I once had a nineteen-year-old roommate who spent hours upon hours of her average day playing a video game called The Sims. The Sims is a game in which players create regular life situations for their characters and watch them perform menial tasks, like taking out the trash, feeding the family pet, doing dishes, eating, talking to neighbors, mowing the lawn—almost all of daily routine can be enacted in this sprawling simulation.
I asked my roommate why she loved The Sims so much. She said she just loves doing routine chores—dishes, trash, vacuuming. Something about the mundane appealed to her, just not in real life, for it was nigh impossible to get her to wash her dishes, vacuum, or take out the trash. And yet she wanted badly to bring home a lame, elderly dog from the shelter.
What does this tell us besides she’s young and lazy and likes dogs? For her personally, we can’t know unless we talk to her about it. Perhaps she was internally chaotic or led a secret chaotic life I knew nothing about and The Sims was her ideal self, calm and disciplined. Or maybe she so hated doing chores growing up that testing them out virtually was her way of easing into them in adult life. There are a number of possibilities for her personally, but if we pull back we will see this pattern playing out in a transpersonal way.
Video games have evolved from simple hand-eye coordination games to logical puzzles to 1st-person perspective bloodbaths to being able to go anywhere, do anything. Adventures at first, but more and more, people turned to mundane tasking. Want to pretend to fish all day? You can be that fisherman. Want to bake bread as an orc? Go be an orc baker. The ending of this arc that started as sensible gaming, curved into war, and straightened into nearly limitless possibility, is heading for home plate, which looks as banal as any plate in your home.
Game Over, Man!
Now let’s take a look at the evolution of video gaming systems. They’re moving toward virtual reality, right? No longer are you playing the game, you are the game. You’re so immersed in it you forget it’s a game.
Imagine the possibilities! What if you’re trapped in a haunted house or a zombie apocalypse? Imagine being in an orgy with super models! Hey, how about we tackle World War II again, this time so you can take out Hitler?
I’m Bond. James Bond.
These types of adventures and thrills are, of course, the immediate goal. There will be a genre for every personal interest. But where do you think that arc will end? Will it be the mundane? Will it be living virtual lives? Will it be first living them as a gamer and then becoming the game? Is that not the dream future of Silicon Valley computer engineers—to infuse technology with our consciousness so that we may go on like this forever? (Or until a solar flare knocks our body-servers offline. We’ll take our chances with whichever.)
The evolution of computing technology is about the shedding of facades. Oh, sure it’s for instant communication: it’s how we get our news; it’s how we play our games; it’s how we do commerce; it’s what we stare at when we should be watching the road; it’s how we keep the lights on and the grid up and running….
We fear we’re losing our humanity and becoming cyborgs; then we fear it’s a major hypnotic distraction worse that television; then we fear it’s changing our brain chemistry so that more of us have attention deficit disorder. It’s as if some alien tech reached out to us from the future and coerced us into inventing it into existence so that it could steal our souls.
But at the end of the day-to-day reality and the sci-fi horror fears we use to warn ourselves away from depending too heavily on technology (too late!), there is one very simple thing virtual reality is about: transcendence. It is the materialist’s dream of physical transcendence. And that dream comes in three basic flavors: one is that you become the all-knowing, all-seeing god you do not believe in; the next is that you get to live forever in a heaven of your own making; the third is that you simulate reality as it is and carry on there just like normal.
Boy, that third one’s scariest, isn’t it? The first one is a delusion of grandeur. The second is narcissism. But the third is just psychotic. These are fine in fantasy, but the drivers of technology are steering us toward these branching paths in reality.
And why? Why do they do it and why do we allow it to happen? What do they, we, and all three future goals have in common?
Fear of death.
Death Kills Fear of Death
Fear of death is a curious thing. It’s the type of fear that is cured with itself—like how anti-venom is made with the venom that is killing a person bitten by a poisonous snake. When you die physically, obviously there you are. No more fear of death. But that’s cheating.
Dying while remaining alive is the hard-won cure. We’re talking ego death, death of brain-self, you reading this right now. This death of you, not eternity of you, is the cure for fear of death. The drive to go on and on forever is the longest chase scene in history. It takes us into small towns where we have to act normal and fit in. When fear catches up, we hide in big cities. We go off the grid. We go to war. We try to escape it by shooting off to the moon and then when that doesn’t work, injecting our awareness into the flying contraptions themselves. There’s nowhere we won’t run and hide, trying desperately to be the gods we scoff at others for believing in.
We’ll do anything. Anything to protect ourselves. Anything not to die, including shedding our mortal coils for an Apple iBody. And we will call it evolution. Or iVolution.
And we will remain as we are now, what we fear most, unconscious.
How do we conquer this fear of death so that we’re not slaves to it, reprogramming our hardware to exist in some knowable state until we run out of batteries? Do we meditate in front of corpses like Buddhist monks in Thailand? Do we throw ourselves into a psycho-spiritual ordeal the likes of which Joseph Campbell spoke so eloquently about? Do we play The Sims and forget it?
Truth is, there is no how because there is no you who is afraid of death. You are that fear of death. The perceiver is the perceived. The thinker is the thought. They who fear are that fear. There is no conqueror who can conquer themselves, no spiritual warrior, no hero’s journey that ends in you ending you. There is also no avoiding the issue by burying your face in glowing screens. There is only understanding that you are fear—not separated from it and observing it, although that’s what you feel like you’re doing right now. A schizophrenic believes he’s talking to people you know aren’t there right now, too. “Real for him” does not make it real. Likewise, saying, “I am real” doesn’t make you real. But, like the schizophrenic, you need to be healthy enough within your deluded mind to even hear it. The fact that you’re here right now at this website means you’ve got that necessary spark of recognition that something’s not quite right.
And when you hear it—when you really get that you are fear—you right now as you are, are that—not as an intellectual puzzle or a thing you start teaching people to feel superior, but really, really deep in your marrow get it… the spark becomes a flame and that flame is the ending of fear. That is the ending of the brain’s you. That is death.
And now you are alive. Alive in heart, which includes the brain, if only you will look away from the screen and sit with this a while in silence.