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.