A Gaming Meditation

I rarely (ok, never) speak about my double life as a meditator and spiritual student on Gamers With Jobs. There are a good many reasons for this but one of the biggest is that I have a difficult time viewing my gaming hobby as anything other than counter-intuitive with the efforts I make toward living a more peaceful life. This dilemma is not unique to me. I think as adults we all struggle from time to time with using what free time we have wisely.

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Is there wisdom to be found in gaming or is it nothing more than a distraction?

While reading "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success" by Deepak Chopra I came across a passage that sparked the first correlation in my mind between gaming and meditation:

This exquisite combination of silent, unbounded, infinite mind along with dynamic, bounded, individual mind is the perfect balance of stillness and movement simultaneously that can create whatever you want. This coexistence of opposites – stillness and dynamism at the same time – makes you independent of situations, circumstances, people and things.

The act of meditation is a tool for a great many purposes, but the ultimate goal is to find an inner-stillness and transcend the usual turbulence we find in our minds on a day to day basis. After a long day of work, many of us might fire up Battlefield 2 and give our entire focus to that experience. In many ways it is a sort of yearning toward peace -- we wish to find a way to escape from our day to day worries and reach a state where we are free to focus entirely on a single experience. We are aware on a fundamental level that what we're playing is not real, but that's part of what makes it such a safe haven for what feels like an over-taxed mind.

When you "lose yourself in the game" you're not really avoiding your problems, you're entering a state where they simply don't matter in the moment. Gaming removes you from these worries for a time but it does not teach you that worries are nothing more than an illusion to begin with. Mind you, meditation doesn't teach you anything either. It's a tool to help you along a path of understanding; a paddle to keep your canoe moving down the river. In this way, they share some similarity.

It seems to be a question of intention. I play games for fun, distraction and interaction. I meditate to enhance all aspects of my life by realizing that they are all connected. Both activities involve finding a sort of inner-silence but they diverge wildly when our intention and the end result is considered.

What reconciles this split for me right now, is that when gaming I'm looking for peace of mind and release from worry, much like meditation. Playing games does not make me wiser, more peaceful or more self-aware in the moment when I hit "the zone" and take five people in a row out with a projectile radiator in Half-Life 2 DM. However, maybe there's something to learn if attention and intention are re-examined. Rather than focus on the conflict and the desire to win, maybe putting my attention on observing this state of mind and gleaning what I can from it will offer me some insight into why I'm so drawn to gaming in the first place.

In the end, I'm aware that much like perception, desire and everything "out there", gaming is an illusion. Until such a day that I no longer need perception or desire, I will continue to work with them as best I can. Right now my mind needs something "fun" and not obviously related to the rest of my life, hence the games. There may come a day when I will no longer need that stimulus, or maybe I will enjoy it without any guilt or judgment of any kind.

We'll see where my intention takes me.

- Shawn "Certis" Andrich

Comments

Flow.

Been meditating for 14 years now.

<---------- Hence, the nick.

Glad to know of another soul brother. Thanks for sharing.

There was a point when meditation had a purpose for me, usually to calm the harsher emotions and clear the mind. Even that was a trap. Now it's just there. You can't meditate all the time. You can't meditate at work right before a surprise and frustrating meeting. You can't meditate when life deals you other harsh terms.

I have always, always wanted a "meditation RPG" that takes you through India and China as a monk.

For a lot of people an involvement in a meditation study becomes an excuse for holier-than-thou behavior, cultism, and other pretty things. IMO Certis is one of the few rare individuals who have actually internalized their meditational study and are able to use their skills on day-to-day basis. /suck up

Zen and the Art of Zerging. I like it.

A very thought provoking article Certis.

I tried meditation back in the day, but it wasn't for me. I guess the closest I get is hiking. Spending a few days on the trail tends to clear my mind out of the various odds and ends that have taken up residence there.

Upon reflection of your article I can see similar effects from my gaming experiences. From my days of exploring the world of Myst, to skulking around the City in the form of Garrett, to being the unnamed hero in Gothic gaming gives me the ability to detach my thoughts from the everyday snags and regroup.

Is there wisdom to be found in gaming or is it nothing more than a distraction?

Only if you play educational games. "bad dum" >rimshot<

Okay, seriously... games like Battlefield 2 don't allow me to meditate. >kill< >kill< >kill< "go to a happy place" >kill< >kill< >kill<

On the other hand, something like Lumines or Magic Squares (on ye olde hand held Merlin) can strike the right balance of physical balance while letting the higher brain wonder. (Uno on XBox Live can do that too)

Killing someone with a supersonic toilet is very Zen.

Certis wrote:

When you "lose yourself in the game" you're not really avoiding your problems, you're entering a state where they simply don't matter in the moment. Gaming removes you from these worries for a time but it does not teach you that worries are nothing more than an illusion to begin with. Mind you, meditation doesn't teach you anything either. It's a tool to help you along a path of understanding; a paddle to keep your canoe moving down the river.

There is guilt involved in "escaping" but not "meditating" because escaping has been demonized as somehow a cowardly, non-productive, childish act while meditating has been associated with the spiritual and therefore contributes to the mind/body/soul triad (although of course some have demonized it as being hippy/new age/too aloof, but screw them)

Your point regarding that is a great one. Meditation and gaming are both means to an end, rather than an end in themselves. There's an interesting thread in anthropology that claims that we approach all human activity as a kind of "play" where rules and strategies are constantly being tested and re-negotiated. Gaming and meditation, as you've stated, allow us to step outside the "real" and evaluate, or at least put us in a position to evaluate, rules and boundaries we might never question otherwise.

Great article! How does fragging a truck load of people in BF2 put us in a position to evaluate boundaries? 1) When we are, we're stepping away from our daily routine so when we return to it after the frag-fest, we can often do so with clearer vision 2) We're teaching all those dead player characters patience and humility 3) We are putting ourselves in a position of power and testing how we react to that power 4) We are setting ourselves up for retaliation that will ultimately prove that we too are governed by the rules. And then we write up our conclusions and evaluations in the message boards, commonly known as trolling/flaming.

I'm under the impression that meditation requires a boatload of patience, and basically sitting quietly for extended periods, trying to clear one's mind. Is that the case? Because if so, I couldn't do it.

btw can Skywise challenge Kiri for the right to that avatar, like some tribes let anyone challenge the leader for domination at any time? We Fremen are fond of that concept, but here in the world of Goodje, there is another, also worthy concept of "first-come, first-served."

Fedaykin98 wrote:

btw can Skywise challenge Kiri for the right to that avatar, like some tribes let anyone challenge the leader for domination at any time? We Fremen are fond of that concept, but here in the world of Goodje, there is another, also worthy concept of "first-come, first-served." :smile:

Kiri would have to challenge me:

Skywise - Member for 1 year 29 weeks
Kiri - Member for 1 year 28 weeks

Aw Snap!

There is guilt involved in "escaping" but not "meditating" because escaping has been demonized as somehow a cowardly, non-productive, childish act while meditating has been associated with the spiritual and therefore contributes to the mind/body/soul triad

This is really hits the nail on the head for me. I've used the term "escape" when discussing gaming in the past and in a way it does kind of make me feel guilty at times. But the truth is everyone has their own method of escape. It's sometimes strange when I talk to non-gamer friends of mine and tell them that I've been playing a fantasy RPG online with friends. In the beginning I felt silly somehow - but I've come to recognize that if I wasn't enjoying myself I wouldn't be doing it. The fact of the matter is if I wasn't gaming I'd probably be sitting with them at the bar developing cirrhosis. What's more destructive than that?

When you "lose yourself in the game" you're not really avoiding your problems, you're entering a state where they simply don't matter in the moment.

Ironic then that a tool we use to relax our minds and take a break from worrying about life's little dilemmas can develop into a source of its own frustration at times. When you're playing a game that has an element of commitment involved (WOW comes to mind) you sometimes have to walk a fine line between enjoyment and frustration. I often have to consciously take a step back and reassess how much I truly enjoy the game and the people I play with at times because of the emotions that everyone invests and the conflicts that sometimes arise. When I make this mental/philosophical check, I can appreciate my experience more and again "lose myself in the game"; thus reinforcing the reasons that I game in the first place.

"After a long day of work, many of us might fire up Battlefield 2 and give our entire focus to that experience. In many ways it is a sort of yearning toward peace --"

It's more of a yearning toward getting the basic pistol and knife badges for me.

I don't have the discipline or the mentality for repetitive behavior of any type

Skywise wrote:
Fedaykin98 wrote:

btw can Skywise challenge Kiri for the right to that avatar, like some tribes let anyone challenge the leader for domination at any time? We Fremen are fond of that concept, but here in the world of Goodje, there is another, also worthy concept of "first-come, first-served." :smile:

Kiri would have to challenge me:

Skywise - Member for 1 year 29 weeks
Kiri - Member for 1 year 28 weeks

:smile:

Ha, I assumed the post was from Kiri. Had to go back and look to see what the heck Fed was talking about.

Fedaykin98 wrote:

I'm under the impression that meditation requires a boatload of patience, and basically sitting quietly for extended periods, trying to clear one's mind. Is that the case? Because if so, I couldn't do it.

Meditation can be compared to cooking. There are a million different ways of doing it, and even with the same recipe, 2 different cooks will give you different results. The person teaching you has a lot to do with it, too, because believe it or not, people pick up on the brain waves of others and a calm individual with serious meditation background will put you in a better frame of mind than someone who is stressed.

Maybe a better comparison for meditation is working-out. Meditation is kinda like working out for your mind and soul. Saying you work out doesn't mean much in and off itself. Any serious athlete can notice plenty of little details about working out that casual gym rats miss.

To give you some examples, I've meditated using a mantra, visualization, through breath, through sounds that correspond to the various brain waves of your mind (theta, etc), action (so called "walking meditation"), guided meditation, laughing meditation, hatha yoga, etc, etc. Some meditation is calming and quieting, some is cathartic and clears out the stress of the day, some is damned painful and only feels good after you finish the miserable experience I'm being 100% serious! Taught the stuff for like 9 years.

But it is not sitting still and trying to clear your mind of thoughts. If you've ever done that, you probably noticed the opposite effect.

souldaddy wrote:

To give you some examples, I've meditated using a mantra, visualization, through breath, through sounds that correspond to the various brain waves of your mind (theta, etc), action (so called "walking meditation"), guided meditation, laughing meditation, hatha yoga, etc, etc. Some meditation is calming and quieting, some is cathartic and clears out the stress of the day, some is damned painful and only feels good after you finish the miserable experience I'm being 100% serious! Taught the stuff for like 9 years.

But it is not sitting still and trying to clear your mind of thoughts. If you've ever done that, you probably noticed the opposite effect.

That's pretty wild, Souldaddy... I've only ever done a little yoga ( I don't even know what kind it is ...), but a lot of that sounds pretty fascinating.

Any resources you could recommend to get started on some of those?

Souldaddy has covered quite well most of the things I would of said (and definitely more elegantly). I've been meditating for about 35 years. And many folks say here '...don't have the descipline, or patience etc...' But as souldaddy mentioned, there are many types. The one I am familiar with uses a mantra. The mantra is supposedly the link that allows you consciousness to dive down and dip into the 'transcendent'. The unlimited, calming vastness of 'one with all' kind of thing. In this 'descipline, the dictum is that noise doesn't matter. You can do it in a crowd. You just try and relax and gently caress the mantra and let it do the rest for you. This is more a Hindic tradition. The Zen Buddhist tend to want one to concentrate like the devil till you blast thru to the transcendent. Counter productive say some, but obviously it can work and again, different strokes for different folks.

In Hindic traditions, you 'dip' to shed yourself of stress, and the 'gross' aspects of the mind being involved with the real time predicaments. So in this sense, gaming would not fit the bill. However, in more of a Buddhist (or Zen) tradition, perhaps so. Just like the long distance runner whose body finally 'succumbs' to the stress of the run and get's that 'high' ('transcendent' which can mean peaceful non-existence. I.e. faintly aware of ones surrondings, but the body is hardly noticed, your senses seemed expanded into the far reaches of 'oneness'. A gamer could be gaming to the max and 'poof', be 'out there' :>) Geeze, what does all this mean grasshopper.

souldaddy wrote:

But it is not sitting still and trying to clear your mind of thoughts. If you've ever done that, you probably noticed the opposite effect.

To say the least! Back in my praying days, I found it hard to concentrate on that - and that involved talking! Imagine my fear of trying to sit still and not think.

necroyeti wrote:

Ha, I assumed the post was from Kiri. Had to go back and look to see what the heck Fed was talking about.

Exactly what happened to me that spurred that post!

Very nice article, but its idea is based on a flawed notion, in my view.

There is a great deal of difference between being absorbed in comsumption of a digitally packaged interactive entertainment and meditation, the latter being a complete absolution from the previous two highlighted notions.

Meditation is an exercise of achieving an insight into yourself and unto the universe around you. Trance-like bliss of the gaming is a form of escapism from yourself and the world thereabout.

Don't let the trance aspect fool you into confusing these two. As such, the trance-inducing aspects of running 8 miles (1 hour), or spinning nunchaku for 1 hour, or even playing Lego with my kid for one hour straight are putting said activities much closer to the definition of meditation than gaming. Not to mention they indeed put me an inch closer towards the harmony with the universe or whatnot.

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

stuff

I don't think Certis is saying that gaming is meditation, like you seem to assume. He's just drawing a parallel, one that I think is very insightful. In fact, he says almost exactly the same thing you do:

Certis wrote:

It seems to be a question of intention. I play games for fun, distraction and interaction. I meditate to enhance all aspects of my life by realizing that they are all connected. Both activities involve finding a sort of inner-silence but they diverge wildly when our intention and the end result is considered.

Great article, which seems to be the standard around here.

Great write up Certis.

souldaddy wrote:

Maybe a better comparison for meditation is working-out. Meditation is kinda like working out for your mind and soul. Saying you work out doesn't mean much in and off itself. Any serious athlete can notice plenty of little details about working out that casual gym rats miss.

I can see this, its much easier to run long distances for me if I clear my mind and think of nothing. Its almost hypnotic or trance-like.

I've focused on both regular and lucid dreaming as my spiritual enhancer. I would like to try it out as some point though.

Nice article, Certis. I think that there are plenty of interesting gaming/meditation parallels.

Gaming potentially allows the player to check more everyday, common worries and thoughts at the door and narrow perception to a more focused, mentally and emotionally "quieter" place. It's also playful, and there's something inherently transcendent about play, especially imaginative, spontaneous play. It does wonders for the world-weary psyche.

I often find that the more I worry about my performance in a game the less skillful I become. Yet if I can play single-mindedly, abandoning ego-driven anxieties and frustrations and simply focusing on the process, not only do I enjoy myself more but I'm more effective. It's a lot like target shooting: to shoot well, you have to be able to narrow your concentration to a laserlike focus, but still remain calm and relaxed and, in a sense, "let" the shot occur. Worry and anticipation and excitement throw off your aim. I think in a sense, this is true of meditative practice as well, except some forms of meditative practice require or encourage the abandonment of any specific goal. So in that respect, like you said, intent becomes an issue.

It seems like all forms of meditation involve some sort of concentration or focus, though. And what results is a narrowing of perception to bring it closer to raw experience, where conscious thought processes can be examined stripped clean of their supposed value, and the artificiality of the self, and the external world, and the division between the two, becomes more apparent.

Games provide ready-built worlds that we enter already aware of their artificiality. It's easier to abandon oneself (or one's self) within a world that, unlike the "real" world, you tacitly accept to be illusory from the get-go.

Well, I guess all that meditation explains Certis' voice. At first I thought he sounded like a stoner, but meditator sounds just as plausible.

I've only meditated as a form of relaxation, and found myself becoming self-aware in a totally different way than my day to day, run around and get things done consciousness. Gaming "highs" on the other hand tend to happen for me when I lose complete awareness of myself, and for me this has only happened in fps games, plus Civ.

There is something very...Zen for lack of a better word, for me about getting into the zone in a fps where you're no longer trying, aiming, working, worrying, where you are simply your senses and your response to those senses. Yet this is also similar to my meditating for relaxation, in which I become very aware of my own breathing, the center of myself, in which it's very much like opening my senses to the actions/reactions of my body to the point where I'm listening to my heart beat...and that act of listening slows it down. The less I try, the easier it is.

Huh, well anyway, thanks for making me think about this, Certis.

I'm not really drawing any paralles with Civ. It's a strange, time-bending escape filled with a sense of many small accomplishments. I'm sure many of you have had the experience of saying, "okay, 2 more turns," blinking, looking up at a clock and seeing it's 1-2 hours later. Strange it is, grasshopper.

There is something very...Zen for lack of a better word, for me about getting into the zone in a fps where you're no longer trying, aiming, working, worrying, where you are simply your senses and your response to those senses.

I call this my own zone, it's where I become an elite killing machine. Unfortuneately it isn't very consistant so I tend to be a spiky player..

Being in the zone in a game seems to me like the Zen state of "no-mind," the experience of which is valuable in itself. I suspect the "trance" of laser-like focus and immersion in an environment (Frequency pretty much hyp-mo-tized me) is rather different and requires much more energy, like swimming against an underwater current as opposed to skating effortlessly on the ice above.

'Course, games, being a product of this world of illusion and pain and poop, are more bound up with our visceral selves. If we are open to them, there are spiritual lessons to be learned in the act of playing games, and from within the games themselves. My best example of the first is Battlefield 2: I was shocked Certis mentioned it because it's the furthest damn thing from peaceful for me. I love the game, but after smashing a headset, a mouse, and a keyboard, I came to the astonishing insight that perhaps, in the interests of becoming a person more at peace with myself, I should play the game less. (Anyone remember the commercial about an Internet-enabled computer coming to a hippy religious commune, and the one sedate robed guy turning into a snarling beast playing an FPS online?)

Spiritual insights brought about by a game, whether by the designers' intent or not, are like the above in that it's not germaine to meditation specifically but to one's overall progress. Souldaddy mentioned wanting a game where you're a monk; to this day, there is a special place in my heart for the Commodore 64 RPGs, Moebius and its sequel, WindWalker, in which morally incorrect actions had in-game consequences.

I've found MMORPGs, because they bring together real people in a way that mimics the unavoidable mass of humanity in real life, bring yet more lessons to those willing to reflect on their experiences. Are you a power-leveler, or do you derive deep satisfaction from helping newbies? What can you learn from leading a guild, or being part of one that implodes? In the best games, the content can also spark these reflections. Truly the standout for this is Dark Ages (note: not Dark Age of Camelot), which puts players early on through an initiatory experience, and includes not just a fleshed-out monk & monastery system but religions with player-run church hierarchies. Creating the social network that is an MMO, then creating those kinds of powerful tools for in-character interaction, is to me the pinnacle of game design.

HPL

I was reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig for the third time and I came upon this passage. It really struck me how similar it is to your article, Certis:

I say inner peace of mind. It has no direct relationship to external circumstances. It can occur to a monk in meditation, to a soldier in heavy combat or to a machinist taking off that last ten-thousandth of an inch. It involves unselfconsciousness, which produces a complete identification with one's circumstances, and there are levels and levels of this identification and levels and levels of quietness quite as profound and difficult of attainment as the more familiar levels of activity. The mountains of achievement are [...] often unobtainable unless taken together with the ocean trenches of self-awareness -- so different from self-consciousness -- which result from inner peace of mind.

This inner peace of mind occurs on three levels of understanding. Physical quietness seems the easiest to achieve, although there are levels and levels of this too, as attested by the ability of Hindu mystics to live buried alive for many days. Mental quietness, in which one has no wandering thoughts at all, seems more difficult, but can be achieved. But value quietness, in which one has no wandering desires at all but simply performs the acts of his life without desire, that seems the hardest.

Pirsig goes on to give examples of this inner peace of mind.

Fishing... Just to sit there with the line in the water, not moving, not really thinking about anything, not really caring about anything either, seems to draw out the inner tensions and frustrations that have prevented you from solving problems you couldn't solve before and introduced ugliness and clumsiness into your actions and thoughts.... A cup of coffee, a walk around the block, sometimes just putting off the job for five minutes of silence is enough. When you do you can almost feel yourself grow toward that inner peace of mind that reveals it all. That which turns its back on this inner calm and the Quality it reveals is bad maintenance. That which turns toward it is good. The forms of turning away and toward are infinite but the goal is always the same.

It's a real shame that I didn't come across this earlier so I have to post it so late in the thread. I still find it absolutely fascinating that thirty years ago someone came up with almost exactly the same conclusion. Gaming is one of those infinite ways of turning towards inner calm and getting in the zone, losing self consciousness (but not self awareness), and being really free.

Not sure if I am too late for the discussion. Anyway...my take on gaming and mediation is that the first is kind of a lower level of the second. There are many methods for meditation, as you guys already know, but most of them require you to focus on something. It may be your own breath, a candle, a mantra, whatever. Gaming makes you focus on the game. The difference between gaming and mediation is mediation focus onto something in you, your inner self. Your conciousness folds back into yourself. In gaming, your conciousness is not in yourself, but in the game.

This mediation-lite thing can happen in many activities; sports, playing music, or even fixing a bike

This is quite a question, so I'll apologize in advance for my two answers, one short and one looong...

Short Answer

One of my favorite photographs is some Buddhist monks on a roller coaster. They've got their hands up, eyes wide, and mouths open in an excited scream. There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.

Loooong Answer

In the book "Infinite Life", Robert Thurman (father to Uma and the 1st American to be ordained a Tibetan Monk) says, "We're always meditating. While on the bus fretting about our job, we're meditating. While playing tennis we're meditating. The question is not when we're meditating and when we aren't, it's what we're meditating about."

That's not a direct quotation because I don't have the book in front of me, but the gist is there. Gaming, like everything, is meditation. The question is not is it like meditation; the question is what are we meditating on when we're gaming? Or before we're gaming? How do you feel before you begin playing a new game (or a favorite game you're returning to)? Excited? Embarrassed? Are you thinking about how you should be doing the dishes? How do you feel while playing? What is your heart doing? What about your breathing? How do you feel afterwards? Relaxed? Satiated? Anxious?

There is no right answer. Thurman also says, in response to the question how do you know if you're meditating properly, that if you feel better after meditating you're doing fine. That isn't to say feeling better is the goal; the point is to have no goal, just be there for whatever. Do this for a while, though, and you'll feel better without trying. You'll make wiser choices for yourself and the world, without really trying. Do we feel better after gaming? Do we make wiser choices? Again: no right answer.

I don't know if I've felt better, but I've had feelings that could only occur while gaming. Unlike reading or watching movies, games allow us to stop and think about our choices. For instance, while playing Halo I would often bring Master Chief to a halt and just chill. I'd listen to the birds or the music (quick question: why are there songbirds on Halo?). I'd examine the fallen bodies of my comrades or my enemies. I'd think, "What am I doing here? Why am I so bent on killing everybody and why are they bent on killing me? What's their motivation?"

I think this contemplative possibility was put there by Bungie (Gregorian Chants anyone?) and I gotta say these short meditations made the gaming experience much richer. They didn't detract from my fun. I still enjoyed lobbing a well-placed grenade into a throng of Grunts or dusting a Hunter with my futuristic Desert Eagle, but I also felt a tinge of sadness for my Covenant opponents, whose misguided attempts to protect their way of life stood in the way of my mission to stop Halo from going kablooie. Except in real life--hopefully not mine, we will never get the opportunity to meditate on the action of killing a few to protect the many. In a way gaming allows us to practice accumulating this bad karma-- a process you have to learn to feel if you want to avoid doing it.

Seriously, though, we should start a Halo 2 clan of meditators and see if we can't kick it Shaolin Soccer style.