In Reality, Virtual pt.2: Re-Modeling Reality

Dear reader, have you ever spent hours reading a book only to find yourself narrating your own actions after you’ve stopped reading? It’s a bizarre phenomenon that I believe can be explained by the concept of virtual models as described in section 1 of this series of posts. If we experienced reality as it is, then there would be no reason to begin conceptualizing experience as a narrative simply because we’ve been immersed in a model where actions are narrated as opposed to comprehended in a pre-linguistic fashion.

What do I mean by pre-linguistic comprehension? Well, as people go through their everyday routines, they’re not consciously thinking about or describing their actions, which would require the use of language. For example, when I shower in the morning, I’m not thinking: “I’m moving the shower curtain, I’m getting in the shower, I’m turning on the water.” All of those actions are carried out pre-linguistically; I don’t have to conceptualize them as I act. In fact, when I’m about to take a shower, I usually think about how I’m going to be late to work, and I do think about the water, but mostly in regards to getting the right temperature. I don’t think about my hand moving the handle, I’m thinking “a little hotter, hotter, too hot! too hot! ahhh, just right.”

So, most of our actions, most of our existence even, is taken for granted in the sense that we do things without conceptualizing them through language. This is kind of hard to grasp because as soon as you think about it, you’re using language. But anyway, back to my reading/ narration example. When we read a book, we interact with a model where actions are narrated as opposed to comprehended pre-linguistically. What happens next is that we become used to the rules of this model, and this in turn affects our own model of the real world; we become linguistically aware of our actions and begin to narrate our lives. We even begin to refer to ourselves in the third person (depending on the point of view the book is written in). The model presented by the book distorts the way we construct our model of the real world to the point where we begin to think differently and lose our sense of self, albeit temporarily. As a side note, I believe the concept of a paradigm shift is akin to this concept of re-modeling, and the change we experience after reading a book is a sort of temporary paradigm shift based on structure rather than content (you can have a paradigm shift based on actual information, but what I’m describing is a re-modeling based on structure).

I should mention that the reading example is much more drastic than the next ones. It’s particularly more drastic than the re-modeling that occurs from playing videogames. I think this is because they way we experience videogames is similar to everyday experience while the way we experience books is drastically different. The biggest difference would be that actions are narrated in books, but they are pre-linguistically comprehended in videogames AFTER a player becomes accustomed to the configuration of the input device (controller, keyboard, etc,). For example, when a player is learning a new move, they might literally be thinking, “down, slide forward, punch” (hadouken!) but once that move is mastered, it becomes part of pre-linguistic experience.

So how do videogame models distort our models of the real world? This is a much more subtle process. It’s really hard to describe, but bear with me. While I was playing Mass Effect 2 a few months ago, I noticed that when I stopped playing after a few hours of continuous play, things felt different. Walking around felt different, and talking to people was weird. It was almost as if I started thinking of other people as non-playable characters (NPCs). I live on campus at my University, so when I would stop playing to go get food, I would go to the cafeteria, a building that is constantly packed, and what I noticed was that the hustle and bustle of these human beings felt like the illusory hustle and bustle of the cities in Mass Effect 2. The conversations I overheard and the people moving to and fro, all of it seemed like it was running on a loop. At times, I almost expected dialogue options to appear when I talked to others. After playing Halo, I often found myself analyzing the way the features of various buildings could be used strategically to help me win a firefight, and after playing Grand Theft Auto, cars seemed easily high-jackable. All I had to do was press Y. Anyway, I know these examples kind of suck, but maybe you can think of some better ones. For now, I’ll stand by my sucky examples because I do believe that these were instances of re-modeling that occurred from interacting with the models of specific videogames.

I actually have some examples of re-modeling that occur without interaction with other models. Have you ever ridden an elevator and gotten off on the wrong floor. In that moment when your expectations and what you’re experiencing are incompatible, your mind adjusts the virtual model in your mind based on the new information. You’re not on the first floor; you got off on the second. Your expectations of the world don’t match what you’re seeing, and in a split second, you re-model the virtual world in your mind based on what you’re experiencing. This is very similar to what happens when we become disoriented. For example, if I live in an apartment on the right side of a hallway, and I visit my friend who lives on the left side, when I leave his apartment, I may become disoriented. My mind is so used to crossing the threshold of the doorway and having the entrance of the hallway to my left and the end of the hallway to my right, but as I cross the threshold of my friend’s door, my model of the world is inverted. The expectations that I formed because I live on the right side of the hallway are wrong, I’m disoriented, and my mind has to re-model the virtual world in my head to match what I’m experiencing at the moment of disorientation.

Another interesting example of re-modeling occurs when we get off the highway. If I was traveling down the highway at 70 miles per hours (mph), my mind becomes accustomed to moving at that speed, and when I get off the highway and onto a regular road, 45 mph seems slow as heck. But this feeling dissipates after my mind becomes accustomed to covering distances at 45 mph. What happened was that my mind re-modeled the way I experience movement by adjusting to the speed of 70 mph, and then it re-modeled again to adjust for the slower pace of 45 mph. The way we interpret movement changes as our virtual models adjust to match our experiences.

This actually reminds me of another videogame example. When I play Guitar-Hero or Rock Band, my mind adjusts over time to the speed of the notes, and I also begin to re-act to the game pre-linguistically. For the most part, when I play Rock Band, I’m not thinking, “green, green, blue, yellow,” I just act. Once again though, I can only experience the game pre-linguistically after I’ve gained a certain level of proficiency. I should point out that I would not classify music-rhythm games as a type of virtual model because one does not control an avatar or move through computer generated spaces. Although there are avatars involved, the game is mostly about reacting to the cues on the screen. You’re not exploring a space, interacting with characters, or playing through events. The space is your living room and the event consists of you attempting to input the correct sequence of button presses and strums.

TL;DR. The point I’m ultimately trying to make is that any concept of reality is not fixed. It can be and is often altered through different experiences. I believe this can be explained through the concept of reality as a virtual model that is based on sensory information that is interpreted and used to construct said model. Interaction with different models and variations in sensory information can trigger the re-modeling of our virtual model of “reality.” This post is kind of weird because I’m not really making a case for why we should consider videogames as “real,” but I am arguing against the concept of reality as something that IS by demonstrating that it isn’t fixed; it’s continuously becoming. Moreover, it’s not even real; it’s virtual.

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7 Responses to In Reality, Virtual pt.2: Re-Modeling Reality

  1. Jon Small says:

    VERY interesting stuff here. There is definitely a bending phenomenon that happens in the brain when experiencing art, whether it’s a film, symphony, novel or video game. I love the way you put it in this article when speaking about the adjustments our brains make to align to another reality that’s being presented. All the after effects one gets from reading, as well as those we get WHILE reading I believe is one of the main reasons we consider reading and other art forms so enjoyable; it’s the phenomenon that we experience during this whole “re-modeling” process and that perceivable dissonance that nearly puts us in the seat of another’s mind. In short, we are allowed to tackle our own definition of “self” by experiencing a part of our “self” in others.

    I can also attest to the fact that Mass Effect, once control proficiency has been stabilized, does affect the way we interact with people in our own reality. I have not played ME1 or ME2 in a while, but I remember that WHEN I was immersed in those games, my decision making abilities during REAL conversations went through the roof! I found myself easily peeling that onion when speaking to comrades or eternal rivals alike, choosing whether to go Paragon or Renegade. Good article! Next time I’m on campus, remind me to complete your loyalty mission!

  2. Alex says:

    So essentially there’s no purpose in differentiating “real” versus “imagined” space simply because what we deem “real” is ultimately “imagined” as well. I can differentiate this from solipsism, but only through augmenting the statement. What if it isn’t that video games are “virtual” but merely “altered” reality?

    I suppose what is “real” versus “altered” can be boiled down to what is “expected” versus “unexpected.” After all, what does “real” mean anyway? It’s simply the reality you’ve come to expect and be used to, but that doesn’t mean that my “real world” and yours are necessarily one in the same, to be navel-gazing and spooky. Just the same, events that catch us totally unawares detach us from reality, even if just momentarily. I’m sure you’ve often heard the phrase “I feel beside myself.” Well, hopefully not often!

    It’s all a matter of moods and sensations fueled by our endocrine system. Ultimately everything we do is perceived—the difference between what is real and altered is merely what has become expected by an individual, and yet that differs for some people. Your apartment example is a perfect fit… and was one thing I really loathed when living in Everglades Hall. I don’t really feel like this comment says anything different from what you’ve already stated, but I suppose it doesn’t have to anyway. I agree fully with your conclusion, of both this post and the previous one.

    Keep them coming.

  3. Bryant says:

    Between these posts and our conversations at work, I think what you are trying to say is becoming clearer to me. Anyone whose played games (somewhat) extensively must have experienced this re-modeling; I certainly have. However, I went back to look at your original argument:

    “What I’ve found in these works is a frequent presupposition that videogames are virtual, and their virtuality somehow differentiates them from the “real” world. This is problematic because virtual connotes fake, or if not fake, it’s at least conceptualized as an antonym to real . . . if we refer to video games as “virtual worlds,” we’re effectively separating and distinguishing them from the “real” world, and this is the point of departure that many academic analyses of videogames take, as has been summarized in Lehdonvirta (2010) . . . In this essay, I’ll demonstrate why the dichotomy of virtual and real leads to fallacious understandings and articulations of videogames, and I’ll do so by exposing the virtuality of the real world.”
    I definitely see the academic value in the attempt to move away from the “videogames are fake (and therefore juvenile and unimportant)” mindset, but are you really trying to say that we shouldn’t or that they can’t be differentiated from the “real world?” After I experience the re-modeling for some time, doesn’t my mind, at some point, go back to the original modeling I had of the “real world?”

    At the moment I am writing this response, I’m looking out the window of the 7th floor at the FIU library. In my mind, I can imagine Link running up to the window, jumping out, and swinging his sword downward (“heeyah!”). I can envision him landing on the ground (“umph!), and losing a few hearts (he’d probably lose a bunch actually, and when he got up, I’d hear that annoying beep, urging me to replenish my health.) I think I’ve even played enough Zelda that I can even intentionally re-model my interpretation of the “real world” to imagine what that might feel like if I were Link and took this jump. However, I know that in the “real world,” if I attempted this, I would die.

    I can get behind a lot of what you are saying, but I’m not sure that this original statement you made can be fully supported. However, I really liked the conversation we had today about Superman’s father. Here’s a rundown for people who may not know:
    ”Jor-El is also the father of Kal-El, the boy who would become Superman on Earth. Prior to Krypton’s destruction, Jor-El launched Kal-El, as a baby, on an experimental spacecraft toward Earth, a planet he had previously visited.

    Although he is now dead, a semblance of his personality lives on as a computer program within Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. He appears when called for, and gives his son advice. Additionally, he sometimes attempts to ensure that his son fulfills his Kryptonian destiny.” (Taken from http://superman.wikia.com/wiki/Jor-El)

    In some versions of the story, Superman can even interact with an artificial intelligence version of Jor-El in the Fortress of Solitude. When we were talking about this, someone asked “But would we call that Superman’s ‘real’ father,” or “But is he ‘real’” or something to that extent to which I replied, “That’s not the point,” which you seemed to agree with.

    Your original statement seems to call for a stop to “separating and distinguishing” video games from the “real world.” Is that still what you are trying to get at? Again, every time I find myself coming toward your side, I remember that original statement and have to resist. However, I definitely see that video games can be considered “real” (not “real world,” but that may not be the point.)

  4. Alphabet1 says:

    Maybe the problem stems from the idea that when I say ” we shouldn’t differentiate,” it sounds like I’m saying they are the same. I am saying that to the extent that we experience them the same way, but no, physical objects are not the same as videogame objects; they are different. What I mean when I say we shouldn’t differentiate, I mean to say that videogames are part of the “real” world. Better said, they are part of the virtual model in our heads that constitutes what we consider the “real” world, but within this virtual model, I do differentiate between physical and digitally mediated experiences even though I experience both the same way. I differentiate, but not without referring to one as real and the other virtual.

    • Bryant says:

      Okay. I think that makes it a lot easier to relate to what it is you’re saying, which I believe is the following: Video games are part of our world, but not the same as our world. We can (and should) differentiate between the “real,” physical world and the digital world of the game. However, there are certain labels that we derive negative connotations from, such as “virtual” or “fake,” hindering our perspectives to what video games are and should be. Video games are real and should be treated and studied as such, just like novels, visual arts, theater, and film.

  5. Alphabet1 says:

    Beautiful /claps. But I wouldn’t say the physical world is “our” since this limits our world considerably. Video games are part of our world, but not the same as physical things. The rest is spot on, but “real” is one of those labels hindering our perspective. We can’t let “real” off the hook!

  6. Pingback: In Reality, Virtual pt.3; The Feel(s) of Videogames | Gamer Babylon

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