Friday, August 03, 2007

Beating Reality to Death with Your Fantasy

I love to visit secluded creeks and look at their beauty. Forget the shopping carts and beer bottles down there, I mean the slow, uneven erosion of moss-covered banks, discrete spots of sun and shade from the trees, and green-tinted water so clear that you can see the algae waving back and forth underneath.

In those places I hear birds flapping in stereo sound, left to right, and I hear the rustling of squirrels coming down from their nests to drink, and under that I hear the irregular bubbling of a stream that never stops, and suddenly – looking at the still and green-tinted world, listening to these subdued and overlayed noises – I think “wow, this is just like Myst.” And then I feel a little sad for all the hours I spent PLAYING Myst, when I could have been standing by a brook and LIVING the experience instead.

The same thing happens when a thunderstorm is coming, especially now that I can stand on my balcony and see the clouds getting old and black. I look out at the evil skyline and hear the wind hitting my eardrums…and suddenly I’m reminded of “Poltergeist.” It’s view so bizarre that it MUST be a special effect, and the shrill sound of air rushing through tight corners is a sound engineer’s dream. I find myself "removed" from reality briefly, confusing my experience with some movie I haven’t even seen in years.

I think we all do this more than we realize, in an age when our entertainment can so closely mirror our experiences. This is even worse when savvy marketers and producers create out-and-out fantasy and then TELL us that it’s reality, and we end up mimicking the behaviour of somebody in a commercial or a soap opera or a reality TV show. It’s one thing to associate a real-life experience with a simulated recreation; it’s another to embrace a total fabrication and make it "us."

Far be it from me to deride escapism: I play video games, I read books, I watch movies, I listen to music. But I CAN tell the difference between these things and the world around me, the parts of the world that weren't carefully engineered to "make an imprssion." I do my best to understand the differences between the real world – finances, work, friends, social interaction – and their re-created counterparts in entertainment or escapism. I DO know the difference between a babbling brook and a scene from “Myst,” so much so that when I DO feel that I'm becoming disconnected, I worry a bit.

I got particularly worried when I became obsessed with “The Sims” many years ago. I could create my own worlds and my own little humans and live vicariously through them. Then I realized that I was having fun watching SIMULATED human beings doing their dishes, while letting my OWN dishes pile up in the sink. That’s wrong. It’s denial and seductive and a whole bunch of badness that appeals to my most anti-social, desperate, and voyeuristic instincts.

And yet our world seems to be going further in that direction…the much-anticipated “virtual reality” worlds ala “Second Life” are here already, and while I’m sure they are quite social in their own way, they also contain so much fabrication and wish-fulfillment – fake abilities, fake fame, fake appearances – that I can’t help thinking that it’s another step in the direction of a “fake reality,” one that is more convincing than ever.

We humans LOVE to be fakers. Most of us are faking it, most of the time. But we can only go so far in our fakery before somebody calls us on it and we’re forced to come face-to-face with the world and ourselves, and therefore grow and change and adapt and – hopefully – improve, maybe so we can SHED some of our fakery, or at least understand it better. If nobody can call you on your fakery – in fact, if fakery becomes so normalized that your “zwinky” or your “avatar” is more real to others than your actual personality – then I predict that YOU will end up a maladjusted lump, sitting on a virtual reality branch with all the OTHER maladjusted lumps, some of which are probably bots.

I use an assumed name and spend lots of time and money to swap my gender, for goodness sake, so maybe I have no right to criticize. Hey, who am I to say?


Eric Little said...

But when does "fakery" become art? ("Poets are liars," said Plato.) And does that fakery then, having become art, become more valuable than experience?

What about recapturing that experience of the brook?

..."we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things."
--"Tintern Abbey," Wordsworth

I don't know the answers, either.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

When does fakery become art? Good question, I hadn't thought of that...but barring a way of really knowing when ANYTHING is "art," it's a difficult one to answer.

When I say "fakery" I guess I'm implying that it has a dash of willful deception and/or delusion to it. I wouldn't consider an actress to be "faking" in this sense when she performs on stage, but if she goes home and inflates her sense of self-worth, and lords a relatively insignificant accomplishment over her friends, then I'd say she's faking.

To recapture the brook, I'd say that's trying to express something real. And even if you're creating a fantasy, or reading a fantasy, that's not fakery, it's just entertainment or even enlightenment, as is writing about the brook...but if you BELIEVE in the fantasy -- if you start dressing up like Captain Kirk and actually BELIEVE on some level that you ARE Captain Kirk -- then it's fakery.

Err...sort of. :)

JJ said...

Did you ever come across this zinger of an opening line?

"The sky was the colour of television; tuned to a dead channel."

Eric Little said...

Written by a resident of Canada, I believe--although not a native.