Escaping to the OASIS

When you think of an oasis the first thing that comes to mind is probably something similar to the definition of the word given by merriam-webster.

It conjures an image of a place that is safe from what is surrounding it where unpleasant things like the heat of the desert can’t reach you. In the book Ready Player One however it is an Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation which is a virtual reality device used to connect the player to the other players and many worlds that they can explore. The characters use this as a real oasis where they can pretend that the atrocities of the outside world can’t reach them and they can escape into a fantasy setting or a version of the world before they ran out of fuel. This escapism is a major point throughout the book because the world they live in is full of poverty and they have become reliant on a second virtual world for their economy, education, and entertainment. Besides sleep, food, and bodily functions everything can be done inside the oasis and they never have to interact with many of the unpleasantries of their real world. With technology like the hamster ball rooms and haptic feedback suits and chairs the characters can become fully immersed and even be able to touch and feel objects in whatever world they want to make their own personal escape to. However, they can’t escape from the real world forever since their makeshift fuel solutions will only hold up for so long without anyone trying to fix them. Though the oasis can help them escape from the world, it can’t help them fix it and eventually they will have to step out from their safe haven to mend the world they actually live in.

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How to Play Braid: Cheating, Completion, & Company

Talking about Cheating, Therapy, and Completion in the post-modern platforming game Braid

The question every gamer has debated when stuck on the last challenge of a level: to cheat or not to cheat? Usually the idea of whether to cheat is usually understood in terms of entertainment: on one hand, cheating allows you to get past a part of the level that would otherwise take an additional three hours to complete ; on the other hand – as people claim – cheating ruins the fun since what’s the point of a game if you just cheat? (I would respond with saying that a game’s entertainment and narrative value is diminished when a player is simply unable to complete one aspect of 1000 that a game may comprise of- but this is for a separate debate). The question of cheating in Braid is significantly more complicated because both mechanics and the difficulty of using the mechanics to complete the puzzles add to the narrative; as such, one should ask whether cheating in Braid takes away from the narrative of the game.

Braid Walkthrough
Any game is easy with enough Google searches

At first, I believed the answer was simple: no, cheating diminishes the narrative, so I should not cheat to play Braid. Part of the narrative in the game is facing one’s trauma and not letting it control your life; the difficulty in getting puzzle pieces – the literal puzzle pieces that the character puts together in order to understand what happened in his past – mirrors the difficulty in facing traumatic events. As such, since cheating would relieve the difficulty, it would also lower the empathy one feels for the character and his difficulty with trauma, and as such should not be encouraged.

However, upon thinking again, I have a new belief. I think that on a meta level, cheating is sometimes acceptable in Braid. One of the common themes of trauma is needing support to help face it, and so video walk-through for a puzzle piece that one just simply cannot get could act as a metaphor for admitting help with trauma. As such, cheating as a last resort could fit with the game’s overall narrative. Maybe that’s part of why it is so hard, since the developer wanted people to work together to put the pieces together.

Another interesting video game mechanic that Braid uses is allowing its players to walk through the level with very little difficulty. The ease of simply breezing through life without reflecting on your past is literally displayed with the level design; yet the character cannot reach the true realization found on the top level or complete the game without getting the puzzle. Thus, using only mechanics and not narrative, it shows us how shallow and halting it is to simply walk through the motions of life without putting the pieces of your psyche together.

Braid Image.PNG
A very easy level for the un-reflective player

Finally, I think that the game’s mechanics makes it a great game to play with others, which allows the narrative of trauma to have another layer of meaning. As I said earlier, if cheating is like using a therapist, then playing with others is like being in a group therapy session. It reminds you that even if you cannot put the pieces of trauma together yourself, you are both not alone in your confusion and have friends to rely on.

My semester blog will give hints to why my account’s is EveryMinorDetail; this is my Easter egg, with the egg being the piece of art that I am referring to. This week’s hint is: Color & Light

Pandora: Keeping Hope Alive Since Ancient Times

Let me start off by saying that in the process of deciding in which virtual world I would most like to live, I’ve realized that I’m probably a pretty good example of an escapist. Whether that’s a good or bad thing I haven’t decided, but there you go.

You see, I could have picked the gorgeous natural landscapes of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, with elves and trolls and plenty of heroic battles. I could have chosen Rowling’s Hogwarts, where I could fly on a broom, apparate from place to place, and wield unimaginable power with the flick of a wand. However, despite the hundreds of gorgeous, exciting fantasy worlds out there, the one which appealed to me most is completely beyond the scope of the human race. Because honestly, if I could live in any virtual world, I would choose the lush paradise of James Cameron’s Avatar.

You can laugh all you’d like, but after seeing that movie, the sheer beauty and wonder of the Na’vi’s planet, Pandora, was all I could think about. The flora and fauna were astounding, the natural landscape awe-inspiring. The world seemed leagues above our own, free from all of the evils perpetuated by the human race. There was no greed, no lust for power, no desire to rip down nature’s beauty and build up cities of steel. Maybe it’s a bit “anti-society” to say it, but what I loved most about Pandora’s world was that WE had no place in it.

To be honest, I wanted to live in that world so badly that, in the hours after I left the theater, the realization that our world would never be so beautiful was actually painful. Like the Pandora of Greek mythology, all the movie could give me was hope, ridiculous yet indispensable. I longed to literally become one of the Na’vi, for their world presented the perfect form of escape. Life there was simple, yet somehow filled with meaning. There was no future to worry over, for there were no colleges, no loans, no imaginary currencies. Life boiled down to the relationships between you and the people you cared about, without the distractions of failing economies, corrupt governments, or any of the other flawed systems we’ve created to make life “easier”.

To use the words from an escapist viewer like myself: “One can say my depression was twofold: I was depressed because I really wanted to live in Pandora, which seemed like such a perfect place, but I was also depressed and disgusted with the sight of our world, what we have done to Earth. I so much wanted to escape reality.” (see link below for source)

So yes, while I could be defeating dark wizards at Hogwarts or destroying rings in the fires of Mt. Doom, all I truly desire is the chance to be a 10-foot tall, blue skinned alien on a planet light-years away from here. Because when all is said and done, I’d rather spend my life surrounded by the natural beauty of the Na’vi’s world than materialistic happiness of this one.

“All the best stories are but one story in reality– the story of escape. It is the only thing which interests us all and at all times, how to escape.” –A.C. Benson

 

–The Humblebug

(Link to CNN article: http://articles.cnn.com/2010-01-11/entertainment/avatar.movie.blues_1_pandora-depressed-posts?_s=PM:SHOWBIZ)