Impact

"Everything has an impact."

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/images/impact.jpg)

After chewing my nails over the question of whether or not videogames are a positive force in my life for so long, I was taken aback by the simple answer offered by my Buddhism teacher. Not just because the most pressing question I had in that moment was handled easily in those four words, but that she offered them with a verbal flip of the hand, like I'd just asked if picking flowers was OK. Venerable Robina didn't mince words, and she didn't seem too impressed with my personal quandary.

I look back on that moment in time with a bit of embarrassment. Six days of intensive meditation and learning about Buddhism in McLeod Gange (the current residence of the Dalai Lama) had lead me to my teacher's temporary residence. Venerable Robina is an Australian woman who directs a program that brings Buddhism to prison inmates across North America. She teaches all over the world. Hunkered down in her cozy study trying to fix her ailing Apple laptop, I was fumbling after spending so much time away from technology. I don't even really know anything about Macs, but that's not why I had raised my hand when the open call for a computer nerd was made. Using the excuse of fixing her laptop to ask some private questions, I immediately jumped to videogames. The big questions like "Do I have to be a Buddhist?" and "Is it ok to kill an ant?" were asked often in the classes, so something specific to my experience seemed like a good way to go.

"I guess I worry that exposing my mind to all this violence in games might be holding me back in ways I don't realize," I said, hoping I could draw her out. She wasn't biting. "Everything has an impact, it's up to you to decide if something is worthwhile."

There was nowhere to go from that point, because she was completely right. It doesn't matter what your experience is, everything you take in will have some effect on your state of mind. Your state of mind informs your actions, which are very much subject to Karma from a Buddhist point of view. To put it another way, we could say that drinking too much booze is bad, but what we mean is that it hurts the body and leaves you vulnerable to making destructive choices.

I don't like to think too much about the violent games I enjoy because I worry that they engender a state of mind unsuited for peace. I'd be lying if I said playing Assassin's Creed didn't leave me walking around town and imagining creative ways to shank people in crowds. Or lying in bed at night and imagining what I'd do if I found someone had broken into my house. In my daydream, I tend to have a gun in my hand and depending on what games I've been playing, I'm either sweeping through the house like a Navy Seal or sideways diving off my staircase. In reality, I'd likely be hiding under the bed, clutching a baseball bat and whimpering.

The question of how our hobbies play into our overall experience of life is a big one, but it's also deeply personal. I have to step back occasionally and decide if the things I spend my time and energy on are beneficial to my life. It seems easy to conclude that gaming is a big waste of time, and I'll admit that sitting in this small room with a Buddhist teacher on the other side of the world, I was leaning in that direction. But what was interesting about Venerable Robina's answer is not so much what she said, but that she reacted as if it wasn't even worth discussing.

As I mulled this thought over, I noticed a stack of magazines on her table: US, People and Entertainment Weekly. These same magazines that I hold in absolute disdain. In class, Venerable Robina would occasionally dredge up a movie-star anecdotes to make a point -- to give as many people in the room as possible a point of reference. She enjoyed describing J-Lo's quest for love and how Marc Anthony waited for her as she jumped from man to man. She didn't look to these magazines for reasons to feel bad about her lifestyle or body image, she read them as a study of the human condition. A tool.

If magazines that have absolutely no value in my life can have a positive impact on a Buddhist nun, maybe there's hope for games after all. Venerable Robina reads the same thing everyone else does, but she's coming out the other side with a completely different experience. The same must hold for gaming. The blood, the shooting and the screams don't speak well of the activity, but that's not the problem. The sounds and visuals striking my brain aren't the problem either. The truth is, there is no problem.

- Shawn Andrich

Comments

That sh*t deep yo!

Best Coffee Grinds yet Certis! Thanks for writing this insightful perspective.

Nicely written article indeed. I shall ponder it heavily whilst still being awake after a fruitful night of, ehm, fruit. I mean, who ever said sleep was nice, eh? No, right, I remember saying that.

Thanks for the words, Certis. :>

I believe what you're saying... it's not what other things do to you, it's what you allow them to do to you. It's not an act on the part of those things, it's YOUR choice how you react to them. Even though it looks like the other person is yelling at you, their action is entirely nullified if you don't treat it as an attack. Same goes for games that throw screaming violence in your face. By themselves, the influences of the outside world, whichever form they manifest in, carry nothing. They're neutral. They're tools.

It's articles like this that make you realize how awesome Gamers With Jobs really is.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank our benevolent leaders for providing this place. It's strange to say that a web forum about video games has enhanced my life and stimulated my intellect infinitely more than college did.

I'm not claiming greater wisdom than your teacher, far from it, but video games probably have more of an impact on your when you're worrying about their impact. Psychologically, if you worry about the state of mind video games puts you in, and you suspect it puts you in a violent mindset, you'll start looking for symptoms, and usually find what you're looking for, because you create it. That increases your worry and the psychological effects. Suddenly you've created an alternate reality that had no truth to begin with, simply because your mind gave it life.

I'm not bothered by the potential effects of video game violence. I may be a little more concerned with the waste of time they are, but that's a different subject. Having seen my share of real violence in videos on YouTube, like the rest of us have, even being disconnected from it by watching it on a computer screen, it has a tremendously different emotional effect on me. In video games, I know all I'm doing when I shoot someone is flipping a 1 to a 0 for a particular enemy AI. Add to that, video games really come nowhere near close enough to accurately reproducing the true-to-life humanity of a living being, and you can easily detach yourself from the violence of it, understanding it's not real at all.

But, for example, the YouTube video of a helicopter in Iraq (Warning: real violence) taking down insurgents... That one gets to me. This is about as detached as modern warfare allows you to get. Yet there is something unmistakably alive and human about the people in this video, and something terribly disturbing about witnessing their violent end... It's something that can't be replicated in video games. Even the COD4 level that looks like this comes nowhere near giving the same feeling this video does. Especially when you see the injured man who survived the initial attack rolling on the ground in pain. You can't see a single detail about him, but at that moment, he's dying and will soon be dead.

She is, of course, exactly right. It all has an impact, and you decide what impact it has on you. I am unabashedly detached from the great majority of video game violence. The only time video game violence bothers me is when the game gives you the opportunity to harm "innocent by-standers." Even though these collections of polygons are no different than your enemies, because they're not aggressive, and sometimes even fearful of you, it's hard for me to bother these people. It makes no sense to attach different values to these fake lives that bear no consequences on your real existence at all. But somehow I do let it happen.

Certis, I don't know your teacher and I don't mean to second guess you, her, or her actions which have spawned such deep thought on the subject... but it sounds an awful lot like she blew you off. As if she doesn't believe that video games are anything more than toys and that it's silly for a grown man to ask a spiritual leader if it's OK to play with them.

LobsterMobster wrote:

Certis, I don't know your teacher and I don't mean to second guess you, her, or her actions which have spawned such deep thought on the subject... but it sounds an awful lot like she blew you off. As if she doesn't believe that video games are anything more than toys and that it's silly for a grown man to ask a spiritual leader if it's OK to play with them.

Given that her direct contribution to the scope of this article is just two lines and the rest being my own perception, I wouldn't get too hung up on questioning my teacher one way or another. This is all my stuff, she's just a catalyst in this case. We talked about a great many things, but they weren't really relevant to a gaming site

You...Think.....a lot..

Can I get the Filthy Skimmer version?

Brilliant, Certis. I do challenge your conclusion, though.

Certis wrote:

The truth is, there is no problem.

This fundamental Buddhist truth does not free us from consequences, rather allows our minds to transcend them.

Students in India during the 60s and 70s were assaulted by media from Soviet Russia and the USA, both showing lives that seemed better than India. So they challenged one of my old masters, "Why meditate? Why not sit in a dark movie theater, is this not the same thing?"

The teacher answered, "Your existence is like living in a room made only of wood. The floors are wood, the walls are wood, the ceiling, the table, the chairs, everything is wood. Yet you eat soup from the bowl, you do not pour it on the chair. If you hold the spoon upside down it will not carry the soup to your mouth. This is the nature of things."

It's folly to ask "What are games doing to me?" Don't you already know?

vbl wrote:

LOL.

Would all the posts appear empty?

This got me thinking about a piece of wisdom I had read once that is supposedly a loose translation of Buddha.

Believe nothing on the faith of traditions,
even though they have been held in honor
for many generations and in diverse places.
Do not believe a thing because many people speak of it.
Do not believe on the faith of the sages of the past.
Do not believe what you yourself have imagined,
persuading yourself that a God inspires you.
Believe nothing on the sole authority of your masters and priests.
After examination, believe what you yourself have tested
and found to be reasonable, and conform your conduct thereto.

Words I very much believe in and follow as much as I can in my life.
I guess I already did this even before I read these words.

Sounds like science

Zen and the art of Apple Mac maintenance

Fantastic article Certis.

It's all about defining the terms: "Impact," "importance," "waste," "gain," "loss." If you believe change is a fundamental aspect of the universe then you don't get too worried about these things and are then freed to really get to work.

Thanks for the article, Certis!

This really hits home to me. The connection to 'the real world' has become something that disturbs me in shooters. I need the veneer of unreality. I admit it's a veneer.

Great article Certis.

I will throw my two cents in behind nsmike. The difference between simulated violence and the real thing, even if only observed in a video after the fact, is palpable. Violence in video games, movies, etc., never concerned me, it's simulated. But watching the real thing gives me the shivers. I have slain many a polygon-formed foe, but have never been tempted to participate in any form of real violence. I don't even eat meat

Of course, the debate of violence in video games and censorship marches on. Many acts of violence have been attributed to games but I don't buy it. All of the debates, arguments and theories just dance around the true issue - that we are all ultimately responsible for our actions.

The teacher's response may have been concise, but it rings true. We choose what kind of effect things have on us.

I would tend to agree with Lobby on the suspicion that Venerable Robina has only given a passing thought to Certis's question. I would actually go on as far as to assault her position in general, because my worldview is closer to that of Confucius and Mencius that that of Buddha.

And those sages give a very clear cut answer to that question: violent videogames (or porn, or pro 'rassling, or celeb gossip magazines) are not a neurtal tool. Just like a tool shapes the hand that wields it, the entertainment you consume changes your mind. And you don't really have any liberty to avoid it, or filter it out. It will happen. Your hand will remember the shape of the tool. Your palm will develop callouses, if you wield the tool long enough. And a change will be imparted unto your core if you're consistently finding enjoyment in gossip mags and GTA. The answer is as clear cut as what Rimpoche Certis gives us, but it's 180 degrees apart -- there is a problem.

If you listen to corrupt and twisted music, it corrupts your mind.

If you take as much as a mere passive part in an untowards enjoyment, you defile your inner self.

Heretk wrote:

I have slain many a polygon-formed foe, but have never been tempted to participate in any form of real violence. I don't even eat meat

Don't feel bad if you occasionally handle meat in a video game. That's fine. Go and play Burger Time, it's a great game. Oh, and by all means, Psychonauts. Musn't forget Psychonauts.

Games Buddha would not play:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddha_...

rabbit wrote:

This really hits home to me. The connection to 'the real world' has become something that disturbs me in shooters. I need the veneer of unreality. I admit it's a veneer.

Yeah, I'm a lot the same way. Sure I enjoyed Halo and enjoy TF2. But as someone who has dealt with clinical anxiety and can definitely feel the slight differences in how tense I am, I know that violent games amp me up at the very least. And not always in a way that's just fun. Sometimes in a way that's plain unhealthy.

When I started getting seen for anxiety a couple of years ago one of the first things I did was to dial down my consumption of media that was violent or aggressive. Be it music, games, movie, tv, whatever. I could immediately tell a difference in how I felt, my temperment, my mood, everything. So I guess from where I sit, I don't see how it's possible to swim in the current of modern media and not be yanked one direction or another. I think it affects you. It affects me.

Excellent article Certis. I will try to hold on to these words as I go back to trying to be civil in the Team Fortress 2 Game Night thread :).

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

And those sages give a very clear cut answer to that question: violent videogames (or porn, or pro 'rassling, or celeb gossip magazines) are not a neurtal tool. Just like a tool shapes the hand that wields it, the entertainment you consume changes your mind.

This is a bit too vague to be anything but a truism... with about the same force as Robina's aphorism.

If you listen to corrupt and twisted music, it corrupts your mind.

Such a bald assertion requires something besides metaphor and simile to back it up.

If you take as much as a mere passive part in an untowards enjoyment, you defile your inner self.

On the contrary, violence and struggle is part and parcel of this existence. It will never change, as the universe is always going to present life with finite resources and infinite wants and needs. Life is a tarbaby. If life is a game, your only recourse is to accept the terms or quit playing. There's no magic third option.

While some gnostic quest to abandon material reality might please some, one should not forget that those that don't wish to go on this quest would have no problem with enjoying reality as it is.

There was an interesting problem faced by people keen on helping young and baby elephants. They raised them in captivity, then sent them out in the wild. Some time later, people were finding animals like rhinos completely massacred. Turns out it was the elephants. It seems that, in the wild, as elephants mature they get into fights with each other, and losing those fights triggers a decrease in their testosterone levels; being raised in captivity, and secured from aggression, actually made things worse for the young elephants, who went out to become killers.

Of course, I am in no way suggesting that this mechanism exists in people (I am unaware if anyone has looked, though). But if we're all having fun with metaphors, it's something to consider that we may be putting the cart before the horse. Violence is intrinsic to the human animal; perhaps, rather than games feeding that drive, it helps temper it... and tempering it is, of course, an impact.

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

If you listen to corrupt and twisted music, it corrupts your mind.

If you take as much as a mere passive part in an untowards enjoyment, you defile your inner self.

This take on the issue is probably most closely aligned with my Pope-tacular world view, and it's a quandary with which I've often found myself grappling over the years. I like violent games. I like angry music. I aspire to not only enjoy these things but to create them. Are these pursuits compatible with my faith? Are they compatible with my role as husband and father? There are days when I tend to agree with Certis' conclusion, but there are other days when my opinion swings the opposite direction.

Everything has an impact, it's up to you to decide if something is worthwhile.

I think the greatest value of this statement lies in its call to honest discernment and self-evaluation. It's up to each of us to draw the conclusions for ourselves, whether we measure ourselves by the teachings of Buddha, Confucius or Christ.

Podunk wrote:

I like violent games. I like angry music. I aspire to not only enjoy these things but to create them.

One could make the argument that it's better for your soul or whatever to create violent games rather than just consuming them all the time. Something of yourself comes through that way, or alternatively, something is negated/transformed.

I liked the article and as you say; you're Teacher's comment is the catalyst; you focused on the impact it had on you.

I don't agree on your conclusions about gaming; and I think the corollary you create based on you Teacher reading pop-magazines went in the wrong direction. As you put it, she approaches the magazines and their content as tools to find mundane examples that will help her reach some of the students, and also to understand what is going on in the "pop-world".

For you to decide that you would like to have a similar approach to gaming, would be to stop playing games as a consumer/gamer, and more like a reviewer, an analizer or even a therapist.

In this sense, the options for the gaming experience are exclusive; either you enjoy the experience, or you analyze yourself while playing to see what you get out of the experience, but I don't think you can have this cake and eat it too.

Also, to respond one of the thread's comments; I don't think your Teacher dismissed gaming as a hobby, but rather, she interpreted the situation as a basic decision of life; "is what I'm doing with my time good or bad?", take gaming out of the equation and insert tennis, tea, kick-boxing or stamp-collecting.

Podunk wrote:
Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:

If you listen to corrupt and twisted music, it corrupts your mind.

If you take as much as a mere passive part in an untowards enjoyment, you defile your inner self.

This take on the issue is probably most closely aligned with my Pope-tacular world view, and it's a quandary with which I've often found myself grappling over the years. I like violent games. I like angry music. I aspire to not only enjoy these things but to create them. Are these pursuits compatible with my faith? Are they compatible with my role as husband and father? There are days when I tend to agree with Certis' conclusion, but there are other days when my opinion swings the opposite direction.

Everything has an impact, it's up to you to decide if something is worthwhile.

I think the greatest value of this statement lies in its call to honest discernment and self-evaluation. It's up to each of us to draw the conclusions for ourselves, whether we measure ourselves by the teachings of Buddha, Confucius or Christ.

That's exactly what I took away from the article. I'm responsible for making my own choices about the media I consume and how it affects me. Does Call of Duty 4 make me more anxious, aggressive, or callous? I'm in a unique position to answer that question, and to make choices accordingly.

Being in law enforcement, I'm exposed to some pretty horrific content on a very regular basis. And not by choice, obviously--it's part of the job. One interesting thing I've learned about myself is that my capacity to handle the violence that makes its way across my desk at work is actually much higher than my capacity to handle violent content I experience voluntarily. I often can't sit through violent films and television without feeling wrong.

It took a few years, but now I'm largely at peace with the fact that I have a professional responsibility to witness and describe bad things. When I voluntarily expose myself to violent material, though, especially in the name of entertainment, the impact is often different. I don't feel so good about it. Despite their interactive aspect, I actually find video games much more unreal and abstract than I do most films, literature, and movies. Resident Evil 4 I can handle. Law and Order: Special Victims Unit is another story. I may be unique in this regard, but the point is, I make choices about what I play, see, hear, and read based on what I know about myself. It's up to me to choose wisely.