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Reality is Broken: Epic Meaning

With the sixth chapter, we conclude Part One: Why Games Make Us Happy.  This last chapter in the section is about epic meaning, "Becoming a part of something bigger than ourselves."  McGonigal focuses on Halo to elucidate the concepts in this chapter.

In this chapter she admits that there are connections to longstanding issues of spirituality, philosophy, and aethetics.  In a way, nothing new is discovered in video games, there is just greater access to the types of epics that bring us meaning.

I liked this quote of Martin Seligman's that she references, "The self is a very poor site for meaning."

I didn't much like the wording of Fix #6 "Compared with games, reality is trivial.  Games make us a part of something bigger and give epic meaning to our actions."  I think reality is quite meaningful; there are all sorts of epic tasks that require our effort and courage, but we seem to be distracted to settle for too little.  On the other hand, I do understand, see my second blogpost from back in 2004, "The Mythos of a Gen-X Male."

Games like Halo are "epic in three key ways":

They create epic contexts for action: collective stories that help us connect our individual gameplay to a much bigger mission.

The immerse us in epic environments: vast, interactive spaces that provoke feelings of curiosity and wonder.

And they engage us in epic projects: cooperative efforts carried out by players on massive scales, over months or even years.

Now, all those sound like features of Christianity to me.  How to emphasize them? 

Discussing the epic context for action, she mentions something which can reveal a dark side to video game play.  These games fulfill "gamers' power fantasies" with the "aesthetic pleasures of destruction and the positive feelings we get from exerting control over a situation."  That made me nervous.  But she goes on to right that though that may be (and have been) the case, newer, bigger games are revealing a different sort of power, "the power to act with meaning: to do something that matters in a bigger picture."  But I'm still disturbed, because the big achievement in Halo that is the focus of this chapter, is collectively reaching the number of 10 billion kills.  There are proto-Fascist dangers in all this, I feel.

In the very next paragraph after that last quote, she quotes, "Story sets the stage for meaning."  Exactly, I think.  The content of virtue ethics is the narrative of the community.  So much, then, hinges on what story we find identity and meaning in.  See Alasdair McIntyre.

In the section on creating epic environments, I was intrigued by her discussion of neolithic cathedrals and how humanity has always worked to create spaces that are both humbling and empowering in their scale.  She says that recent research is positing that these epic buildings pre-date complex societies and may have inspired them, rather than the traditional view that humanity first developed settled and complex farming communities and then began to construct major buildings.  She wonders, then, if the epic environments of the gaming world might inspire human development?

In discussing the soundscapes of the games, she quotes the audio director of Halo, "The music should give a feeling of importance, weight, and a sense of the 'ancient.'"  She writes, "The score includes Gregorian chanting, a string orchestra, percussion, and Qawwali vocals, a Sufi devotional style of music intended to produce an ecstatic state in the listener."  These discussions of space and sound are interesting to me from a worship arts perspective, and I will likely share them with our Worship Ministry as we discuss our next topic -- the psychology of worship.

One feature of the epic projects, is the collection of knowledge to help one another.  She writes about Halowiki where there are incredible amounts of tips, advice, and reflection.  It made me curious if we could develop on-line sharing of church members of simple "how to-s" in living the Christian life?  Of course, we do do that in real life conversations and interactions in classes, groups, informal fellowship, etc.

One problem with post-1980 generations, she writes, is that our culture focused too much on self-esteem.  The result is more depression and anxiety.  She writes, "We want to be esteemed in the eyes of others, not for 'who we are,' but rather for what we've done that really matters."  This resonates with the class I taught last fall on The Curse of the Self

And I'll let her speak for herself on some concluding points to this chapter and Part One:

Games are showing us exactly what we want out of life: more satisfying work, better hope of success, stronger social connectivity, and the chance to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. . . .  It's high time we start applying the lessons of games to the design of our everyday lives.  We need to engineer alternate realities: new, more gameful ways of interacting with the real world and living our real lives.


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