Can video games create/warp/allow/explore/encourage multiple realities?

Here’s an excerpt of a long, amazing article in the The Atlantic magazine that I read while flying to Las Vegas. To me, it feels like Jonathan Blow’s view of the capacity of video games melds the inner world with the outer world into one seamless, mutating whole.

I can remember, many years ago, a young boy asking his father, “Dad, are machines a part of nature?” The question still holds.

And I remember some channelled source (Mathew Ward?) saying recently that whatever we can do with our technology, we can also do without it. You might keep that idea in mind as you read this article.

By transforming video games beyond the primitive bam-bam-violence of the adolescent boy’s action flick genre into a meditation on mindfulness and multidimensionality, Jonathan Blow also helps spur the evolution of our collective consciousness.

In truth, I’ve been very prejudiced against gaming, for essentially the reasons Blow is as perhaps the industry’s fiercest critic of its status quo.

Shortly after I read the article I noticed an ad for a 2010 book: “Reality is Broken: How Games Make Us Better and Can Change the World,” by Jane McGonigal. Don’t know if her attitude resonates with Blow’s, but the entire subject of gaming is now, for me, provocative.

Here’s a TED presentation that she gave.

And here’s the first few paragraphs of the article about Blow:

The Most Dangerous Gamer

Never mind that they’re now among the most lucrative forms of entertainment in America, video games are juvenile, silly, and intellectually lazy. At least that’s what Jonathan Blow thinks. But the game industry’s harshest critic is also its most cerebral developer, a maverick bent on changing the way we think about games and storytelling. With his next release, The Witness, Blow may cement his legacy—or end his career. In a multibillion-dollar industry addicted to laser guns and carnivorous aliens, can true art finally flourish?

LIKE MANY WEALTHY people, Jonathan Blow vividly remembers the moment he became rich. At the time, in late 2008, he was $40,000 in debt and living in a modest San Francisco apartment, having just spent more than three years meticulously refining his video game, Braid—an innovative time-warping platformer (think Super Mario Bros. meets Borges), whose $200,000 development Blow funded himself. AlthoughBraid had been released, to lavish praise from the video-game press, on Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade service that August, Blow didn’t see a cent from the game until one autumn day when he sat down at a café in the city’s Mission district. “I opened up my Web browser and Holy fuck, I’m rich now,” he recalled. “There were a lot of zeros in my bank account.”

Blow’s similarities to the average millionaire end right there, however, because unlike most wealthy people, he seems faintly irritated by his memory of striking it rich. When Blow told me, during a typically metaphysical conversation in a park near his Berkeley office, that his windfall was “absurd,” he didn’t mean it in the whimsical “Can you believe my luck?” sense; he meant it in the philosophical, Camus-puffing-a-cigarette sense of a deeply ridiculous cosmic joke. “It just drives home how fictional money is,” Blow said, squinting against the unseasonably bright December sun. “One day I’m looking at my bank account and there’s not much money, and the next day there’s a large number in there and I’m rich. In both cases, it’s a fictional number on the computer screen, and the only reason that I’m rich is because somebody typed a number into my bank account.” For the world’s most existentially obsessed game developer, coming into seven figures just provided another opportunity to ponder the nature of meaning in the universe.

Which is not to say that Blow has forsaken his wealth. As Braid grew into a bona fide phenomenon in its first year—selling several hundred thousand copies, winning armloads of industry awards, and becoming Exhibit A in the case for the video game as a legitimate artistic medium—Blow made several upgrades to his austere lifestyle. In place of his old Honda, he now drives a $150,000 crimson Tesla Roadster, a low-slung all-electric automotive dynamo that offers a highly realistic simulation of being shot out of a cannon whenever Blow clamps down on the accelerator. And after a yearlong victory lap filled with lectures and laurels, he moved into a spacious hilltop condo that overlooks the eastern half of the city as it slopes down to the sapphire-colored bay.

Yet aside from his electric car—the virtues of which he extols with messianic zeal—Blow displays total indifference toward the material fruits of wealth. His apartment stands mostly empty; books on physics and Eastern philosophy lie in haphazard piles, as though he has only half finished carting his belongings in from a moving truck outside. His minimal collection of furniture is almost all rented, including the springy beige sofa he got just a few months ago, after he arranged to have several video-game journalists over and realized he had nowhere for them to sit. “I’ve never liked money, really,” Blow told me. “Having a big high score in my bank account is not interesting to me. I have a nice car now, but I don’t really own that many objects, and I don’t know what else I would spend money on. So for me, money is just a tool I can use to get things done.”

Go here, for more. You’ll be glad you did.

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