I am concerned about my environment. I worry about climate change, pollution, endangered animals, and natural disasters. My concerns are sometimes overwhelming; and I find comfort in the alternate reality of my art studio, a good book, or a game with friends. I could choose to see my alternate realities in a negative light, as having no useful purpose, or I could take a deeper look at what is really happening. This is what I choose to explore: How alternate realities help to solve huge problems like climate change. My newest escape pod is always handy because it is my mobile phone.
Mobile applications have made playing highly engaging games easily accessible. I started getting into mobile games by playing Star Wars Uprising where I am a powerful heroine of my own creation. Star Wars Uprising (2015) is an Action RPG or Role Playing Game. One popular game designer and author who explains the new game industry is Jane McGonigal (2011). In her book, Reality is Broken, she talks a lot about ARG or Alternate Reality Games that are made to improve real-life challenges. While Star Wars Uprising (2015) does not fit completely with her definition, it does in the sense that players create an avatar, or digital version of themselves, to play with other real people in an alternate reality. An avatar can motivate people to do more; for example, I might run faster on my morning jog because I see my avatar feels better if I run faster (McGonigal, 2011).
McGonigal (2011) explains that successful game design provides gamers with intrinsic rewards. They are happy playing or, rather, working on epic challenges that involve creativity, collaboration, and contribution. Fighting an evil empire that threatens to destroy the universe with thousands of other people in Star Wars Uprising (2015), would qualify as an epic challenge. In playing myself, as a new member of the community, I was amazed to discover that about 24 hours of work minimum a week is required to rank high on the leaderboards. I was even more surprised to find myself motivated to play for 24 hours. I became curious; What is it about the design of this game that inspires so much unnecessary work from its players?
Is it the epic scale, a sense of awe that motivates participation? Epic built environments like Stonehenge inspire. People are capable of accomplishing amazing things together and share a desire to belong to something epic (McGonigal, 2011). Alternate realities are digital environments that offer epic work and opportunities to belong to something on a global scale. The real work that is being done is psychological. I think of this work as modern day alchemy. Alchemy is a process of manipulating matter that involves a projection of psychological contents according to Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (Rowland, 2012). I think that in the game it is done as players manipulate their digital avatar. As the avatar progresses in the game, so the individual player sees himself or herself.
In my example, the avatars journey along a similar path as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars film. The film creator, Lucas, was inspired by The Hero’s Journey, which is a monomyth of individuation (Le Grice, 2013). Jung said individuation is the process of confronting archetypal or inherited behavior dynamics in the unconscious mind (Rowland, 2012). In the mobile game, each hero or player evolves as they battle enemies, make allies, and receive rewards. I could go on into more depth about the psychological concept of individuation, but I return to focus on the epic environments.
Epic environments, like monumental outdoor statues and large art museums, inspire me to create. Scale is relative, meaning that a contrast is needed to define something as large or small. Being physically small in the presence of a huge structure creates contrast. Being physically huge in the presence of a tiny digital avatar also creates contrast. To explore options more imaginatively, I engaged in a creative project of seven door sketches. My intention was to create as much diversity as possible.
Of the seven doors, seen in Figure 1 on the left, I selected the big door to turn into a painting. The final big door painting is seen in Figure 1 on the right. Light streams around the big door that does not even fit on the canvas. Surprisingly, the door itself is a portal into another dimension or alternate reality where black bird sits on a branch above water. Is black bird looking at the viewer? The image is of two worlds, the human structure and the nonhuman landscape. The rays of light suggest an illumination or emergence of something. This image is complexity evolution. “Complexity evolution suggests that creativity (human, cultural and non-human) emerges from the interaction of complex adaptive systems” (Rowland, 2016, p. 4).
Figure 1. Big door sketches on left, and big door painting on right.
The light streaming through the cracks in my painting is similar to the light that streams out from the cracks of treasure chests in Star Wars Uprising. Light attracts attention. Players opening chests in the game are rewarded with random items of value. While there is chance involved, the player is confident they will get a reward. In real life, the creative work that emerges from interacting complex adaptive systems is not predictable. Randomness, chance, and luck are some terms that describe uncertain outcomes. However, complexity evolution suggests intelligence in the creative process and not just random outcomes. Perhaps my big door is illuminating the complex intelligence at work. What is the painting communicating?
In order to communicate, we must have a common language. We must agree on some level, and then go from there. “Biosemiosis suggests that non-human nature signifies, has kinds of language that allows it to communicate across species, even to humans and our culture” (Rowland, 2016, p. 4). In my painting, the doors asked to be painted one by one, black bird haunted my mind until I found a resting place in big door, and finally the light began to shine bright. While the logic in my process is nonsense, that is not the point.
The point is that the process or creative communication between door, black bird, and light did lead to more understanding for me. Similarly, it is connected to my game work as a space-traveling hero that battles the empire. All of this results in an unexpected new community and sense of belonging to something greater than myself. The single back bird is also significant and speaks to me. Contrary to the idea of finding a community of people is the idea of finding one special person. Yet this is what the image is telling me when I see the single bird.
In my experience of playing Star Wars Uprising, it was finding one other player in particular who motivated me to play past my normal threshold for games. If it were not of their influence on a one-on-one level, I would not have discovered what I now see as a very special community of global gamers. This quote expresses how I feel about this special connection; “A single rose can be my garden . . . a single friend, my world” (Leo Buscaglia Quotes, 2001-2006, para. 1).
McGonigal (2011) has a name for a special type of gamer; it is s SEHI or Super Empowered Hopeful Individual. These are people who are really good at collaborating on epic scales. They are able to thrive in environments by identifying better achievable goals that emerge out of the chaotic noise that accompanies the collaboration process of complex systems (McGonigal, 2011). Applying psychological theories such as alchemy and individuation to solve real-life threats with a compelling game narrative can lead to epic social change that might just solve our most desperate environmental issues. New opportunities for creative collaboration are available everywhere.
In conclusion, spending time in alternate realities can reveal real-life treasure. The complex collaboration involved in massive multiplayer role-playing and alternate reality games is beyond logical comprehension, and yet it is evolving quickly. My big door illuminated how human and nonhuman worlds communicate and led me to greater understanding about biosemiosis. It is my experience that creatively inspired optimistic people work harder, together, for a bright future. By joining a specific like-minded global community of gamers and discovering the research of McGonigal (2011) I have successfully made my world more chaotic in the best way possible.
Le Grice, K. (2013). The rebirth of the hero: Mythology as a guide to spiritual transformation. London, UK: Muswell Hill Press.
Leo Buscaglia Quotes. (2001-2006). Retrieved from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/l/leo_buscaglia.html
McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world . New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Rowland, S. (2012). The ecocritical psyche: Literature, complexity evolution and Jung. New York, NY: Routledge.
Rowland, S. (2016, Summer Session). Syllabus. Time, Place, Space, Pacifica Graduate Institute, Carpinteria, CA.
Star Wars Uprising. (2015). Retrieved from https://playstarwarsuprising.com/?lang=en