“Most men and women lead lives at the worst so painful, at the best so monotonous, poor and limited that the urge to escape, the longing to transcend themselves if only for a few moments, is and has always been one of the principal appetites of the soul. Art and religion, carnivals and saturnalia, dancing and listening to oratory – all these have served, in H.G. Well’s phrase, as Doors in the Wall.”
Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception
I was raised by a devoutly Christian mother who hated rock music, most mainstream films and video games. I was also raised by a father who blasted Metallica in his Firebird as he drove me to and from school, constantly watched horror movies and gangster films, and was a self-proclaimed Super Mario Bros. “pro.” This mixed upbringing led to some serious peculiarities in my character. On one hand, I became very religious myself. However, unlike my mother I also found value in pop-culture and the “darker” side to entertainment. In many ways, these two interests became one – an obsessive fascination with finding God in pop culture, hidden within the seams and sometimes unbeknownst to even the creator of such art. In a theater full of guffawing horror aficionados watching the latest Paranormal Activity in the series, I found myself pondering God – thinking of how the film fit in with the idea of a world torn by good and evil and curious as to whether a film like this could turn people into believers. Video games have not escaped the scrutiny of my inherited Christian perspective and during a recent binge of Super Mario 3D World, I found myself thinking about God once again. However, as most of my ponderings are for my mind only, I found something fascinating about this musing that I believe has universal appeal. This is not a holy revelation meant to rake in sinners, but a singular perspective that serves to open up realms of new possibilities and to ignite a fire within game designers to see with different eyes the potential behind changing gamers’ perspectives. I share my own perspective of the nature and purpose of video games as a means to inspire designers to reflect upon their own perspective as well as to bridge the divides that separate one perspective from another. We are alone in the world and no one will ever understand anyone as, in many cases, we can only relate through words – a highly limited consolation to a shared experience. (Huxley, 3) Games provide one of the first opportunities of relating through truly active experiences, that although not perfect, is the closest thing the world has gotten so far to a true connection between individuals.
The Magic Circle
Before beginning on this journey, I would like to make clear the requirement for getting the most out of this article. The purpose is not to make people believe or not believe in God. I am in the camp with the philosopher David Hume who believed that God is not a “self-evident idea, nor a logically demonstrable truth.” (Lavine, 174) Like most things in life, God requires a level of faith that cannot be tested by science nor be reasoned with. In fact, Jesus Christ and many of his disciples would probably be in Hume’s camp as well. In the New Testament, Jesus often got angry at his disciples for lacking faith in what is unseen, and noted that “[t]he one who believes in me will live, even though they die”. (John 11:25, NIV) The emphasis on faith over reason is one of the foundational elements of the Christian faith and thus has no place in philosophical discussion except for those who wish to disprove it. However, for the case of this new perspective a suspension of disbelief is necessary for getting the most out of the article and I hope that it is of no consequence to request that of my readers. The sole purpose of this is to bypass the question of how God could exist to the question of why in which this article is dedicated to. For those who are not of the faith, suspending disbelief may simply be a door into another way of seeing as Aldous Huxley often used psychedelics to obtain. Huxley noted the value of such an experience as an occasion to bring “brief but timeless illumination… [as a means to] lose a little of the confident insolence sprouting from systematic reasoning and consciousness of having read all the books.” (Huxley, 24) Secular thinking tends to assume that all can be explained in logical and scientific reasoning, which limits the expanse of original thought into realms surrounding those beliefs. This is not necessarily good nor bad, but it does limit one’s experience. Psychedelics are one means of escaping that form of thought, yet it is only divergent types that embark on such a journey. For those who wish to keep their current perspective without mind altering substances, this article provides an alternative.
Edward Snowden, the NSA employee who risked his career and livelihood to release sensitive documents to the press was questioned in an interview about what motivated him to act. His conviction was not based in something traditionally understood, such as a religious belief or a strong morality imbued in his life from childhood. When asked what his motivation was, he noted that it was nothing more than comic books and video games (Fudge, 2013). He noted that he learned how to act by playing as a character who has to do “difficult but good things” that require bravery and that people who attempt such acts “can defeat even the most powerful edifices of evil.” (Fudge, 2013). Instances like these cannot be taken lightly and it is evident that many people throughout history have found inspiration for courageous or terrifying acts as a result of entertainment consumption. In short, change can occur that defies the moral and social conditioning that is injected within the public from birth. Overpowering forces such as consumerism and a devastatingly impermeable class system are suddenly thwarted by a simple game or other piece of entertainment that just happens to have the right combination of features to trigger a socially conditioned individual to divergent action. The idea of God is a very important feature both in conditioning individuals and, in some cases, triggering them to divergent thinking. For instance, in Galatians 3:26 it states that “you are all sons of God, through faith.” (NIV) To believe that one is the child of a great being and that their place in the world is defined not through government or class standing but through a Father who rules everything, disintegrates the invisible barriers that are meant to keep all in their place – regardless of socioeconomic or racial differences. As Aldous Huxley expressed in regards to his mescalin experiment, “when we feel ourselves to be sole heirs of the universe, when ‘the sea flows in our veins… and the stars are our jewels,’ when all things are perceived as infinite and holy, what motive can we have for covetousness or self-assertion, for the pursuit of power or the drearier forms of pleasure?” (13) Through a temporary belief of God’s existence, a person can release themselves from the deceptive veil of consumerism and feel the freedom associated with the ability to innovate beyond the desire for money or power. Think of what a designer could create if he or she was not always thinking of making a profit. In turn, how would a gamer react differently to a game that was not made with profit in mind versus the psychological trickery that accompanies games that are churned out to create a great financial yield? It is only through a new perspective that one can see a future that is unlike other art/entertainment industries that have all fallen to the overpowering allure of consumerism.
Everything Happens for a Reason
It was a warm Sunday in March when I sat down with my best friend Daniel to binge play Super Mario 3D World. He is a much better player than I am so we came up with an idea to have me go first and him playing second if I was unable to finish the level. By trying on my own I got to build my own skills and then learn from my mistakes by watching him on the second run. It was on the Sunshine Seaside level (5-1) that I came to my realization. On this level, I came to a section where there were four Chargin’ Chucks huddled around a green star. I had acquired a Boomerang Flower earlier and took the sadistic pleasure in throwing my boomerang at them from across the stream where they couldn’t touch me. After the slaughter, I jumped over the stream to their side and proceeded to go to the other end of the beach to explore. I noticed a hole in the wall that I wanted to jump up onto but for some reason I simply could not. I gave up on it and finished my round.
On Daniel’s turn, he faced the same difficulty when trying to jump up on the ledge. It seemed impossible. We gave up unfulfilled and simply moved on to the next level but it persisted in my mind. After Daniel left, I took on the level again, except this time with a more careful eye. I did a speed run through the level and got to the ledge without touching the Chargin’ Chucks. As I tried to jump up on the ledge the Chucks started racing towards me and I started bouncing off of them to prevent my demise. Eventually I bounced in just the right way to propel myself onto the ledge and into a secret place where Toad was running for his life from a line of multi-colored beetles. I was surprisingly touched by the experience. In this simplified world, I realized that everything – even the enemies – were tools to help the player succeed in the game. This event unveiled to me the enormous level of detail placed by the designer(s) to create a wonderful experience for those who looked deeply and tried to understand the complexity of each level. To figure out one of these complexities is like a secret smile shared between the player and the designer. Through the player’s dedication and hard work they are able to understand the deep love that the designer has for their creation and the great excitement that the designer has for the player who seeks out these complexities. For that moment, the designer and the player are in communion with one another – irrelevant to space and time. It is this realization that made me understand how the gaming experience is holy – something that is reflective of the nature of religion (in particular, Christianity) in recognizing that someone is in control of a person’s experience and has created a world especially for the player. St. Augustine, in his philosophical musings, noted that God must exist because of the “wonderful order, harmony, and beauty that is found throughout nature.” (Lavine, 175) The feeling related to seeing the world through this lens is quite comparable to the one experienced by a gamer exploring a well-developed game environment. In fact, it raises the question about the very nature of the game designer within this philosophical framework.
Shortly after I came to this realization, I crossed paths with a promising game developer in USC’s interactive media school who is also a devout atheist. As I excitedly poured out my realization to him about Super Mario 3D World, he smiled and told me, “I think that game developers are gods.” While I disagree with the overt translation of such a statement, I understand the underlying emotions behind his response. A designer in this case is someone who appears to defy the limits of human ability – to create something so complex that it can amaze and enchant another human being. Despite being born of meat and chemicals, they have ascended into a higher realm than their fellow man. By chance or might, they have transcended the human experience into something sacred and holy. They have become creators as God is a Creator.
From this, I began to see the Bible in a new light. The most notable element in relation to this case occurs when God decides to create man. “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness”. (Genesis 1:22, NIV) Looking back at the history of art and entertainment, a connection forms in the pursuit of a perfect art that can interact with its viewer. From artist Felix Gonzalez Torres’ “Portrait of Ross” (1991) to the trompe L’oeil art technique employed by Stanley Kubrick in “The Shining” (1980), there are many artists who sought out this “communion” with their viewers – although none as pervasive as game designers. In this respect, I see the relation between game designer and God as one of men (and women) being a reflection of who God would be, given that God exists. Through them, we see the motivation behind a hypothetical god’s actions. Why does God create? Because God enjoys communion with His “players.” He enjoys watching the players explore the world and finding all the hidden Easter Eggs and secret levels. He wants to share that secret smile with His players. In this vein, the great secrets to God’s being are found, not in the skies, but in the game developer who dedicates his or her life to their small world.
The Nature of Evil and Suffering
The sum of evil… would be much diminished
if men could only learn to sit quietly in their rooms.
Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception
I may have lost some readers at my last thought as it is appears to be a great contradiction to the painful world in which we live. There is rape, murder, torture, war and violence of all kinds that affect everyone. However, I return to my experience with Super Mario Brothers 3D World as a framework for seeing suffering from a new perspective.
In Super Mario 3D World, the player has the ability to choose one of four players: Peach, Mario, Luigi or Toad. Each of these characters have their strengths and weaknesses. Toad is the fastest while Peach is great at long jumps as her puffy dress helps her float for a few seconds longer than the others. Taking the idea of player choice to the existential level and assuming that God is a game designer in essence, the idea of player choice then becomes a key element in seeing both pain and suffering in a new light. In this type of environment, there is a chance that God has allowed each player the choice of who they are and what type of life they chose to live prior to playing. This is comparable to a Matrix type environment, where people lie in vats, completely unaware of who they truly are as their consciousness exists within the video game world. However, the difference would be that (in this world) the players chose their character within the game. If this is a possibility, then it would provide a solution to David Hume’s argument over the existence of God. In his observations, Hume noted that God could not exist because there was evil in the world and a good God would not allow such evil to exist. (Lavine, 177) However, if the world is simply a game and we have all chosen to play, then evil in essence does not truly exist and God’s existence remains an option. 
This raises the question then of why a player would choose to play a game with such suffering in it. To understand this, a person would need to separate themselves from the world and imagine that they come from a place where “evil” does not exist. In this other world, God would explain that He made a game where there would be obstacles called “evils” that would prevent a player from reaching a goal. He would emphasize that this concept means that the game is “hard” which might also go past the player’s head as “difficulty” could also be a foreign idea. There is also the possibility that the world experience can be chosen in “hard” “intermediate” and/or “easy” mode, with different experiences allotted to each. The players, unfamiliar with such a new concept yet excited for the chance-in-a-lifetime experience, jump at the chance to feel something different and new – to live with a new consciousness within a new form, completely cut off from the world that they currently live. This is similar to the experience of playing a video game that takes place in a fantasy world or employs magic. However, the difference is that in video games, these elements don’t feel real. We would have to assume that the game we are living in is far more advanced than those that exist in the present day. The best thing about this assumption is that it provides a blueprint for the evolution of video games.
So What’s The Point?
“We live together, we act on, and react to, one another;
but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves.”
Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception
Living in a consumer society from birth, I have found it difficult to separate my own identity from that which I have accumulated through a social media presence, fictional and consumer-driven representations of beauty and ideal behavior as well as the deeply saturated symbols of “happiness” that society disguises financial accumulation under. I have unwittingly become both a blind consumer as well as a walking advertisement for consumer products through my choice of clothing, lifestyle and entertainment choices. This would be bad enough except that this is not the full extent to my integration. I have also become a pawn for the consumerist ideology through its repetition and validation in my own art. Without another perspective, there would be no hope for something different – a truly divergent path carved into the timeline that speaks of something new and separate from the American consumerist ideology.
While there are many venues for obtaining a new perspective, the “God perspective” that I have mentioned in this article is the one that resonates loudly within me and does not require the partaking of chemical drugs to obtain. By a mere suspension of disbelief, one can take on a new perspective of who seeks neither gain nor profit in order to clear one’s mind of conventional ideas and make room for the divergent. In addition, by seeing the world as a game in and of itself, the curious game designer can become a part-time philosopher, debating how this world is just a larger scale version of the ones that he or she makes using a game engine. It opens up opportunities for innovation in terms of gameplay and narrative that he or she may not have seen before. I urge game designers to seek out this type of transcendence that I believe will be one of the “better doors in the hope of inducing men and women to exchange their old bad habits for new and less harmful ones.” (Huxley, 19) By infiltrating the society we live in with new games that defy the consumerist ideology, not only will the game designer transcend but the player as well. The deceptive consumer veil will be lifted and finally, we may actually be able to change the world.
Fudge, James. (2013) “Glen Greenwald: Edward Snowden’s Actions Inspired by Video
Games and Comic Books” Retrieved from http://www.gamepolitics.com/2013/10/25/glen-greenwald-edward-snowdens-actions- inspired-video-games-and-comic-books#.VTSUOyFVhBc
Huxley, Aldous. Doors of Perception. London: Chatto & Windus , 1954. Book.
Lavine, T.Z. From Socrates to Sartre: The Philosophic Quest. New York: Bantam Books, 1984. Book.
 For those who are curious, yes my parents are still happily married and no, I do not know how they manage it.
 I realize that this could apply to other fields, which could be expanded upon in further studies.
 I have my doubts that God is a “He” but for the moment, I will use the pronoun for convenience sake. My apologies if I offend any of my readers. It is unintentional.
 As mentioned earlier, my intent is not to convince people of God’s existence. However, I found this example helpful in further integrating the reader into the Magic Circle of belief for the duration of the article.