Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Buddhists lose the game

Reminds me of a quote by Samuel Beckett that I saw on a poster once: 'All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.'

One of the strangest things about Buddhism is the fact that Buddhists knowingly set themselves unattainable goals. The Bodhisattva vow is to forever reincarnate in this world so long as all sentient beings are not yet enlightened, but Buddhists texts repeatedly refer to living beings as, 'innumerable.' All sentient beings, including those currently manifesting as insects, have the potential for Buddhahood, but Buddhahood is only attainable in a human incarnation. The literal fulfillment of the Bodhisattva goal would necessarily lead to the destruction of the ecosystem. Enlightenment itself is logically unattainable. Your own sensory perception fundamentally constrains your ability to see the world from an egoless perspective, which is why the Buddha's death is called Parinirvana - complete enlightenment only comes when your human life ends. This is aside from the fact that enlightenment is very hard and the vast majority of Buddhists will not achieve enlightenment in this lifetime.

I find it very uncomfortable to have an unattainable goal at the centre of my life. This might be why I've put less time into learning about Buddhism and meditating the more I've achieved at university. My other goals in life seem attainable, so it's only natural that they would take priority over this airy fairy stuff. But this point that Hank makes about the Game is really useful. Even though I may have the impression that I am succeeding in life, my goals will always cause dissatisfaction - either because I sometimes fail, or because succeeding doesn't feel as good as I anticipated, or because I'm worried about losing the things I have gained. If I really wanted to be happy and contented, I wouldn't try to achieve anything. Rather, I would put my all into something unattainable, and stop worrying about the outcome of my efforts.

Monday, 21 June 2010


A friend of mine posted a link to the flash game Loved on Facebook (yes, I'm still there). I've been playing it for the past 20 minutes and it has left me more than a little shaken up.

The storyline behind this 2D platform game is left entirely to your own imagination, but the game feeds your imagination very well. Like Closure, which I wrote about a while ago, it is in black and white and features very creepy ambient music. Text appears throughout the game as though some disembodied voice were speaking to you. The 'voice' appears to give you choices - for example, regarding your gender and your emotions - but your decisions turn out to be of no consequence. Psychological tricks such as this remind you that no matter what actions you carry out within the game, you are entirely under the control of the voice.

From the beginning, the voice issues commands. At first, I found myself intuitively following them, because I automatically trust the instructions given to me by a video game. But later I started to question that trust, and I disobeyed the voice. This led to interesting results. The game plays on the strange feeling you get when the playing a game with a broken graphics card by transforming parts of the black and white game world into coloured pixels. At first I enjoyed this effect and disobeyed more. It felt strangely empowering to continue disobeying even as the voice called me 'disappointing' and 'disgusting.' But I soon found that the pretty coloured squares had completely covered the platforms and it was hard to see where I was going. The whole thing reminded me of the super-trippy 'Fission Mailed' level of Metal Gear Solid 2, where your commander, also a disembodied voice (heard by the protagonist through an earpiece) tells you to "stop playing the game."

I got to the end of the game none the wiser about the storyline, but feeling as though I had just finished reading a novel. I feel like some message or feeling was communicated through the experience of playing the game, but I can't put my finger on exactly what it might be. Nevertheless, whenever I go back and play again I can't resist disobeying the voice. I quite like that sense that you should never allow people to manipulate you (or disembodied voices for that matter), even if by disobeying them you make your path more difficult.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

It's alive

I've just finished my final exams. In the process of figuring out what to do with my summer, which I'm spending in Israel, I went to the website of the Holon Design Museum, pictured below.

A bit of background: for my speaking test I gave a speech in Japanese about the 'Japanese aesthetic' and as part of that speech I talked about the Japanese designer and writer Kenya Hara. I compared his idea of the Japanese aesthetic as 'simple,' 'white' and 'empty' with Ron Arad's over-the-top design aesthetic (I had recently seen this exhibition). Ron Arad designed the Holon Design Museum, and generally designs all sorts of weird things in huge biomorphic shapes, often in either shiny steel or bright red (the Design Museum is reddish brown though). A sofa of his has been used to good effect in the Big Brother house. Ron Arad gives the bombastic personality of a Big Brother contestant to things that wouldn't ordinarily attract a lot of attention, like sofas or ping-pong tables or the dormitory town of Holon. I claimed that this is the opposite of the pared-down, unassumingly simple aesthetic Hara (and pretty much everyone) attributes to Japan.

So imagine my surprise when I found out that Hara is directing an exhibition to be held in the Arad-designed Holon Design Museum this summer. It's like my speech came to life!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

If you like shiny cars and invincible ladyboys with huge swords

...then you'll love this.

It's so long since an FF promotional video has got me this excited, I was getting bored of the same old thing every time. Loving the way the basic premise seems to be a traditional war of good against evil, but in this case evil is represented by huge armies that fire automatic rifles at beautiful architectural features, and good is represented by swash-buckling metrosexual bro-love accessorised with hunting rifles and flashy cars. I know whose side I'm on.