Afro Commentary: Media, Reality and Geekdom

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Originally published 2013.01.20

In my recent review of the anime Sword Art Online, I briefly touched on how the series deals with the concepts of playing games (especially online) and how it can effect one’s perception of reality. As amazed as I was how both the author of the series (Reki Kawahara) and the anime’s director (Tomohiko Ito) treated the subject, I was jarred by another line of thinking that affects all of geekdom; especially in light of the recent ire against violence in games and other media spurred by the shootings in Newtown, CT and Aurora, Co.

SAO_editorial-04Now, before I continue I want to clarify two points ahead of time, so there is no breaking out the pitchforks and torches while asking Geek Soul Brother for my address (fyi, its someplace very cold). By no means do I believe in straight up censorship of art or media; however I also believe that if you are going to have gratuitous sex and violence in any intellectual property there needs to be a point to it. If it’s thrown in because “hehe, I can!”, all you’re doing is detracting from the medium. This is why Lil Wayne makes my head hurt (because he makes no damn sense), and why ill-placed attempted tentacle rape scenes in animes I like just make me go “wtf?” Also, I am a Constitutionalist and this includes the 2nd amendment. I believe that someone has the right to bear arms in order to protect themselves and their family. At the same time, there is no way in hell anyone is going to convince me you absolutely need an AR-15 for hunting… If you need a weapon that is near military specs to do that, you should seriously look into a new hobby.

The term fan, which is shortened slang for fanatic, is defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion”. As fellow geeks, I am sure we have all been on both sides of this definition in our conversations with others at one time or another. However, there is an underlining, psychological aspect to being a fan of something. You invest a certain amount of time (and effort when it comes to games), so of course we tend to care a great deal about the geeky media we involve ourselves with. Let’s take this concept a step further than that. It is a fundamental aspect of human development that that we are, essentially, a product of our environment and that our reality is comprised of objective (or external, which is factual external information like math) and subjective (or internal, which is comprised of our psychological being) components. Our personalities, after a certain point, become shaped by what we experience in our life. This, in turn, effects how we perceive reality. Whether it is subtle, like an opinion on a topic or an expression you pick up subconsciously, or more extreme, like always dressing up in a Starfleet uniform (even to work), the things we experience leave an indelible mark on us and how we see the world. As a geek, I have noticed this has had a positive effect on individuals in my travels. Many of the top scientific minds and engineers accredit Star Trek to having a major influence in their lives and the careers they chose. There have been studies over the last few years that have concluded that playing video games help cognitive brain function in problem solving, spacial visualization and even reaction timeThey even help with creativity as well. I myself have learned or reinforced major life lessons by geek culture, from being resourceful like Batman to the power of will and determination from Green Lantern.

SAO_editorial-01The video games we play take it the next step further because of the social aspect. Many of us are proud when we defeat a really hard boss or have a great kill in a deathmatch and want to brag about it (fyi, Ebony Warrior in Skyrim, I’m coming for you next!) FPS clans and MMO guilds have comradery and build skills similar to those experienced in work environments or sports teams. Our time and effort are transformed into something meaningful and enhance our reality. This particular concept is what stuck with me while watching Sword Art Online. It would be foolish to assume, after all of this evidence, that the media we consume does not ultimately change us in some form. And, really, I am proud geekdom has been a positive contributor to this phenomenon despite still having such negative stereotypes associated.

At this point, you are most likely thinking two things: a) “What does this have to do with these shootings”, and b)”Damn this guy rambles too much.” I’ll even throw in that you may be getting those pitchforks and torches ready.  Well, let’s get to my point, shall we?

SAO_editorial-02What happens when someone adopts their favorite media as reality? When that individual, for whatever reason, completely envelopes themselves in that fantasy world while abandoning the external component of reality? It not only becomes unhealthy, but dangerous as well. The person begins to assume the values, practices and “morals” they identify with in that intellectual property, to the point where acting them out could become external reality. Not acting out fantasies like actors or even LARPers, but actually hurting someone. This has been a talking point of many psychologists and sociologists for years, including Carl Jung, and even the German physicist Werner Heisenberg. This can occur in numerous ways. Mental, emotional or developmental illness can play a considerable role in this concept. However, there are more practical occurrences that tend to have a potent impact on people and push them into potentially dangerous situations. Bullying and ostracization from peers play a major part in a person’s disconnection from external reality, as does severe stress and trauma. Someone who is not in a good place mentally or emotionally is going to look for outlets to deal with the pain they feel. If their unhappiness prolongs or gets worse, they will dive deeper into that outlet to the point of addiction. If the negative state persists, it’s only a matter of time before something bad happens to the person and those around them.

This is actually all very common knowledge amongst us as a society, yet we never talk about it openly or publicly. Those who feel this way tend to internalize their troubles for whatever reason they justify to themselves, while the rest of us treat their problems like the plague or outright ignore them. Those who are deemed to have issues are treated like undesirables without any questions, especially when just talking to someone about their problems would go a long way. Communication, empathy an altruism go a lot further with someone who is depressed than  with treatment and drugs alone. Yet when something bad happens, society begins to be judgmental and points fingers at the outlets (which are actually cries for help by the person) and blame them for driving the person to commit the act. Yes, playing FPS’s like Black Ops II and Halo 4 may (or may not) make ones personality more aggressive, but the root causes for the person’s disconnection from external reality are still there. Playing an FPS alone isn’t going to cause someone to wake up one day and go “Hey, I am going to kill my mother and shoot up a school.” The means do not logically justify the ends, and to blatantly accuse games or any media for deplorable actions is not only idiotic, but grossly negligent as well.

We as a society must be more open to this topic and just be there for those who need help… whether it is a family member, a friend, co-worker or even an acquaintance. Banning guns or violence in media will not do as much to stem such senseless violence as much as treating a person with issues with respect and compassion can. The concept “one person can make a difference” appears in all sorts of geekdom media, and though it may be cliche it would mean the world to these people. No matter how severe or chronic they may be, it will make a difference in their lives. At the end of the day, most of the media we consume as geeks teaches two fundamental concepts; tolerance and acceptance of others. Why should this be any different when it comes to those who need that the most?

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