Games and place

 Our minds appear to be the product of a million connections, between both real and imagined objects. Connections between neurons, between ideas, between words and images, etc. I am no neurologist, or cognitive expert, or really anything, but this seems (empirically) to be the way I experience my thoughts. This could never be proven, especially not generally. It just feels true, as invalidating as that may sound.Connections exist beyond space. Knowing how two things relate to each other does not give a concrete understanding of position: “Joe is two miles north of Duncan” does not communicate any hard facts about Joe or Duncan’s position (somewhat obviously). Joe and Duncan could be anywhere, possibly (or rather probably) beyond what we know as reality. They exist in the space we imagine for them, the space created by that one sentence. A pretentious person might call this space the diegesis.

When we create a diegesis, we create a habitat for the connections we wish to understand. In our example sentence, my first thought is a city, say New York. I imagine two men in their apartments, one named Joe and one named Duncan. Joe’s apartment is two miles north of Duncan’s. Of course, there are many other ways to visualize the sentence, but it helps right now to establish one for the sake of further discussion.

The diegesis grounds our thoughts in some place. It pins down concepts, characters, actions, and settings in a way that they are absolute. So long, abstract connections in the void. Nowhere becomes somewhere through this imagining process, and our ideas become grounded, in a way.

When discussing this grounding of ideas, games arise as a very interesting medium. In a video game, for example, the player’s interaction exists in some ways within the diegesis of the game’s fiction. When the player presses a button, they influence the game’s world. Action itself, real-life physical action and behavior is injected into the diegesis. In Super Mario Sunshine, the player moves the control stick and Mario runs. In Half-Life, the player clicks and Gordon fires his weapon. In Civilization, the player presses enter and one hundred years pass.

These actions are all grounded within the game. Mario couldn’t run out of the television into our reality, but moving the control stick very clearly influences his. This connection reinforces a comforting view of our minds: our thoughts dictate our actions. By playing a game, we often act as though the avatar’s brain is our own. Gordon Freeman looks at, shoots at, and interacts with the things my mind wills him to. Perhaps we desire for our minds and bodies to work this way.

To me, a complete layman on cognition and consciousness, this feels like a reduction of the mind. To see the connections between our thoughts and actions ground so firmly within a game’s diegesis feels almost as if we are attempting to prove to ourselves that our thoughts directly control our actions as our actions control a video game character’s. Picture a small person with a controller sitting in your head and looking through your eyes, whose every input drives your actions. I find this comforting at first glance, though I don’t mean to speak for anybody else. This assures me that I am in control over my actions, that the world is analogous to a game and my mind controls my body as my avatar.

Games, taken as media, reinforce this one view of the classical mind and body problem, beaten to death by Philosophy 101 courses all over the world. They reduce reality into a created space where our mental controllers influence the diegesis. When the little guy with a controller in our head presses some button, we blink. He controls when we walk, talk, sing, dance, and even think. They convince us to see our bodies and realities as things to be controlled by our minds.

It gets harder and harder to find a good conclusion for this entry the more I ramble. I should probably follow this up with some more succinct, better-thought-out writing as well. There’s much to be said about this, more than I could ever hope to convey through some blog nobody will ever read.