christmas in june (thinking ahead about our tech use)

My niece turns 7 this week and is celebrating with a Christmas party. It’s June. She chose this theme for many reasons,including the generous inclusion of hot chocolate that the holiday invites. As the E3 (game developers) conference kicked off yesterday, it seems that Ella is not the only person thinking about Christmas. In keeping with retailers of all kinds, the gaming industry is whetting it’s loyal customer’s appetites about what they can look forward to this December. Live streams, constantly updating blogs, and never ending tweets emanating from the conference are bombarding me as I type.

I am particularly interested in this years’ conference because of my curiosity around how  virtual reality, 360 degree, fully immersive gaming/digital capabilities will impact our embodied lives. This is important to me because, while gaming often leads the way in digital content and product development, other entertainment enterprises are typically close behind. Following this second tier are the research, educational, and, sometimes, assistive/therapeutic applications. This is, of course, the case with virtual reality hard ware and software. While we’ll purchase the virtual reality head set for our gaming friends and family, new ways of using it will not be far behind. Porn developers, with pockets possibly even deeper than those of game developers, will offer their wares en masse as will all sorts of time sucking platforms dressed as entertainment enterprises. While these applications will create monetary windfalls, the assistive and therapeutic applications, will remain secondary, expensive, and out of reach of the mainstream. But I digress...

Digital spaces offer opportunity for escape in exceedingly powerful ways ranging from fully immersive experiences (think of the gamer who is playing with a head set and microphone) to singularly visual or auditory distraction (your partner in bed scrolling through youtube clip/news article/pandora station or playing trivia crack on their phone/tablet). When the images/sounds on the screen were square edged, pixelated images (and their auditory counterparts), it was easier to limit one’s time. When games had fewer story lines and less actions within the player’s control, there was only so long that one’s attention could be held.

Watching the trailers from Day 1 of the E3 conference, however, leads me to a place of deep empathic understanding of how compelling today’s games (and other digital forms of entertainment) are. Take the trailer for the much anticipated upcoming December release of The Last Guardian. In development for 10 plus years, the game includes a visually beautiful story line involving a massive cat/eagle creature and a young man moving fluidly through obstacles and challenges enhanced by a complex and compelling musical score.  I am not a gamer. I am deathly allergic to cats and not particularly drawn to animals. I don’t tend toward animated Japanese films. Even still, I thought the trailer was beautiful. This makes no sense. If I, who am prone to dislike both the media and the message, am drawn to it’s relational themes (between beast and boy) and sensual beauty (lush landscapes, subtle falling feathers, beautiful music), how much more so will those who want (and know how to) face into the strategic challenges of the game be drawn in? For anyone who finds embodied relationships difficult, costly, hard to find, or few and far between, the relationships available in digital spaces (with the characters we play or with the people we play with) are especially appealing.

The time to determine how we want to parse our personal and interpersonal resources is now. As individuals we are benefitted by honestly assessing the way in which we engage our embodied spaces and how our digital lives enhance or limit this. As the holiday season approaches we will be bombarded by press releases, news stories, and trailers (beautiful, stunning, interesting trailers) touting the latest and greatest of all relationships digital. Technologies will promise us opportunities to engage digital landscapes (head sets that allow you to turn your head in the game/digital environment and actually see what is behind you, etc) in never before ways. They will suggest that enhanced game play options will deepen your connection to the clans with which you (or your child, office mate, barista, etc) engage. Some games will promise to help you relax and some will offer intimate relationships with characters you yourself can fully shape. Very likely, all of these will be fun/effective/compelling/engaging. Almost certainly, they will be habit forming. 

Before we make the impulse buy, what about asking our selves the following questions:

How much of my life and energy is spent in digital spaces versus embodied ones?

Am I able to tolerate boredom? Do I ever allow idle time? Can I make and sustain eye contact? Do awkward social moments cause me undue stress? Am I personally and socially resilient?

Am I preoccupied with game strategy, social network sites, or other digital content even when I am engaging with things or people I have enjoyed in the past? Do my spoken conversation or internal dialogue center on stories or examples from digital platforms exclusively?

Do I defer to digital forms of entertainment above all others most, or all, of the time?

Once we’ve taken honest stock we can make healthy choices from the inside out rather than relying on cultural norms or marketing efforts to tell us what is best for us. For health, we need a balance. We need friends in embodied spaces in addition to those we play with (or im-personate) online.  Just like limiting Christmas to hot chocolate would be silly, so would settling for life online when so much is to be had off of it. 

If you, or someone you know, is having a hard time breaking a gaming habit that is hurting the ability to live in/tolerate their embodied life, email me. I’d be happy to help you find resources to help.