Computer Games are bad for magick

Okay, before I get into this I should make this clear – I really like computer games.  Rarely will a day go by where I don't fire up my computer, X-Box, iPhone or other device of choice to pass at least a bit of my time with a computer game.  They're fun.  They've involving.  They're a challenge.  They're bad for magick.

But really this isn't just about computer games – this is about a category of activities of which computer games are an easily grasped example.  These are activities which provide immediate gratification, an immediate 'hit' of pleasure, excitement or interest, but have no real worth in the long run.  That is to say: all they are about is themselves, they don't stretch us, teach us, enhance our life, or leave a lasting impact.

This afternoon I spent about two hours trying to guide a brightly coloured image of a futuristic floating racing vehicle around an imaginary track as fast as possible.  It was compelling, stimulating, even exciting in parts.  Do I feel this activity progressed me along my life path?  No.  Do I feel that it was in some way 'wrong' that I spent a couple of hours doing this?  Not at all.  But if that was all I was doing today, I might consider that it was a problem.

I feel that these 'immediate gratification' activities are the emotional equivalent of refined sugar.  In this day and age we can very easily get our hands on refined sugar and on the whole there's probably too much of it in our diet.  When we take on refined sugar it gives our body an immediate 'hit' of energy – which feels pretty good.  But that hit goes away pretty fast too, as our body rapidly metabolises the sugar and we release insulin to get the excess of glucose out of our bloodstream.  This often leaves us with an energy drop, and a craving for more sugar – for another energy boost.  Giving in to that craving just starts the cycle again.  As adults we realise that actually just eating sugary food is a really bad idea – that we need to mix in some slow release energy foods that will take time to process and which, therefore, keep us on a more even keel energy-wise.  Bouncing to the heights of a sugar rush may feel good, but constantly chasing that rush to the exclusion of other foods that offer us other rewards is a really bad idea.

It seems to me we react in a similar way to immediate gratification activities – they give us an immediate hit of pleasure, but that pleasure is quite transitory.  It rapidly fades away, often leaving us feeling low and in need of something us to distract us, to give us a 'buzz' again.  So we may seek out another hit of pleasure.  In so doing our mood bounces up from bored/miserable to happy then back down again as a new things stimulates us, then grows tiresome, then we find a shiny new activity, that then bores us once again.  When stuck in this cycle a whole day can go by in pleasure seeking, never feeling like doing anything more constructive, but also never really feeling satisfied, as if nothing is ever quite 'fun enough' that we feel done, and able to move on.  This can be exhausting and, at some level, deeply frustrating and unsatisfying.

As with our diet, we need to vary our intake of activities.  Whilst the occasional treat of a computer gaming session, looking at pictures of cats on the internet, or some light tv-watching, can be a splendid thing, trying to live a happy and fulfilled life through activities that have no purpose other than the immediate experience of performing them is a fools game.  We need to mix in activities which may not give us an immediate hit of pleasure, but with time and investment of energy give us a long term sense of accomplishment and which enhance who we are and how we see the world.  Spiritual practices are, to me, some of the most fulfilling things I do in life – but they rarely offer a 'quick hit' of pleasure.  In fact, the spiritual path as a whole is very rocky and difficult, and it would appear to take years and years to 'pay off' in terms of ones personal happiness (discounting that exciting, transitory, 'honey-moon' phase that most people experience early on where everything suddenly makes sense and it's all easy and shiny and lovely).  An hours session of Wipeout (my current distraction of choice) is a lot more pleasurable and exciting than an hour spent meditating.  But the pleasure of Wipeout ends almost the moment that I stop playing.  The low key pleasure of meditation stays with me, in one form or another, all day.  Developing the skill of driving imaginary hover-cars around imaginary race-tracks is really a skill that can only be used for that very same activity.  The insights and skills developed through meditation apply to all areas of life.

Computer games, and all the other activities I'd put in that category, aren't bad, but they are like cake – enjoyable, a pleasure in life that isn't to be denied, but not something to build your life around.  Humans are healthiest when they are living on a low GI diet, not pure sugar, and we need to appreciate we benefit from a low IGI (Immediate Gratification Index) lifestyle also, rather than trying to get by on shiny computer games that make us feel excited and cheerful and like we are achieving something when really all we are doing is adding points to a score that no one but us cares about.

Yet, I do believe that computer games have the potential to engage us, stretch us, even pass on spiritual insights the way great novels, films and other works of art can.  But the game that does that is unlikely to involve shiny ships zipping around a neon race-track or repeatedly shooting bad guys in the head.  It's a game I'd very much like to play though.

Up next – why so negative?

One Response to "Computer Games are bad for magick"

  1. Kate says:

    IGI. Love it.

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