Posts Tagged: Musings

Social Quality

I found myself thinking about the “drive by” nature of social media earlier. It’s all, seemingly, about the number of friends we have on there and the likes our posts get. It’s a numbers game, and one thing I’ve learned over the years is to be highly suspicious of a numbers game.

As I say, it’s drive by. We accumulate likes and make connections, but what are these worth? A like is a quick click, but how long did someone read what was posted; how much consideration was given? In short, what quality does that like actually have? I find myself wondering what the culture of quick likes means for public discourse; I find myself worried.

The shallowness of the friendships on social networks is well mentioned, I won’t comment further there. But thinking differently, it’s an audience. So our whole social network is about playing to an audience. As I pointed out last time, the only things that get posted are very carefully selected highlights. Yes, here’s the post of everyone smiling and raising their glasses to the camera. Where’s the post of the drunken vomit? Where’s the shot of the pathetic drunk cuddling the toilet at 2am? It’s a fake view, held in front of an audience that might well find themselves doubting their own worth as a result. Again ask the question; where is the quality?

For me, the quality is in fewer connections but better ones. Actual discussions and conversations, not ephemeral likes. Social networking has its place, and in my eyes its power should be treated more carefully than it is.

A Childish Game?

So there I was browsing online dating profiles, as you do. Whilst looking I happened across a statement that computer games were “Childish”. That started me thinking.

Well, writing as someone who’s frequented virtual worlds of various guises before and is engaged exploring the Kerbin Solar System, I definitely disagree. What I would say is that some games have low quality and others high quality. Now, when I speak of quality I mean this vaguely in the sort of sense that Robert M. Pirsig meant. That ungraspable something, not the graphics or the sounds, something else. Some games have it, others most definitely do not. I (perhaps, controversially) group most, if not all, of the so-called “triple A” titles into the “have not” category.

The games I have in mind as “haves” are Minecraft, Second Life and Kerbal Space Program (KSP, hereafter). Why these? In each case there is a freedom that you don’t get with a scripted level design, and with each a chance at creativity. KSP is more creative when it come to crashes, I admit, though rocket design can be a slightly insane artform. The other part of the reason it’s listed here is the amount of awe and wonder. I’ve launched and flown a space capsule to orbit then sat and watched the sun rise from an orbital spacecraft, it’s a great moment and makes one wonder how much wonderful the real view must be. There’s a sense of adventure and wonder, which is also helped by the sense of achievement at actually getting the rocket to fly! It teaches you about orbit, aerodynamics and a number of other things and really does make you stand in admiration of the real world space programs and their achievements. I didn’t know the difference between Apoapsis and Periapsis till I started playing this game! I will leave a small trailer below, which I think captures the spirit of the game very well.

I’ve mentioned Minecraft before, and it will probably need no introduction. It’s a phenomenon which makes creativity very easy indeed and offers a huge amount of freedom to explore. Both KSP and Minecraft are modifiable, so the variety and potential can be increased in both games. Whilst KSP teaches physics, aerodynamics and other things. Minecraft can teach you to plan projects and organise your resources. It can teach teamwork, when working on joint projects on a server; I’ve used to to try to answer ethical questions I’ve had regarding the use of force. It has also been used to teach conservation and a number of other things; there’s a great deal of quality in such a simple seeming game.

Finally, Second Life and I must put on my flameproof suit for describing this as a “game”. For sheer creative scope, Second Life blows both of the previously mention titles out of the water. It has the motto “Your World, Your Imagination” and it lives up to it. This virtual world contains composers, musical performers, artists, authors and much more. I’ve seen meditation centres, lectures, memorials, art galleries and much more (including a great deal of adult content). Indeed, the building of entire landscapes has been raised to the level of an art form! I should also add that Second Life contains a full programming language with APIs for external access, the possibilities are huge. I’ll provide a link to a blog which gives a great overview of the kind of artistic beauty which can be found in this world.

Real Travels in a Virtual World

Where am I going with all of this? I feel that computer gaming, done right, has a great deal to offer and not just to children and young adults. I also firmly believe that we’re seeing the ongoing development of an artistic medium that is unparalleled elsewhere; a medium for experimentation, learning and the sharing of experiences. To dismiss all of these possibilities as “childish” is, I firmly believe, to show a huge amount of ignorance and to deny ourselves a huge opportunity.

Seeds in the Mind

I was having a conversation recently, which included an observation on how the propaganda of the big media corporations gets into our heads. I’ve talked a bit about letting go of the mainstream media before, but this time I had a connection jump into my mind. At a Buddhist Meditation meeting recently, we listened to a Dharma talk. The subject was about the Karmic seeds we plant. The point was made that if you plant the seeds of a Neem Tree then you get sour fruit; if you plant the seeds of Sugar Cane, you get something sweet. Now, these seeds are planted in the mind. This is important to understand, because of all the actions you can take the mental are the most important; this is because everything else, verbal or physical flows from the mind.

We can sow such seeds in the minds of others if we’re not careful, and we are often not careful. Harsh words, harsh actions, injustices all of these plant the seeds in the minds of others. I have in mind a news story I saw some time ago that said childhood bullying can negatively affect the lives of those bullied until their 40th birthday. It can affect academic performance, social ability and career prospects. For me, this shows us the importance of non-violence in both word and action.

At this point, it’s worth thinking about the incoming seeds from big media. These are planted in our minds and, they hope, will affect our future actions and words. This may not be immediate, but down the line can and will affect our views, words, actions and suchlike. Seeds of violence, hate, anger, jealousy; an unrelenting tide of negative news. It’s quite a crop. Of course, it’s an easy get out to blame the media, but we perpetuate it amongst ourselves; little by little society changes. But, we do have the choice here not to accept the seeds. We can also refuse to spread them, try to use kind words and a gentler approach where possible and be more mindful of the influences we see and the things we share via social media.