Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Way of the Superior Avatar

Are video games a band-aid for our busted souls, or a tool for enlightenment in the digital age?

I wanted to share this post from my main blog GamerThink, let me know what you all think!

A couple weeks ago a friend of mine recommended I pick up a copy of David Deida's The Way of the Superior Man -- it's a self help book on better understanding masculinity, being a good lover/partner (oh la la), and, most interesting to me (sorry lover), discovering and following one's deepest purpose. Deida argues that for a person with a masculine core (90% of men he says) to achieve fulfillment in life the most important factor is aligning oneself with their deepest purpose. I've spent the past few days thinking on this idea, especially considering the ways this drive gets expressed in gaming.

Deida's instructions are pretty simple, basically remove distractions and use meditation as way to unlock one's sense of purpose:

"You stay open to a vision of your deeper purpose by not filling your time with distractions. Don’t watch tv or play computer games. Don’t go out drinking beer with your friends every night or start dating a bunch of women. Simply wait. You may wish to go on a retreat in a remote area and be by yourself. Whatever it is you decide to do, consciously keep yourself open and available to receiving a vision of what is next. It will come."

My first thought after reading this passage was "Wow, is there an inverse relationship between video game usage and having a sense of direction and purpose?" I know for myself, when I get frustrated with a project or am feeling kinda lost in life, that tends to be exactly when I get obsessed with Fallout 2, or SimTower, or whatever I can dig out of my game archive. Sometimes it feels like my purpose is to play video games, but unfortunately that illusion fades pretty quickly under a little introspection. The truth is, most of us struggle with understanding what our deepest purpose is, and many of us haven't even spent much time thinking about it...

Interestingly, video games (narrative ones especially) are awesome models for a purpose driven existence. I'm hard pressed to think of a major game protagonist that wasn't essentially mission driven -- from the perspective of the avatar, there are rarely moments when what to do next hasn't just smacked you in the face. I think this is possibly why video games are so engaging for individuals who may not experience a strong sense of purpose on a daily basis. If it's true that we all (men especially) long for the feeling of having a purpose and following it, it makes perfect sense why video games would be an ideal surrogate for the real thing.

Video games are of course not the first medium to offer this kind of engagement. This process of temporarily adopting a fictional purpose as one's own has been going on since the first story tellers. We do it for entertainment, for distraction, but also for growth. In virtually taking on the identity of a hero, whether through Halo of Homer, we simulate the emotions, thoughts, and beliefs that emerge out of embodying a deep sense of purpose. Video games are arguably the best medium for this process yet invented, so why isn't all our playing turning us into fulfilled purpose driven real world humans? What's the missing link? (No... it's not LARPing).

My theory is that the missing link is self-reflection. Video games invite us to forget our primary identities and needs, and fully take on those of a fictional character. In this way they serve as a diversion from a gnawing truth that haunts most of us: "I am unfulfilled because I am not in touch with a deeper personal purpose". I believe video games could serve as a pointer to this truth as opposed to a distraction from it. The very best storytelling works this way, like a instruction manual for discovering the meaning of life and pursuing it. This exactly how many spiritual texts and myths have 'operated' for thousands of years.

The key element in achieving this positive effect is to incorporate a process of self-reflection into the narrative or game experience. The problem is, when we play video games they become fully subjective experiences, and usually we forget we are playing a game (just like real life). In fact, they are designed with that effect in mind: immersion. And with good reason, it's damn fun to lose yourself in a more fulfilling existence. However, self-reflection, or in other words the process of transcending the subjective and coming to see one's experiences, emotions, and beliefs as separate and distinct from a truer self, is the universal core of spiritual growth and self discovery. It is out of this truer self that the all important sense of deepest purpose emerges.

I deeply believe video games have the potential to engage the player in reflecting on their life (real and virtual alike) by transforming once subjective experiences into something subjective and mutable. In essence catalyzing spiritual growth. In fact, video games are ideally suited to this purpose because of how simple it is to manipulate a player's sense of 'what is real' within the game.

Let me be clear, this is not an argument against designing awesome immersive virtual experiences, rather, it is an invitation to engage the player's awareness on a fundamentally new level. Tibetan Buddhists have trained and used the technique of lucid dreaming for more than 1,000 years in order to achieve this very goal. In a lucid dream, the 'player' is simultaneously immersed in a perfect virtual (biologically, rather than technologically derived) reality while remaining aware that the entire experience is an illusion. This practice is intended to reveal the illusory nature of reality, allowing the player to transcend, what is in truth, a very consistent and persistent dream. By stepping outside this dream individuals connect with the part of themselves that is most real, and in in doing so illuminate their deepest purpose. There are countless practices (meditation, yoga, study, entheogens, prayer) that individuals use to reach this goal, but across many spiritual traditions this process of self actualization is the essence of enlightenment.

The majority of people never 'wake up' from this dream, but I believe video games, as unsophisticated as they might be today, are the ideal platform for catalyzing "enlightenment" on a mass scale. Of course the question remains, how specifically to 'wake the player up' through game design. Thankfully, a number of
great games in the past have achieved this 'effect' to some degree, and I don't think it's a coincidence they are some of the most loved game titles of all time. An analysis of those games, along with some fresh ideas are on their way in future posts.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Computer games that awaken - Part III

In Part II of this series of posts I examined how computer games could be structured so that playing the game would train players to:

· dis-embed from thoughts, desires and perceptions, and come into the present;

· develop the capacity to remain in the present in the face of distractions (including by being given positive feedback on returning to the present after becoming embedded again);

· dis-embed and remain present in the full range of situations and contexts encountered during daily life, including in circumstances that evoke strong emotions;

· use a technique that is highly transferable to ordinary life in order to stay non-attached and in the present (e.g. by dividing attention so that part of their attention rests continually on ‘inert’ bodily sensations); and

· take advantage of dis-embedding by replacing habitual responses with actions that are wiser and more intelligent.

In this post I will look more closely at the potential of computer games to overcome a major difficulty encountered by the spiritual and contemplative traditions: their practices and approaches have been able to produce dis-embedding and awakening ‘on the meditation cushion’, during retreats and in monasteries, but have far less success in the midst of ordinary life. Hence the ubiquity of ‘enlightened’ gurus who can apparently ‘resist temptation’ while meditating, but go on to abuse their followers financially, emotionally or sexually. And skills that are learnt on meditation retreats are generally lost soon after a return to ordinary life.

This difficulty is a major impediment to the future development and evolution of humanity: the serious challenges that currently face humanity require awakening in the midst of ordinary life if they are to be met successfully. The higher capacities that can be accessed by awakened consciousness are essential if humanity is to understand and manage complex environmental, economic and social systems.

In large part this difficulty arises because learning and training is generally context specific. A capacity that is trained on the meditation cushion will not transfer readily to the entirely different context and circumstances of ordinary life. In particular, the nature of the thoughts and emotions from which the practitioner dis-embeds in meditation are different to those encountered in normal life, as are the stimuli that evoke them. Withdrawal from ordinary life to practice meditation makes it much easier to achieve dis-embedding by reducing the intensity of experience, but at the cost of transferability.

Few of the traditions have overcome this impediment by specifically developing practices for use in the midst of ordinary life. Nor have many focused on particular methods for training presence that are highly transferable to ordinary life.

Computer games have particular features that give them the potential to overcome this difficulty. First, because they can simulate a wide range of circumstances, they can train the capacity to come into the present in all the kinds of contexts and situations that are encountered in ordinary life. They also have the potential to train dis-embedding in circumstances that players would avoid in ordinary life (this is very important because until individuals can dis-embed in these circumstances, their behaviour will continue to be controlled by them).

Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, games have the capacity to train methods of maintaining presence that are highly transferable to ordinary life. In particular, games can be structured to train players to continually anchor part of their attention on sensations within their body. This ensures that part of the person’s attention is always dis-embedded and free during the events of ordinary life.

But the greatest potential of computer games to overcome this difficulty comes from their ability to operate as an overlay on ‘real life’. This enables a person to play and interact with the game while they are going about their ordinary life. To succeed in the game, players must carry out tasks and meet challenges in the real world.

It is easy to see how such an ‘overlay’ game be structured to motivate and guide players to be present and mindful in the midst of the activities of their daily life. For example, an overlay can:

· treat actions that train awakening as achievements that count towards progress in the game (e.g. actions such as practicing dis-embedding and coming into the present, as well as staying mindful in the face of a wide range of distractions [including remaining mindful while engaging in conversations, social interactions, meetings, playing sport, showering, reading, arguing, watching television, eating, walking in the street, riding in a bus, experiencing strong emotions, and driving a car];

· act as an alarm clock to remind players to come into the present (a major challenge encountered when ‘working on oneself’ in ordinary life is remembering to awaken and practice. The spiritual master Gurdjieff suggested working in groups so that it would be likely that at least one person is awake at any time, and therefore able to wake the others up. Game overlays are a much more effective solution);

· assign tasks and practices to players during the day, and give guidance (the overlay could monitor the state of the player, and allocate practices that are appropriate to the player’s circumstances - e.g. it could require the player to awaken whenever stress levels increase);

· link multiple players in order to use competition, cooperation, social pressure, social approval etc to motivate progress in the game (including to motivate the performance of developmental practices and exercises);

· use bio-feedback and remote monitoring to assess the progress made by players and to inform players of such things as when they have successfully stilled their minds and when they might need to come into the present or perform particular exercises (e.g. because they are experiencing strong emotions); and

· motivate actions and practices that develop collective consciousness, including the instantiation of a global workspace system at a collective level.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Computer games that awaken - Part II

In Part 1, I discussed what ‘awakening’ involves and began to identify the key elements of practices that can train awakening and mindfulness. In this post I will continue this examination in order to see how computer game can be structured so that they produce the same effects as meditation and related practices.

As we have seen, meditation trains the capacity to dis-embed consciousness from thoughts, desires and emotions. It achieves this through practices in which the meditator repeatedly moves attention away from thoughts and desires. But something more is needed if this practice is to train the capacity to move into the present. As well as disengaging attention, the meditator needs to practice moving attention to something that leaves consciousness dis-embedded.

Most forms of meditation bring the meditator into the present by requiring attention to be moved to ‘inert’ sensations. Common examples are sensations of the breath, other sensations within the body, a sound (e.g. a mantra), ritual movements, an object, or a visualization (in some forms of mindfulness meditation, open and non-judgmental attention is given to thoughts and feelings as they arise). To be effective, the sensations must be ‘inert’ in the sense that they do not themselves evoke a train of thought or any desires. Resting attention on sensations of this kind will tend to bring the individual into the present—attention will remain dis-embedded from any sequences of thought or desires.

This ‘mind-stilling’ effect of ‘inert’ sensations explains why we can be brought into the present momentarily by such activities as viewing a sunset, taking a shower, looking at good art, overseas travel, diving into a cold lake, an ‘ineffable’ moment in sport, looking at a beautiful, symmetrical object, and viewing a movie scene that is visually interesting but demands no interpretation. It is also why ‘if you see through innocent eyes, everything is divine’ (for a more detailed examination of ‘awakening’ and how it can be understood in terms of information processing models of brain functioning, see my paper ‘The future evolution of consciousness’).

In summary, the essential elements of meditation are to dis-embed attention and to move it to ‘inert’ sensations or perceptions. If these essential elements are incorporated into computer games, playing the game will train the capacity to awaken and be in the present. Games need to be structured so that to succeed in the game, the player must practice dis-embedding consciousness and moving into the present.

Some existing computer games use bio-feedback to achieve this, at least in a limited and rudimentary fashion. Journey to Wild Divine uses bio-feedback of heart rhythms and skin conductivity to represent the state of relaxation of the player. The game presents challenges that can be overcome only to the extent that the player achieves and maintains a calm state. In a simple example, the player must regulate their level of relaxation in order to levitate a ball on the screen.

Heartmath uses bio-feedback of heart rhythms to train the ability to reduce stress levels, and NeuroSky has developed a headset that monitors brain wave patterns. NeuroSky has created a simple demonstration game that enables a player wearing its headset to push objects such as cars by concentrating on them, and to levitate objects by relaxing.

Using bio-feedback to train awakening has a number of limitations. First, bio-feedback is able to train access to a particular state only to the extent that the feedback is a good correlate of the state. The problem for common approaches to biofeedback is that calmness and relaxation are not a good indicator of ‘being in the present’ in all circumstances. For example, an individual can be in the present even though their body may be manifesting a stress response. Mindfulness and ‘being in the present’ does not involve suppressing normal bodily responses to fear and other emotions. Although individuals who are in the present are not embedded in their responses and so can act more wisely, they still experience their feelings, sensations and emotions fully.

Second, the value of bio-feedback can be limited where the goal of the training is to develop the ability to come into the present in the midst of ordinary life, unaided by any external process. To achieve this, individuals need to learn to discover and use their own internal feedback process. They need to be able to sense something within themselves that indicates when they are in the present. Individuals need to use this internal sensation to practice coming back into the present whenever they find themselves embedded again in thoughts or desires. Games that use bio-feedback should therefore be designed so that players have to learn as quickly as possible to replace external feedback with their own internal feedback process.

An alternative to the use of bio-feedback in games is to incorporate challenges that can be overcome only if the player is in the present and dis-embedded from thoughts, desires, perceptions and other distractions.

For example, the game may be structured to demand continuous, concentrated attention on a particular focal point (at its simplest, this could be a requirement to monitor a particular location continuously). Or it may demand relaxed but continuous attention over a wide field (at its simplest, this could involve a requirement to monitor two or more widely separated locations simultaneously and continuously). In both these examples, the game would be structured so that success would require dis-embedding quickly from any thoughts, feelings or perceptions that interrupt continual monitoring.

This basic framework could be used to train the capacity to awaken in the full variety of circumstances encountered in ordinary life. This would ensure maximum transferability to ‘real life’. In particular, different aspects of a game could focus on training the ability to dis-embed from particular classes of ‘distractants’. For example, the content of a game could be designed to produce various kinds of emotional reactions in players, and to make success in the game depend on dis-embedding from them. This would train the ability to stand outside emotions and implement wiser responses. Different aspects of a game could also be designed to train dis-embedding during each of the key activities in which individuals engage during ordinary life.

Explicit trainings that provide instructions about how to come into the present could be integrated into the narrative of games. For example, the game could provide guided meditations at appropriate points.

As is necessary for games that use external bio-feedback, it would be important to design these games so that players develop their own internal feedback processes for maintaining presence. A key goal would be to train players to always rest part of their attention on bodily sensations while engaging in an activity. This would ensure that attention does not come to be fully embedded in the activity. The part of the player’s attention that is rested on bodily sensations is always dis-embedded. Dividing attention in this way ‘anchors’ the individual in the present.

Once games dis-embed players, they can also train them to reflect on their thoughts and emotions, realize the limitations of their habitual responses and devise wiser ones. Story-based games that immerse the player in a complex quest are particularly suited to this approach. The game can be structured so that the players’ desires, values, beliefs, thought processes, unconscious motivations or other predispositions limit their ability to succeed in the quest. To proceed further, players must reflect on their predispositions, recognize the limitations of their previous approaches, and attempt to free themselves from them. Dis-embedding combined with reflection can rapidly develop meta-cognitive skills and emotional self-regulation. In this way, computer games can provide the same kind of learning that is experienced by the hero of mythology in his journey of self-discovery.

In Part III we will look at how computer games that operate as an overlay to ‘real life’ can be structured to guide and motivate awakening in the midst of ordinary life. We will see how they can overcome many of the difficulties encountered by previous approaches.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Media and Why We Buy

Here's an interesting article that just came out in the Times on image, priming, self, etc. as they relate to desire -

Also, for those that are not aware, TSC has a NING site up at Please participate and add your abstract to your profile! If you read the Times article, I suppose I should post a picture of someone of the opposite sex before making the request!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Computer games that awaken - Part 1

In previous posts I have discussed how computer games can be structured to make the acquisition of skills enjoyable and relatively effortless. In this post I will explore their potential to train the capacities that are generally associated with spiritual development.

More specifically, I will examine whether computer games can be designed to produce the same kinds of effects as meditation. Are computer games able to motivate and guide the kinds of practices that awaken human beings? Does the ability of computer games to overlay real life give them the potential to motivate the practices needed to awaken us in the midst of ordinary life?

These are critical issues for humanity at present. We are in great need of the capacities that are claimed to be produced by spiritual development and meditation. These include: access to ‘higher mind’ (including access to wisdom, intuition and other capacities that are essential for understanding and managing complex environmental, economic and social systems); the capacity to free oneself from the dictates of negative emotions and motivations (e.g. the ability to ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘resist temptation’ at will); and the ability to experience life from a position of stillness and peace, without stress.

However, it is evident from the dearth of enlightened ones amongst us that the spiritual and contemplative traditions do not often succeed in developing these capacities in their adherents. Only rarely do the practices and approaches they recommend succeed in producing these capacities to a significant degree. The traditions themselves acknowledge the difficulty in achieving spiritual development (for example: many are called, but few are chosen; the gate is small and the way is narrow; the path to salvation is like walking a razor’s edge; reaching enlightenment takes many life times; and seekers must work so hard that the soles of their feet sweat).

Do computer games have the potential to change this? Can they guide and motivate practices that will develop these higher capacities? Could they play a major role in awakening humanity? If the potential of computer games is fulfilled, will a new type of human enter history and evolution?

To address these issues, we first need to understand what ‘awakening’ is, and how meditation and related practices can train it.

It is useful to compare the ‘awakening’ of consciousness with awakening from a dream. While in the midst of a dream, we are embedded in it. We are unable to see that our behaviors in the dream are restricted and limited. We cannot ‘stand outside the dream’, think about and reflect upon how we behave in the dream, and see that our actions ignore many factors that we would normally take into account.

In contrast, when we awake from a dream, our consciousness is no longer embedded in it. Consciously we ‘stand outside’ the dream and we can think about and reflect on our actions during the dream. We can see our actions in a wider context and consider alternatives and their consequences. We can see immediately that the way we behaved in the dream was often absurd in this wider context.

Awakening in the midst of ordinary life is an exactly analogous process.

In ordinary life, we are embedded almost continually in our desires, perceptions, emotions and thought processes. In particular, we generally do not consciously ‘stand outside’ our desires and emotions. We do not consciously choose our likes and dislikes. Nor can we choose freely to move at right angles to our motivations and emotions. We cannot effortlessly ‘turn the other cheek’.

Nor do we have a well-developed capacity to stand outside our thinking as it proceeds. We tend to be embedded in and attached to our thoughts. We have some capacity to think about our thinking, but when we do, we are embedded in our thinking about our thinking. We have little voluntary control over whether our mind is occupied by thought or not. We cannot still our minds at will and just ‘be’ in the present.

Because we are almost continually embedded in thought and desires, we are not aware that we are embedded in them. As when we are dreaming, we are not aware that there is a state of greater consciousness and awareness that we are missing. Our consciousness is fully occupied by our incessant thinking and feeling, so there is no awareness left over to see our thinking and feeling in a wider, wiser context.

This is perhaps the biggest impediment to the further development of consciousness in humans. It prevents us from seeing the limitations of our existing state.

However, when we are awakened and come into the present, thinking and emotions no longer crowd out our access to intuition and wisdom. Once consciousness is free from absorption in thought and feeling, we experience consciousness as being more spacious and perceptions as being more vivid. We also experience peace and centeredness because our attention is no longer continuously jerked out of the present by desires, emotions and thinking. But this does not mean that we repress our emotions and feelings when in the present. They continue to arise and we experience them fully and vividly. But we are no longer embedded in them – they do not dictate our behavior, we can reflect on them freely, and can respond wisely rather than habitually.

How can we train ourselves to awaken in the midst of ordinary life and to stay awake at will? The spiritual and contemplative traditions have developed a wide range of practices that are claimed to do this. And they have an extraordinary array of explanations and theories about why their particular methods are effective.

But most of their practices, including most forms of meditation, include a simple but powerful training process. Most practices train the ability to dis-embed attention from thought and desires. They require the practitioner to repeatedly take attention away from thought processes and from desires and emotions as they arise.

At first this training has little effect: individuals spend nearly all their time embedded in thought and desires, as usual. But gradually the practice trains the ability to spend at least small amounts of time in the present, with attention dis-embedded.

In Part II of this series of posts I will look in greater depth at the essential elements of this form of practice, and consider how they can be embodied in computer games. We will see how computer games are not limited to producing states of absorption and immersion. They can also train us to be more aware and conscious.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Evolution: the greatest game of all

I concluded my previous post with a brief discussion of strategy-based simulation games.

These games motivate players to find out for themselves how complex situations respond to their actions, interventions and strategies. Complex circumstances that can be simulated by games include any aspect of everyday life (including social interactions, goal setting, and ethical and moral choices), environmental systems, societies, economic arrangements, and political and governmental systems. To succeed in the game, players interact with the simulation to learn the consequences of various choices and actions.

Strategy-based simulation games are particularly suited to exploring the emerging evolutionary worldview. This new worldview locates humanity in a much larger evolutionary process that has a meaningful role for us. It therefore is central in providing science-based answers to the ‘big questions’: What are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going to? What should we do with our lives?

Evolutionary science is developing an understanding of the universe that makes sense of human existence. Far from being a meaningless accident in an indifferent universe, life appears to have a central role in its future.

There is a direction to the evolutionary process that has produced life on Earth and that will determine our future. Importantly, humanity has a role in these larger processes. Whether we fulfill this role effectively will determine whether life on Earth contributes positively to the future evolution of life in the universe. What we do here and now matters in a bigger scheme of things. Humanity has a central role in a great adventure.

To date, evolution on Earth has moved along its trajectory of its own accord. But it will not progress beyond this point unless it is driven forward intentionally. Evolution will continue to advance on this planet only if certain conditions are met: humanity will need to awaken to the fact that we are living in the midst of a meaningful and directional evolutionary process, realize that the continued success of the process depends on us, and commit to intentionally moving the process forward.

If this transition to intentional evolution is to be completed successfully, sufficient numbers of people across the planet will need to develop an understanding of these complex evolutionary processes and their implications for humanity. However it is not easy or straightforward for individuals to build this understanding.

But properly-designed computer games can make a major contribution to overcoming this difficulty. They can graphically simulate evolutionary processes across wide ranges of time and space, motivate the effort required to develop the complex mental models needed to envisage the processes, and facilitate exploration of the consequences of the evolutionary worldview for the individual and for humanity.

Computer games are particularly suited for this task because evolution operates like a game. There are struggles for survival, strategies, competition, and winners and losers. Everything that survives (including all life currently on the planet) is the winner in some evolutionary game, and has been shaped by it.

Looked at from a gaming perspective, evolution can be seen to be ‘The Greatest Game of All’. It is the game in which we, our societies and future humans are all players. Evolution is the game we all play whether we want to or not, or whether we are conscious of it or not. It is the game that sets the context and frame for everything we do in our lives.

Evolutionary games can challenge players to discover and explore strategies that will win evolutionary games in a wide range of circumstances. For example, appropriate simulations could lead players to discover and understand the direction of past evolution on Earth, the direction of human social evolution, why moral and religious systems emerge and why they take the form they do, why we have the types of emotions we experience, how evolution has shaped our motivations, personalities, needs and values, the nature of the next great steps in evolution on Earth, how the critically important step to a unified global society can be organized while maintaining diversity, creativity and freedom, where evolution in the universe might be headed, what humanity might do to contribute positively to this process, and so on.

Of course, the ability of a game to facilitate evolutionary understanding will depend on the relevance and accuracy of its simulations. For example, much that is learnt in playing the game Spore has little to do with actual evolutionary processes or outcomes. And many of the key features of the evolutionary processes that have shaped us and will continue to do so will never be learnt playing Spore.

The evolution of cooperative organization is a very important area for game simulation. The central trend in the evolution of life on Earth has been towards the organization of cooperation over larger and larger scales. Evolution has moved through a sequence of transitions in which smaller-scale entities are organized into larger-scale cooperatives. Self-replicating molecular processes were organized into the first simple cells, communities of simple cells formed the more complex eukaryote cell, organizations of these cells formed multi-cellular organisms, and organisms were organized into cooperative societies. A similar sequence has unfolded in human evolution from family groups, to bands, to tribes, to agricultural communities to city states, to Nations and so on

The next step in this evolutionary trajectory is the formation of a cooperative and sustainable global society.

Games that simulate this trajectory will need to capture the fact that although cooperation is an extremely effective evolutionary strategy, it does not evolve easily. Cooperative organization is easily undermined by free-riders that take the benefits of cooperation without contributing anything in return. Evolution only progresses when it finds a way to suppress free-riding and to align the interests of individuals with the interests of the whole.

When this is achieved, cooperation pays because individuals capture the benefits of their cooperation (and the costs of any harm they visit on others). This is how cooperation has been organized at all levels, including at the level of individual cells, organisms (including humans), corporations, and Nations (for more on the evolution of cooperation, see Chapters 4 to 7 of my book Evolution’s Arrow).

Games that capture these dynamics should be able to explore the evolution of cooperation at all levels, including the forms of organization that will be needed to enable the emergence of a cooperative and sustainable global society.

Computer games that explore the evolutionary worldview can make a major contribution to the awakening of humanity to its role in the evolutionary process. When individuals involve themselves in designing or playing these games, they are therefore participating in a major evolutionary event on Earth – the transition to intentional evolution in which humanity wakes up to what the universe is about and commits to actively advancing the evolutionary process.

A further very important trend in the trajectory of evolution is towards increasing adaptability, creativity, intelligence and consciousness. The furtherance of this trend within humanity requires not only the acquisition of greater knowledge but also enhanced skills and capacities. Computer games that advance this trajectory will therefore have to motivate activities, practices, and experiences that develop these capacities.

This will be the subject of my next post.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Meaning of Truth in the Media

Of course, we all know that truth is relative; the personal and cultural view of truth is contextual. But, what can we say about the eternal verities? What are those anyway, and should they be considered at a meaningful media discussion? I’m not sure that anyone who plans to attend MM wants to get into that philosophical discussion. On the other hand, “transformation” can go in many directions—even sideways. In the decades after World War II, the media-initiated transformation of American cultural values from needs to wants. This marked a transition to the so-called “consumer” culture—certainly a major transformation. To most people, this seemed like a good thing at the time, but as documented in the BBC documentary, “Happiness Machines,” we see that this transformation had its origins in what many would recognize as a pathological “nightmare” that led to Cold War foreign policy and Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Based on the arguably paranoid schizophrenia of certain academic researchers, professionals, and industry elites, these policy manipulators were successful in altering the collective consciousness and turning much of the 20th century into a psychological trap modeled on game theory and the symbolic manipulations of the media, advertising, and statistics (The trap: Game Theory).

George Lakoff has argued that a “rational enlightenment” faith in the human capacity for reason is faulty. In fact, Lakoff cites research which suggests that 98% of human function is based in dimensions of the cognitive unconscious. My feeling is that the views of Jung, Lakoff, and others in the field of cognitive research have not received adequate attention. Re-framing our approach to global crisis from a perspective on cognitive science and the media would prove practical and cost-effective in every way.

The cognitive view of reality is far more comprehensive and scientifically based than orthodox science—until lately—has been willing to admit. Jung says, “Nothing influences our conduct less than do intellectual ideas…for such ideas represent forces that are beyond logical justification and moral sanction…man believes indeed that he moulds these ideas, but in reality they mould him and make him their unwitting mouthpiece.” (Jung, 1933, p. 42) He observes that, “Under the influence of scientific materialism (What he calls The Spirit of the Age), everything that could not be seen with the eyes or touched with the hands was held in doubt,” (p. 173) Based on discoveries in quantum physics, researchers in an array of cognitive sciences have been exploring dimension of the cognitive unconscious—dimensions that, due to apparent compatibilities of physics and cognitive science, qualify as psyche-physics.

If Jungian thought did not generate much of the thinking in current cognitive research, Jungian principles are certainly compatible with this thinking. Jung understood and articulated what is now emerging as scientific fact in many fields: that the “materialistic” Spirit of the Age was not particularly rational. He said, “It is a religion, or—even more—a creed which has absolutely no connection with reason, but whose significance lies in the implicit fact that it is taken as the absolute measure of all truth and is supposed always to have common-sense upon its side.” (p. 175)

The measure of truth seems to be related to our cognitive architecture—the narrative-metaphorical frames that experience and repetition have forged. So, what do folks have to say about this kind of truth? George Lakoff argues that the basic assumptions of rational materialism are faulty. (Lakoff) Bernard Baars notes that all cognitive models are based on the theatre metaphor (Baars) that assumes a dynamic relationship between vast unconscious dimensions (of psyche) and a much more limited “lighted stage” of consciousness. Due to discoveries in Physics, modern science has gone well beyond the truths of rational materialism. In our everyday media-sphere, we experience the scientific fact expressed by Shakespeare that, “There are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in (our) philosophy.”

The commonplaces of our media age are ideas that were given no credence in the recent past: thoughts are things, time and space are relative, day exists simultaneously with night, time is a psychological phenomenon, politics is religion, two plus two equals five, the past can be changed, space can bend, and dreams are real. Meanwhile, two of the most rational facts of our time are ignored. Of course, these facts have to do with the catastrophic consequences of ignoring the “natural” environment and the suicidal consequences of ignoring the psychological-somatic global media environment. Perhaps it is time to review Jungian principles of the cognitive unconscious from the perspective of an emergent media age.

Jung was the quintessential media expert, and he researched the quintessential medium—the medium of dreams. By discovering how dreams function in an environment of psyche, Jung discovered the fundamental parameters of a media age. But so far, the benign mandate of mediation has not been adequately addressed, so most of the indications are that the media can have an overwhelmingly negative impact on all aspects of culture. This subject has been addressed by Neil Postman who argued that the structure of our media influences the structure of our culture and of our cognitive processes. (Postman) Observers of the syndicated nightly news for the past decade or of the 2008 elections understand that the so-called reality we experience in the media is too often delusional. Jonathan Schell recently addressed the problem in The Nation (Schell) where he details the political dangers of unprincipled political campaigning. The campaign provided meaningful insight as to a future in which humans intentionally recreate reality with the technology and dynamics of illusion. The media-sphere must be our first priority. It is upon the media that all else depends.

I have one final recommendation as to the nature of “truth” in a meaningful media. Significant research on the influence of the heart on cognitive function can be found at This is important research relative to the coherence of heart rhythms and oscillations and their affect on cognitive processes in both personal and collective energy fields. Technology already exists and is in process of being applied to the unified Earth field. Relative to any discussion of truth and meaningful media, we cannot afford to ignore the intelligent heart.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Meaningful Flow Engineering - some examples and possibilities

In my previous post, I looked at how computer games and related technologies can operate as ‘motivation engines’. They can be designed to provide us with motivational paths to meaningful, longer-term goals that we may be unable to achieve otherwise. The goals may include the acquisition of skills, knowledge, enhanced consciousness, etc. Appropriately structured and tuned, games can enable us to move effortlessly and enjoyably towards these goals in a state of Flow.

Games can do this by treating steps taken towards meaningful goals as progress in the game, by providing positive feedback for each step, and by matching the level of challenge with the level of the player. Games can also be structured to treat steps taken in ‘real life’ as actions that count within the game. In this way games can provide an overlay to ‘real life’ that motivates ‘real’ actions that serve ‘real world’ goals.

In this post I will provide some examples of games that are designed in ways that motivate achievement of serious goals. Even with a limited background in computer games, it has been possible to find a wide variety of existing ‘serious’ games. They illustrate some key principles in the design of meaningful games.

But it is also clear that these are very early days in the evolution of these kinds of games. The resources that have gone into their development are miniscule compared with other types of games. Many serious games are rudimentary and it is easy to see how they could be improved and extended.

So the examples also serve to demonstrate the enormous potential of meaningful computer games. We can expect that the next decade will see an explosion in interest. There will be fortunes to be made, fame to be had, and meaningful work to be done, all in the service of goals that are critically important to the future development of humanity. As we will explore in later posts, computer games have the potential to assist the emergence of a new type of human, more conscious and aware.

But I will begin with examples of games that promote physical development. Games that motivate exercise (exergames) are becoming common. Often they use sensors to translate bodily motions and other data into actions within a game. To succeed in the game, the player must undertake various physical activities (see here for a recent overview). Some allow multiple players and competition amongst them.

The ‘Brain Fitness Authority’ website describes a variety of games that are directed at improving cognitive capacity. At this stage many of the games appear to involve relatively simple mental tasks that exercise attention shifting and working memory. But research shows that games using these approaches can increase capacities such as fluid intelligence, and improve working memory in children with ADHD. By continually adjusting the degree of difficulty of the exercises in the light of player performance, these games ensure that the player is continually extended.

At California's Virtual Reality Medical Center, therapists are treating phobias and other anxiety disorders with video games that simulate driving, flying, heights, tight spaces, and other fear-inducing situations. Participants are desensitized by being taught how to relax using biofeedback processes while being gradually introduced to situations that evoke fear.

The computer game Journey to the Wild Divine uses bio-feedback to provide a representation within the game of the degree of relaxation of the player. In order to succeed in the game, players must manipulate this representation by controlling their level of relaxation, learning self-regulation in the process.

A simple example of a game that overlays ‘real life’ and incorporates real life tasks into the game is ‘Chore Wars’. It can be used to motivate the performance of household chores by setting up competition between multiple players and by rewarding winners.

A far more complex overlay was developed to organize the alternate reality game ‘World without Oil’. It collaboratively produced a simulation of a global oil shortage. The game successfully motivated thousands of people with disparate skills to track the first 32 weeks of an oil crisis and to develop and share solutions.

In a very stimulating talk at the 2008 New Yorker Conference, Jane McGonigal, a designer of ‘World without Oil’, discusses how alternative reality game frameworks have the potential to motivate multi-disciplinary collaborations to solve real-world challenges.

Wikipedia itself can be seen as owing much of its success to its game-like characteristics. Contributors compete for positive feedback in the form of social approval and status, help create something worthwhile that is much bigger than themselves, and are involved in a continual struggle with ‘enemies’ who attempt to degrade its quality.

The Global Transition Initiative intends to use a Wikipedia-type framework to motivate and organize collaboration amongst experts, lay people and interested parties to develop solutions to global warming and other major environmental challenges. Examining Wikipedia and the Global Transition project from a ‘gaming’ perspective has the potential to improve their design. It focuses attention on how their parameters can be structured to provide strong motivational and Flow paths to attract and motivate potential collaborators.

Educationists are increasingly turning to computer games to motivate learning. Games are structured so that winning necessitates acquiring the relevant knowledge (see, for example, the Learning and Teaching Scotland site). A fairly sophisticated example assists student to appreciate the necessity and practicality of learning additional European languages. To solve puzzles posed by the game requires collaboration amongst multilingual communities of high school students across Europe. This game also exploits the potential of multi-player games to promote learning about the benefits of cooperation and how it can be organized.

Simulation games have proven very effective at motivating players to discover how particular complex systems work and respond to interventions. For example, a variety of global warming games simulate the consequences of actions that might exacerbate or ameliorate climate change. And Peacemaker enables players to adopt the role of Israeli Prime Minister or Palestinian President and test out various strategies intended to advance the interests of their side.

Of course, these types of games are only as good as their simulations. But their potential to facilitate and motivate understanding of important complex phenomenon is enormous. And their potential far surpasses that of alternatives such as books.

Increasingly, simulation games are likely to be designed to motivate exploration of the consequences of alternative ways of acting in the world and of organizing ourselves socially. For example, they could facilitate the examination of alternative life choices, personalities, modes of being, roles (including roles in different genders, races and cultures), emotional responses, motivations, values, ethical principles, political systems, worldviews, economic arrangements, governmental polices and interventions, and so on.

For players to succeed in these types of games, they will have to develop an understanding of the complex consequences of alternative choices. Playing the games will therefore tend to generate the insights needed to exercise rational self-interest in a complex world. For example, succeeding in a game may require the exploration of how alternative values and norms impact on the economic success of a society, or on the quality of lived experience within the society. An example of an extremely simple game that motivates reflection on life choices in the light of the inevitability of death is Passage.

It is worth pausing here for a moment to note the broader evolutionary significance of intentional FLOW engineering, particularly its potential to create motivational paths in 'real life'. In past evolution, FLOW engineering was carried out primarily by natural selection (supplemented by cultural evolution to a limited extent in humans). In effect, selection fitted organisms out with desires, needs and motivations that ensured they did what was necessary to succeed in evolutionary terms. For example, humans and other organizms have been fitted out with patterns of likes and dislikes that generally lead them to reproduce. Natural selection tended to structure the motivations and needs of organisms so that they would achieve evolutionary goals living in a state of FLOW.

However, natural selection is largely limited to motivating behaviour that produced evolutionary success in past environments. In the complex and rapidly changing social, economic and ecological environments in which humans now find themsleves, the FLOW engineering that was undertaken by our past evolution is often proving to motivate sub-optimal and sometimes highly destructive behaviour. Intentional FLOW engineering using computer games has the potential to radically change this. It has the potential to drive a critically important transition in human evolvability. It will enable humans to construct motivational paths to whatever goals are consistent with the needs of future evolution. No longer will we be restrticed to FLOW paths built by past evolution.

In my next posts I will look at the potential of computer games to develop capacities and knowledge in areas that are of particular interest to me. First I will look at the potential of strategy-based simulation games to motivate and provide understanding of the emerging evolutionary worldview. This science-based worldview is revealing that the ‘big evolutionary picture’ is capable of providing meaning and purpose for human existence. Then in subsequent posts I will look at the potential of computer games to develop and enhance consciousness.

There are many areas of exciting potential for the further development of meaningful computer games that I will not be dealing with. Hopefully some of these will be explored by other participants in this blog. I see that Stephen Schafer has already posted a very stimulating blog entry on the potential of story-based games as transformational media.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Story-Based Games as Transformational Media

Story-Based Games as Transformational Media

In John Stewart’s posting, “Flow Engineering using computer games,” he begins to “sketch some ways in which computer game frameworks can be used to promote the positive development of humanity, both as individuals and collectively.” The general subject of transformative media is directly relevant to another conference venue, Social Approaches to Consciousness, and together they become a mandate for meaningful media.

The term media covers a lot of ground, and it is by virtue of an infinite array of mediation that humans learn about their environment, themselves, their cultural values, and the meaning underlying the patterns of their lives. I think that the discovery of relative meaning (personal or collective) is the essence of the “Flow” experience in its many forms. Among the variants, I would include insightful learning, biofeedback, Maslow’s “peak” experience, epiphany, the healing experience of patients under Jungian psychiatric treatment, or mythic transcendence—what Joseph Campbell called atonement (at-one-ment) with the Father that is achieved by the Hero at the end of the Hero’s Journey.

A mythic marker of such experiences is the loss of time sense that can be associated with many “profound” human experiences, and the loss of time sense is a significant aspect of what is experienced as “immersion” in a video game (or transcendental meditation). However, in video games, such immersion is enhanced by interactivity—the manipulation of a “joystick” that registers player choices and provides her/him with sequenced, direct, positive feedback. As John points out, the degree of motivation and skill-matching associated with any activity greatly enhances the potential for meaningful control and the experience of Flow.

As to the question of whether a Flow path to an important goal can be engineered, I would advocate for the employment of story-based games (SBGs) as narrative architecture that enhances the experience of Flow. Furthermore, if the narrative architecture in SBGs were programmed according to parameters of Jungian amplification theory, it would tend to a “comprehensive capacity to engineer strong motivational paths to longer-term goals that would fundamentally change human potential.” If successful, such architecture would have a multi-leveled mereological impact.

Why story-based games? SBGs have all the elements of Flow: interactivity, immersion, and dramatic structure. Narrative/dramatic structure is a common denominator among all cognitive research models including Global Workspace, cognitive framing, the functions of Jungian psyche, and neurobiological mapping. So, research on the creation of sophisticated psychological Flow paths in SBGs would be instructive from both the perspective of consciousness research and the effective applications of that research to education and meaningful media policy at cultural levels. Such meaningful media research and application would result in a fundamental change in human potential. That potential would incorporate Jungian dimensions of “Heart” (feeling and intuition) as well as sensing (perception) and thinking.

Carl Jung understood that dreams have all the elements of good Greek drama and that this dramatic structure provides a framework for analysis. SBGs engineered according to the principles of this dramatic structure could have the same “healing” potentials as dreams.

This is a subject that can only be touched in a blog, but here are some general examples of how SBGs might be engineered according to Jungian principles:
· Myers-Briggs personality profiles could be incorporated in order to insure that game challenges are reasonably matched to player skills and interests. This would enhance player motivation and predispose to the experience of Flow.
· Narrative principles of the mythic Hero’s Journey could be incorporated in a myriad ways to provide a clear sequence of challenges, nuanced player choices leading to positive feedback, motivational pathways that predispose the player to new insights, complex characterization based on Jungian archetypes (as energy patterns in a unified field), personalized and meaningful goals leading to character development (premise) and player self-realization, and a more practical appreciation of a living media-sphere or unified field (dramatic unities) of psyche-physics.
· Of particular interest is the subject of mirror-neuron circuitry or systems (MNS). Research using fMRI or EEG to map the brain and neural processes of SBG players could contribute substantially to our understanding of Jungian functions (thinking, feeling, sensing, intuiting) as they participate in mostly unconscious player choices. In other words, we might begin to track brain function according to Jungian holistic principles of psyche in order to divulge information about such manifestations of “Heart” as empathy. Such information would contribute to furthering our knowledge about Flow and what constitutes transformational or meaningful media.
· Mirror neuron systems are important factors in Theory of Mind (ToM). Theory of Mind posits the ability to attribute mental states (beliefs, intents, desires, etc.) to oneself and others, and recent research (undertaken by Vittorio Gallese and others) on MNS underlines potentials of MNS that seem to be related to the ability of a person to recognize and anticipate goal-directed movements. If such movements were simulated in the programming of supporting characters (known as artificial intelligence or AI) and avatars in story-based games, characters would be more sophisticated and drama more nuanced. Interactivity would be more intuitively fluid and more meaningful for the player. Perhaps more important, such increased authenticity in game play would provide a steady stream of data captured by way of biofeedback, fMRI, or EEG technology relative to the patterns of mirror system activity in the brain. Such knowledge might lead to a better understanding of Flow.
· The graphics or narrative architecture of SBGs could as well be programmed according to authentic principles of symbolic interpretation as they have been discovered and recorded in case studies where Jungian amplification (metaphorical extension akin to metaphorical framing) has been employed in dream analysis. Knowledge gleaned from such data accumulated with a variety of research designs might be used in subsequent game programs to reinforce “positive” neural patterns that arise relative to the Flow phenomenon.

I eagerly anticipate John’s next installment discussing existing games relative to Flow paths and meaningful goals.

Friday, April 24, 2009

'Flow Engineering' using computer games

This is the first of a series of posts that sketch some ways in which computer game frameworks can be used to promote the positive development of humanity, both as individuals and collectively. The posts are intended to stimulate discussion and sharing about some of the key themes that will be explored in depth at the Meaningful Media Workshop.

This first post examines how computer games can be designed and structured to overcome a major impediment to the positive development of humanity.

Part of being human is having long term goals that we are unable to achieve easily (or sometimes at all). Often our difficulty is that we are not motivated to do all the things that are necessary to reach the goal.

For example, we don’t necessarily find satisfaction in the actions needed to lose weight, to get fit, to learn a musical instrument, to get a better career, or to develop our emotional, social, cognitive or spiritual intelligence. The fact that we find a long term goal extremely alluring does not automatically provide us with the motivation to take all the steps to achieve the goal. Unfortunately, human psychology is not organized that way (yet).

Computer games and related technologies can help overcome this significant impediment to human achievement. To see how, we will begin by looking at what we can learn from cases in which motivation is not a significant problem.

In some circumstances we sail effortlessly towards our goals. For example, we appear to be able to sustain motivation over a long period when there is a sequence of steps that will take us to our goal, and each step happens to be intrinsically rewarding and satisfying.

On some occasions, we find ourselves moving effortlessly along such a ‘motivational path’ in a state know as Flow. In a Flow state we are strongly focused on a sequence of challenges and are fully immersed in responding to them. We move through the challenges enjoyably and without effort, often losing track of time.

A key condition for maintaining a Flow experience is a balance between the level of ability of the participant and the degree of difficulty of the challenges. Each step must not be so easy as to produce boredom, nor so difficult as to evoke anxiety. Some features that appear to be common to most Flow paths are:

· A clear sequence of challenges that require the exercise of skill;

· Direct positive feedback when a challenge is responded to successfully;

· The challenges are reasonably matched to the participant’s (developing) skills, giving the participant a sense of control; and

· Negative thinking is suppressed through the merging of action and awareness, and by a requirement for concentration (more on Flow can be found here).

But there are no Flow paths or other strong motivational paths to many of our important longer term goals. To what extent can this be overcome by intentional ‘Flow engineering’? Can we embed ourselves in circumstances that provide motivational paths to our goals? If there is no ‘naturally occurring’ Flow path to an important goal, can we build one?

A comprehensive capacity to engineer strong motivational paths to our longer-term goals would fundamentally change human potential.

Computer games and related technologies have an enormous potential to engineer motivational paths, including Flow paths. It is this capacity of computer games to provide flow paths that makes them absorbing and addictive. In large part, the success of a video game is proportional to its ability to evoke a Flow experience.

It is easy to see how computer game can be structured to provide motivational paths that meet all the criteria for producing Flow. Sequences of challenges, direct feedback, a requirement for concentration and merging of action and awareness are all easily incorporated into a game framework. And most importantly, the interactivity of computer games enables dynamic matching of the degree of difficulty to the level of the player. Matching can take advantage of interactivity by monitoring and assessing player performance and by allowing player-choice (either explicit or implicit). [More on tuning games to provide Flow (including ‘Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment’) can be found here].

The potential of computer games and related technologies to provide motivational paths is almost unlimited. In principle, they can provide a path to almost any goal. This is because any achievement that moves a player towards a goal can be a challenge that is rewarded within the game. An achievement can be the acquisition of a skill (whether physical, cognitive or spiritual), the development of particular knowledge or insight, a behavioral outcome, or the accomplishment of some specific task or state of affairs. It also can be something that the player achieves in ‘real life’, provided there is a process that translates the achievement into a game input. This input could, for example, be collected by automatic monitoring or sensing processes (including biofeedback), or could be produced by the player (e.g. by inputting reports through an interface).

In this way, a virtual gaming framework can be applied as an overlay to activities in real life. The overlay would treat achievement of particular outcomes as progress within the game. The outcomes that are rewarded would be chosen so that they provide a new motivational path to longer-term, ‘real life’ goals. For a simple example, the real life goal might be the loss of a particular amount of weight, and actions that are rewarded within the game may include activities that reduce food intake and burn calories. Rewards may include the satisfaction of doing better than others in a multi-player framework.

The best way to get a feel for the extraordinary potential of games to provide Flow paths to meaningful goals is to look at some existing games that do this. It is also useful to consider how new games could be designed and tuned to provide motivational paths to other meaningful, ‘real life’ goals. This will be the subject of my next post to this blog.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Breadth of Conversation on Media and Consciousness

I'm so pleased to see this discussion in association with the consciousness conference in Hong Kong. I think that it is important to early on point out that while there are many problems with media use and it's effects across types of media, but probably most with electronically mediated media, there are also great advantages. I would hate to see us simply be added to long list of voices that condemn media use to varying degrees and was pleased to see the recent post on the potential of flow as a model for motivation in gaming.

Electronic media effects are a complex picture and thus do not easily reduce to good or bad, arousal or calmness, face to face or virtual realities, etc. I face this especially with my research program into the effects of video game play on consciousness. I'll be reporting on the dream aspects specifically but we have looked at a variety of dimensions of consciousness in our lab. I recently had a review of the basic thesis appear in the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology ( My thesis has been that hard core gaming, sans addiction which is about 11% of the gaming population, can be viewed as a sort of meditative technique.

This is, of course, tricky as meditation comes in thousands of forms and our understanding of it in the west is just beginning. But the foundation of this thesis can be seen in the idea that Virtual Reality is the culmination of the ages old search for physical trancendence. This view was beautifully stated by Daniel Czitrom (as cited by Biocca, Kim and Levey in their "The Vision of Virtual Reality") who observed, "The dream of transcendence through machines is an ancient one, and the urge to annihilate space and time found particularly intense expression through new communication media . . . The accelerated evolution of media hardware and software has been fueled by the persistence of utopian urges in the population at large" (pp. 187, 194). This was point out in 1982!

As much as discussions and research in to meditation in the west have accelerated, what is clear is that these practices should not be reduced to stereotypes. The tradition that I have followed the most, at least in reading and participating in their research, (i.e., Transcendental Meditation) points out that it is the experience of transcendence that is the key and not the practice of meditation per se. They do hold however, that this is most quickly attained during meditation but can be achieved in various other ways. So for instance sufi dancing, long distance running, shamanic drumming, some forms of sexual activities, and so forth. My point is that to say we must stop arousal or not be exposed to violence (and here I know I am going out on a limb!!!) is to narrow our scope, understanding and implications of the effects of electronic media.

Thus in our research program we have searched for similar outcomes from gaming as have been reported from meditation. We began with the repeated finding regarding dreams, the higher incidence of lucid and control dreams among high end gamers. Also various video game labs have noted the association of flow to gaming. It should be noted that while flow can be conceptualized as a motivational variable as noted in another blog post herein, it is also viewed as a state of consciousness by Csíkszentmihályi who originally conceptualized it. Other parallels include our prelminary association of mindfulness and gaming as well as field indepdence and gaming. The attention findings are very strong regarding the benefits of gaming. Also the spatial/vestibular implications both from the meditative literature and the gaming literature offer further parallels. The list goes on.

While media effects literature is large and broad, other than discussions of flow, there is very little discussion or research on the relationship of media use to consciousness. This is what we collectively have to offer that is a unique perspective on societies media absorption.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A cognitive approach to diagnosing the media dream

Relative to treating psychological maladies or sociopathic behavior, perhaps reducing aggression with video games is just the beginning.

The human domain is a mediated reality in which human evolution can be measured in terms of its capacity to create tools for mediation. While it is not self-evident that human beings are superior to all other living organisms, it is self-evident that they have a unique capacity to communicate complex information from an “inner” reality and to articulate that data in the “outer” reality. The languages we call media range from a wink to a snarl, from English to Ebonics, from smoke signals to dreams, from hieroglyphics to computer programs. From the human perspective epistemology is a study in the philosophy of mediation. We humans have always shared a media age, but we are just beginning a media age that pushes the limits of technology and bleeds into the realm of psyche. If the nightly news and the “media dream” were diagnosed by Carl Jung, he would say that the collective psyche is in a state of trauma. Notwithstanding the mythic tools of metaphysics and alchemy, we have just recently acquired the tools necessary to address such a scope of psychosis in a scientifically predictable way. The tools include Jungian amplification, global workspace theory, neurobiological framing, and story-based video game technology. The common denominator that synchronizes these disciplines is narrative-metaphorical structure; which, applied to the media-sphere of the contemporary world, can first diagnose and then address the psychic imbalance of collective humanity.

Games to Reduce Agression

Here's an interesting post about using video games to reduce aggression - The game in the article is pretty simple (showing words).  The "priming" phenomenon has also been written up in Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational (one of the TED books last year).  These techniques are easily integrated into video games.  Reducing aggression would certainly be meaningful.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Meaningful Media

We plan to hold a Meaningful Media workshop during the Asia Consciousness Festival in Hong Kong that will bring together leading researchers from the consciousness community with media (and especially interactive media) experts.  One of the few technologies that tracks the exponential growth of many of our problems today (pollution, population, etc.), digital media technologies have the potential to transform perspective and world-view.  Media acts in the realm of the mind to influence behavior.  The sights we see, the sounds we hear, and the games we experience incite emotions and shape world-view.   For example, you can probably recall moments when films made you laugh, cry, or feel scared.  Today's advertising applies many of the theories of psychology to influence behavior (for those that haven't seen it yet Adam Curtis wonderfully outlines the development of the advertising industry in his series Century of Self which is available online here:  

In the case of Meaningful Media, we pose the question "Can we apply media to liberate rather than subjugate the mind?"  I am personally inspired by a book by the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti which is also available online (chapter 1 at  Addressing the issue of personal development / transformation lies at the heart of nearly every major problem that we face in the world today.

Although we come from different cultures and perspectives, and may have different beliefs and world-views, we share a common biology that is governed by the same principles in the material world.  EEG, galvanic skin response, and heart rate variability are measurable and correlate to emotional experience.  Consciousness studies strives to develop an understanding of the relationship between mind (influenced by media) and body (objectively measurements possible).  Interactive media and video games coupled with biofeedback provide a feedback loop to personalize experiences and entrain.  The Internet allows rapid dissemination of ideas and media (sites like inspire millions).  In the early days of computer technology, we programmed computers to improve efficiency.  In today's world of multimedia, they program us.  How many have become emotionally dependent upon the Internet or the mobile phone?

Although I have not yet met Stephen Schafer or John Stewart in person, we share many common interests and a common goal of actively working toward more peaceful and sustainable ways of being.  We believe that media technologies provide a valuable tool towards achieving this goal.  

Please join us.