91: Counter /Cult/ure

"But what, really, are the effects of videogames on the mind, and can they compare to the psychoactive effects of the peyote plant? Alan Pope, a behavioral scientist at NASA Langley Research Center in Langley, Virginia believes so. Pope, in an attempt to prove that the same meditative effects experienced with techniques like biofeedback-controlled meditation training could be replicated with videogames, conducted a study with 22 children suffering from ADHD. Half of his group was treated with biofeedback meditation, the other half with videogames. The results were startling."

Russ Pitts delves into the cult of gaming.

Counter /Cult/ure

I really enjoyed this article, especially the vivid imagery in the introduction. The section on biofeedback research was fascinating. How did you come up with the comparison to the peyote cactus?

Another interesting "cult" comparison comes to mind within the electronics world: the Cult of Mac... or nVidia, or AMD, or Microsoft, but Apple stands out in this regard because of the zeal of some of its devotees. We do, it seems, take our games/consoles/computing platforms extremely seriously.

Ajar:
I really enjoyed this article, especially the vivid imagery in the introduction. The section on biofeedback research was fascinating. How did you come up with the comparison to the peyote cactus?

Thanks for the kind words. Glad you liked it.

I've been thinking about games' effect on the mind in relation to the devotion we've been witnessing (and experiencing) toward them for some time. The way games make us feel, and why we claim to play them mirrors in many ways the reasons often given for partaking of recreational pharmaceuticals, and it wasn't too far a leap from there to consider the Peyote cults of Mexico (and Southern California ;) ), and the concept of a social group attaining inner peace (of a sort) through a shared electronic experience.

What has been written of Peyote is that it 'opens one's mind" and "refocuses one's energy" toward what's "real." This is, similarly, how I've often heard playing a particularly moving or spiritually relevant game by those who play lots of them. I'm sure, from a scientific perspective, there are holes in my theory large enough to drive a truck through, but the parallels are striking. To me anyway.

Fletcher:
I've been thinking about games' effect on the mind in relation to the devotion we've been witnessing (and experiencing) toward them for some time. The way games make us feel, and why we claim to play them mirrors in many ways the reasons often given for partaking of recreational pharmaceuticals, and it wasn't too far a leap from there to consider the Peyote cults of Mexico (and Southern California ;) ), and how the concept of a social group attaining inner peace (of a sort) through a shared electronic experience.

What has been written of Peyote is that it 'opens one's mind" and "refocuses one's energy" toward what's "real." This is, similarly, how I've often heard playing a particularly moving or spiritually relevant game by those who play lots of them. I'm sure, from a scientific perspective, there are holes in my theory large enough to drive a truck through, but the parallels are striking. To me anyway.

Often after finishing an outstanding novel, movie, or game, I'll just sit and bask in a feeling that I think is best described as "awe," but in the more meditative -- spiritual, I guess -- sense of the term. Biology aside, from an emotional standpoint I think it's probably a fair comparison.

It's interesting -- just last night I stayed up way too late playing Oblivion, a game I firmly believe is fundamentally broken in some important ways, yet it's a game that somehow continues to suck me in after more than 100 hours. The parallel to some recreational pharmaceuticals may be there in more ways than one. ;)

Serotonin, it's one of those little chemicals that keeps us playing Gears of War and give us the calm to deal with XbLive's squeaky voiced tweens.

Those chemicals our brains love to produce after a feeling of success are why we are so devoted. For example, today I was playing a match of execution in Gears on Raven Down. I unfortunately ended up on the team (Locust) that had the lobotomized players on it (the folks that couldn't aim to save their life and had no understanding of Gears online multiplayer tactics. Like the one that says "don't run full speed into a revved chainsaw.") needless to say we were getting slaughtered wholesale.

So during one of these ultra saddening rounds my entire team dies leaving me with a 1 vs 4 situation. Well I won't bore you with details, I takeout the entire team (no I wasn't host). And after the end round screen I heard everyone talking. The Cogs in disbelief that they actually lost a 4 on 1 and the Locust with praise and admiration for my improbable triumph.

So at that moment of course I felt on top of the world, until I ended up standing on a Cog grenade next round. We lost that match 1 round to their 7, but I still felt great from the buzz of my one round of being the Locust hero and Cog's black plague, and that feeling of success that comes so easily with video games is why we'll be devoted, play hours on end, and continuously seek that next moment of hero worship for our virtual feats.

What we seek from these digital victories are those chemical reactions induced by the brain. There is no belief or faith supporting this type of devotion. For religious faith and belief people sacrifice, maim, murder and die. When two people or groups disagree about a game the most extreme thing that may happen is an impromptu debate or fist fight. With religion the most extreme things that happen are genocides and crusades.

And some how I don't see the possibility of insane Nintendo fans ever trying to purge the world of Sony and Microsoft fanboys or a civil war being started by people who believe PCs are a better than consoles.

Also those two definitions are forgetting one very big aspect of religion. Human begins use religion as something that helps them understand the world around them and their place in it. How the Zelda series or having a lvl 70 blood elf could ever help someone to do that is beyond me.

great article.

i could see at least parts of the gaming community easily becoming a cult, i can be walking down the street and hear a group of people huddled together mention a lvl 70 undead rogue, and if anyone else approaches, they shun them. interesting ideas. i really liked the part about the triforce being used as the gamers version of the crucifix.

 

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