions, free from molestation by marauders. Players like Ted need better alternatives than becoming henchmen. And players like Sam need the freedom to play without having to constantly worry about everyone else.

A game cannot exist without rules. Rules and their enforcement provide structure. The foundation of that structure is the enjoyment of each and every participant. Each participant must be allowed to pursue his happiness and must be provided with the education and resources necessary to do so. Anything less than this violates the objective of self-determination — no one should have so much power as to dictate how others must play.