Meditation and Games
I only realized that there are different ways to meditate a little late in life. Everyone at least kind of has an idea of how to meditate, you go to a dark room, close your eyes and empty your mind. Enya may or may not be involved. Ideally from there, you’re just fifteen minutes of quiet away from a better life.
The issue though is that meditation is hard. It can be very difficult both to start a meditation session and to successfully complete one and so I want to start this by talking a little about meditation and difficulty in the game sense. Then, to be fair, I’m going to talk about gaming as meditation.
Meditation as Gaming
I’m going to start with the difficulty of meditating first. When I start meditating, I set an alarm to mark the end and try to keep my mind clear throughout it. Sometimes I fail completely. My mind just keeps running and I fixate on things or worry about stuff or try to solve problems and my mind gets no rest at all.
A meditation session can have a failure state. It feels different coming out of a session where I kept my mind clear and one where I did not. A good meditation has me feeling grounded, calmer, clearer and much less anxious. It can be quite challenging to succeed.
This is why different methods of meditation are important. The continuous act of willpower required to keep your mind completely blank is a highly difficult method. A method like keeping the mind flowing like the river is significantly easier. Meditation first clicked for me when I learned about taking each thought as it comes, looking at it and then discarding it.
By the same token, people use various aids to helps them meditate. Breathing slowly and focusing on breathing in and out helps the mind stay clear. I don’t personally pray, but the mantras work for a lot of people and rosaries are a good way to keep the hands a little busy so that they don’t distract.
These kinds of dynamic difficulty adjustment can do a lot to make the exercise more approachable. This is exactly the kind of thing that you can do to help players adjust the difficulty of a game to their liking.
More generally, people often have some activity that they can use to help clear their mind. Whether it be walking, showering, sleeping, getting a massage, rewatching The Office or exercise, people have something that they can do when they want to let their conscious mind rest.
Gaming as Meditation
A common activity of this sort is gaming. You can see this a lot in the conversation around gaming. People speak of wanting to be able to sit on their couch and turn off their brain when they game.
This can be tough for someone like me. I don’t make games for you to turn your brain off to (though feel free to do so if you want to). Honestly though, I’m just glad that people have something that they can turn to when they need it.
It’s important for me too. I’ve recently had the worst month of my life and it came not long after one of the worst years of my life and through it, I played a lot of games but only rarely meditated. I can’t always summon the willpower to meditate. It’s hard to put aside time to stay still and it takes a resolve that I don’t always have in me. Video games can absorb the entirety of my attention and allow me some time to process events with much less difficulty. Also, I’ve been playing games for much, much longer than I’ve been meditating.
This lens helps make a couple of the idiosyncrasies of video games clearer. Firstly, it pushes games into being forever games. When you want to just turn your brain off, learning a new set of mechanics is a significant ask. Imagine if you had to memorize a new prayer every time you wanted to meditate.
It also makes sense of the resistance to political engagement in video games. It would be hard to meditate with a news channel on in the background. Of course, all games are political, but not all games ask their audience to engage with them on a political axis and those that do aren’t a great fit for when video games are used in the way of meditation.
None of this is to say that you shouldn’t make games that don’t fit this paradigm. Syphilisation is a very political games with mechanics that are meant to feel unfamiliar. However, I think this helps understand why some players react in such a strongly negative fashion to games of this nature and hopefully that will make it easier to handle their feedback.