Magical Mystery

I don’t think there’s any question as to whether magic is real. Magic is the manifestation of intent. From childhood dreams, to success stories, to wishes, to just plain goal-setting, there’s determination underlying whatever comes next. How the particulars happen, we don’t really know or care — external events align and the things we had imagined appear before us.

If the world was purely physical, then things wouldn’t miraculously align like that. The circumstances and people we require wouldn’t waltz into our path like they do. Yet as if by magic, things do synchronize. People do end up fulfilling childhood fantasies, people do meet the spouse of their dreams, people do overcome extraordinary odds, people do obtain success.

So there’s no debate over whether magic exists, the question is, how can we manipulate these forces to satisfy our desires. But a deeper question becomes: can we actually control this magic and do we even want to? Consider this: where do these inspiring daydreams come from? An idea simply pops into our thought-stream and suddenly we want it to come true — but why?

Is there an external narrative going on in which we simply play our part? Perhaps life is purposefully providing the false impression that we have influence over it. In other words, life does all the heavy-lifting but wants us to think we’re doing it ourself. But how could we — we barely know anything. We’re on autopilot — situations present themselves and we simply go along for the ride.

For another perspective, imagine watching a play on a stage. We the audience can’t help the production along — but we can certainly screw it up. We can become overly involved in the plot and shout about what’s going on. We can allow ourself to become outraged over little things or get distracted by a particular scene, focusing on the details we don’t like, no longer paying attention to the action currently happening. We can fail to give the playwright the benefit-of-the-doubt, criticizing the entire time, booing whenever the mood strikes. We can fail to appreciate all the effort that went into the production, yelling about what a waste of time it is.

So which is it? Are we creating the world as we live it — perhaps in a dream-like manner? Is there a pre-written narrative in which we watch as if on an amusement-park ride? Are we capable of changing any or all of it? Do we even want to? Are we the author, actor, or audience? Are the answers to these questions purposefully obfuscated in order to maintain the mirage, adding an element of mystery? Is the world all things to all people, allowing every question’s answer to depend on the perspective?

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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.

Ride the Slide

If I think of life as a dangerous experience, then I’m awarded with excitement. The drawback to this perspective is the potential for anxiety. But if I’m unable to amuse myself in any other way, fear is a great cure for boredom.

If I think of life as a peaceful experience, then I’m awarded with ease. The drawback to this perspective is the potential for boredom. But as long as I have a hobby or creative pursuit, I’ll have something to keep me busy.

If life is a simulation, we might readily select the dangerous experience option. Boredom is the enemy of an eternal being. Any game that becomes boring becomes unplayable. But whether the danger is real or simply perceived is a different question.

So unless we cultivate in ourselvelf the ability to self-amuse with the mundane, then we are truly getting what we wish for when the intensity is turned up high. A tranquil life requires the capacity to derive joy from stillness (like meditation for instance).

There’s an imbalance, an underlying dissatisfaction to life, because that is exactly what we want. Every story or game has something “wrong” that requires resolution. We don’t want to cure the imbalance but simply ride the slide it creates.

Story Mode

In pretend-play, we can imagine ourself as a single-character hero besieged by an army of one-dimensional villains. When we get tired of winning all the time, we might begin to explore our own character, perhaps sending in some tougher foes. Maybe this time our hero struggles to win or maybe loses a few, only to come back more powerful than ever. Eventually, we might even start exploring the depths of our opponents. Maybe they had reasons to attack, maybe they had their own struggles. Perhaps we might begin to see commonality, teaming up to defeat an even greater enemy. Or maybe we’ll see the futility in fighting and begin to construct a grand society.

As we move along a spiritual path, it’s said that we eventually drop the extreme focus we have on ourself. Instead of only seeing the lone protagonist, we start seeing beyond. Instead of seeing those we interact with as pure good or pure evil, we see nuance. During this time, we believe ourself to be a lone actor playing as a single character. As we move along the path, we notice there’s too much synchrony, things fit together too well to be the random interaction of independent characters. We realize that there must be an omniscient narrator holding the story together.

Then as we proceed further, we come to the understanding that we are the omniscient narrator, or at least some facet of a greater being. At this point we realize the story-like nature of existence with its plethora of story arcs. As we proceed on the spiritual path, the story that surrounds becomes more natural to act within. Whereas we used to fight against the plot, we now flow, appreciating the play. What’s more, the drama we witness lessens to match our gentling temperament. Other characters become multidimensional while adding flavor to the narrative.

When we play pretend, we usually know it’s just for fun. Taking things too seriously is the best way to spoil that fun. Likewise, when we take life too seriously, we spoil our fun. The spiritual path is no grander thing than this: to realize the lighthearted nature of existence. And once aware, we’re to play out our role, enjoying the entire experience.

Prior Art

Sometimes I’ll be standing there and the realization will hit me: this isn’t real. In that moment I accept the falseness of my situation — not in a bad way, I simply see myself as an actor on a stage performing my part. From there I usually continue with whatever I was doing, losing myself back into the scene.

It does feel strange to consider the artificial nature of existence. It’s off-putting in a way, but thankfully that odd feeling doesn’t last for long. It’s much better than the alternative of anxiety. Better to live in a manufactured environment than a randomly occurring wilderness where chance determines fate.

No thanks. I tried living that way, I really did. I suppose it was thrilling to think everything was out of my control, that anything could happen to me at any time, that I was a fallen leaf lost in a rushing stream, floating as long as I could maintain my balance. Too thrilling though, so I abandoned the idea.

Now I’m in on the joke. Shh! Don’t spoil it for those that want to maintain it till the end. I’m kidding of course — it’s difficult to maintain awareness of the mirage as we’re bombarded by the flashing lights before us. Bursts of insight do nothing, it takes an all-out effort. But that’s not the point anyway.

The point is to redefine reality. Remap its origin. We want to be here, in this game of pretend, playing along and having our fun. Just don’t take the game too seriously — it’s a lighthearted frolic. In costume playing a role, we need only watch as the story unfolds, or perhaps we throw in some improv. Enjoy.

Frolicking Fragments

Think of a child playing with his action-figures. The child imagines a scene in which these characters are in conflict. Some figures are grouped in the background without much to say, often victims of circumstance. The main-characters trick and surprise one another even though the puppeteer knows full-well the underlying plans of each. The child artfully compartmentalizes the minds of characters, making sure they don’t mix.

Through suspension of belief, the child perceives himself as these individuals, maintaining appropriate actions for each. Yet, if the child’s least favorite character gets a leg up on his champion, a sudden change in narrative will save the day. The child plays as the hapless individual, but he’s ultimately the story’s author, capable of rewriting narratives on the fly. The child is also the front-row audience observing the overall action, an audience cheering for its preferred ending.

These action-figures are regularly presented with dilemmas to be solved. Easy answers are often thwarted as the child enjoys extending his playtime. The characters therefore struggle to overcome an obstacle, attempting to solve its riddle through repeated trial and error. Eventually, creative solutions leak in from the puppeteer who knows the way out. Things begin to fall into place and external pressures lessen. The goal is reached and the scene comes to a close.

This is how a creator can play amongst his parts. Although this description summarizes my observation of an actual child at play, it can be applied to the wider world. Life consists of characters in costume acting out dramatic scenes on a daily basis. There’s an underlying coordination that steers these players into coherent circumstances while creative solutions pop into their minds as necessary. A consistent barrage of obstacles provide fodder for these characters to wrestle with. When objectives are achieved, those chapters come to a close and new ones begin.