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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Better Simulate Than Never

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In the modernistic manifestation of warfare, gaming consumers have taken over the world. Paramount to the gamesmanship is the notion that a person can conquer entire empires in one evening if everything goes right and still be in bed by 1:00 a.m. with nary a scratch to show for the struggle. It’s the stuff dreams are made of. And perhaps it’s just that we’re so fond of dreaming.

People Wii Wii Wii all the way home, and sometimes to enact a representation they may have to bring themselves to sit up in bed when they wake up (raising eyelids optional), but it’s still worth all the extra effort. They pretend they’re walking out to the car. Then they pretend they’re driving to work. Then they pretend they’re doing their job. Then they pretend to get groceries at the store. Then they pretend to eat them for dinner. It’s the diet of the future… Kind of like gum, but we’ll continue acting like it’s a novel thought.

Modern man appears to be over-enjoying his simulated life, beings that regular life plods along agonizingly at a snail’s pace, and he doesn’t have ample time for that. Who would’ve figured that there’s not enough room in your schedule to fit in life. Sorry, too many other things to do. I’ll live when I’m dead. Or I’ll live vicariously. One of those.

Unable to help but ask why humans have such a predilection for simulating. We role-play to the nth degree. Space aliens chronicling our recent history would have a hard time deciphering what was real and what wasn’t. Is that them, or are they just playing one on TV? It’s the perfect cover-up in case of interstellar invasion. We’re nothing if not prescient beings.

Following the humanistic bent, we engage in games that simulate life — board games, video games, even self-admitted role playing games — as well as sports themselves that simulate battles, conquests, attacks, etc. One team must defeat another. In order for one to triumph, there must be another to be triumphed over. We even simulate the simulation with fantasy sports leagues. And somewhere along the way cheerleading became a competition, throwing a wrench into the whole makeup of the cosmos from which we may never recover.

We participate in and watch plays, movies, and television shows. We read stories and fictional novels that transform us into a microcosm of life apart from our real life. We follow celebrities who are said to represent the idyllic life, and often revere them as something otherworldly because of their fictional portrayals, relating more to their characters than their actual selves.

Even our food simulates things — alphabet soup noodles, various breakfast cereals in the shape of a fruit, or a star, or an interballistic missile (it could happen). Any synthetic artificial flavoring or smell meant to remind you of the real thing. And don’t forget that they’re tropical. That little pinch of benzene in your shampoo is surely a true slice of exotic paradise captured in a bottle. It’s from the mountains, the jungles, the islands. It says so right on the label. Candies are often shaped like little animals or cartoon characters. Animal crackers in my soup… And so something tends to symbolize something else. Or in other words, almost nothing is what it really is.

This infernal glut of activities can all take up possibly a third of our leisure time. For teens and those who have been able to matriculate on into their more nocturnal college years, it might even be more than two-thirds. This isn’t much cause for concern, however, as we’re assured people still have to eat and sleep to stay alive, giving them at least some incentive so that they can still be in a breathing state when the time to meet Napoleon’s army at the Alamo with their squadron of F-15’s rolls around again. And the salient point is it could alter the course of someone’s history.

Why don't we just enjoy life itself, but rather many of us feel the need to constantly simulate the real thing? Do we need simulation with a ‘t’ in it for our stimulation? Is simulation the easy and less costly way to do the things that you wish you could do in real life? Are we trying to somehow escape reality because it's either too painful or too difficult to understand? Do we have to project our lives in order to make them seem interesting to us? Are we having a hard time finding our own identities so we have to invent alter egos?

Freud cited our unconscious wish to end the everyday struggles for happiness and survival in a) our desire for peace, and b) attempts to escape reality through fiction, media, and drugs. We seem to need a certain level of unrealism to fight off the realism. But all things in moderation. Sigmund would be going berserk in retrograde if he’d been born a hundred years later.

A rather pertinent question at hand from the psychiatric realm: When was your last virtual reality check?

Children have the creativity to implement the playing of toys all day long in every event they encounter, so it's a streaming video for them. They continue playing at meals, take Spiderman to the bathroom with them, and sleep with the stuffed animal of the month propped up on their pillow. The older we get, we have a harder time hiding our toys because they’ve become bigger and more conspicuous, so we try to be more discreet about it. We leave teddy on the nightstand and telecommunicate with him through the empty darkness until morning finally arrives. Don’t tell me nobody else does that.

What does this have to do with Legos? There’s an interesting phenomenon wherein we make building blocks to simulate real-life things, and then we transfer that simulated effect to areas where the simulation isn’t necessary but we do it anyway because it adds another level of fascination. Computer animation of Lego figures need not contain round nubbies on top of everything, but somehow in our psyche we like them there because it helps us stay in the regimented pretend world of Legorama. Another manifestation for the willing suspension of disbelief, and maybe a place to dream about because we know it’s not real. The emperor wears so many clothes that he’s practically sweating, and yet is still managing to get a healthy tan. Indeed, the best of both worlds. Live in one as is convenient, checking in whenever sustenance gets low, and then hang out in the other to while away the ticks on the clock.

But then what does this all have to do with smileys? The beloved smileys of yore started out as simple round figured faces with charming grins on them, with only minor modifications. They were darling to our way of thinking because they were simplified caricatures of moods. Over time, they became more complex, to the point that they were no longer simplified and in essence lost their innocent nature, thus no longer being cute. They grew appendages and became transmogrified into something more primal, which defeated the original intent. Picture a complex simplicity, and now you see the bi-polar smiley at wit’s end. Somewhere that threshold of innocence into pretentiousness got crossed. Like any virtue, cuteness can’t be forced, but must be nurtured. Less is more. Piling more on just covers up the core elements of the pile.

Also interesting is that so-called reality TV shows are at best untainted simulation (at worst, they’re an indictment against our collective quotient for reasonableness, but we all digress…). The mere fact that the shows are simulating reality doesn’t make them all that different from any other simulation. They are actually less real because they presume a greater reality which they do not possess, carrying a large presumption tax in the whole process. If you’re gonna say you’re real, you darned well better be somewhere in the vicinity of real or you lose extra reality points. Hypocrisy, after all, is worse than claiming nothing. What these shows end up accomplishing is a self-satire, and why people are fixated on their insensibility may not be uncovered for decades by neurosurgeons.

To add another viable element to the equation, regard Erasmus’ writing 501 years ago from The Praise of Folly:
“If a person were to try stripping the disguises from actors while they play a scene upon the stage, showing to the audience their real looks and the faces they were born with, would not such a one spoil the whole play? And would not the spectators think he deserved to be driven out of the theatre with brickbats, as a drunken disturber? ... Now what else is the whole life of mortals but a sort of comedy, in which the various actors, disguised by various costumes and masks, walk on and each play their part, until the manager waves them off the stage? Moreover, this manager frequently bids the same actor to go back in a different costume, so that he who has but lately played the king in scarlet now acts the flunkey in patched clothes. Thus all things are presented by shadows.”
We could thus venture to say that our ultimate role-playing is when we think we’re being ourselves but we’re instead playing to the crowd. Games themselves can be innocent in balance, yet if we view regular life as a game where we’re playing a part, then it’s all simulated. The games might be our attempts to circumvent having to confront the real stage where true-to-life decisions play out with stark consequences. But we fool ourselves thinking we can evade decisions, because indecision is also a decision. Decisions have to be made one way or another, and either we can make them or they’ll get made for us.

What a good life it is which is embraced in genuine fashion. Only if we choose to use that which identifies us individually are we happily avoiding borrowing our essence without giving, and thus freeing ourselves from our masks. What’s most real is rising from the ashes of virtual obscurity and standing out, being your true self and not the reality show version. We’re all survivors, but if our playground is constrained to painting by the numbers, there’s not much sport in that. First and foremost, absolutely accept no imitations of who you are, for you’re the real deal.

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