Discussion for October 12th

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October 7, 2012 by Ross Slutsky

On Friday we will discuss the complicated relationship between video games and dreams.  As this article which I previously posted on this blog and authored (#captiveaudience) explains, psychological literature developed over the course of the last decade indicates that playing video games can not only alter the content of dreams, but may also elevate the probability of experiencing lucid dreams.

Subsequently, I’ve found what is to my knowledge the first video game produced with the express purpose of turning gamers into lucid dreamers.  You can download the game here: http://weberworks.dk/lucid-dreamscapes/ld.html

Ideally, if you have time before class, please take the time to try out the game.  If you are a Mac user, you may find that version B works better than version A (you will see what I mean when the game menu loads).  The load time for the game is really slow but it eventually works.

In case you aren’t able to play the game before class, at the very least please watch the game trailer I’ve embedded below:

As a description under the trailer explains, “The game is set in a dream, where the player is guided by a soft hypnotic voice. The player can explore dreamscapes/landscapes, which make up an infinite game world where dreamscapes shift around. By moving, or super crawling (see video), into light sources, the player can find her way in the dark. Light sources will also help illuminating areas hiding dream cues, which are objects that appear odd because they are either weirdly placed or behave abnormally. If the player performs reality tests in front of dream cues, she will become lucid (recognize that she is dreaming). While lucid, the player can fly for a period of time and the dreamscapes are lit up.”

Before you proceed, you should also take a look at this article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-to-control-dreams&page=1

There are clearly limitations on our current capacity to control dreams and it is abundantly clear that lucidity is not sufficient for control of a dream.  While lucid dreams are normally an infrequent occurrence, with training one can increase the likelihood of such incidents, and, even if dreamers prove incapable of becoming lucid and/or taking over their dreams, external stimuli may nonetheless prove capable of altering the dreamer’s diegesis in important ways.  While it is useful for us to recognize the limitations of what dream altering experiences can/should do, we should also keep in mind that this remains somewhat of a marginalized fringe science and that with greater attention from the scientific community/technological convergence, it could take on broader implications.

Here are some points worth considering:

1.  The game developers drew on the research by Professor Gackenbach mentioned in the article linked to above.  Granted, Lucid Dreamscapes certainly isn’t the first video game to try to influence player action in “the real world.”  Learning-oriented video games designed to educate students are a formidable sub-genre within the gaming industry.  With that said, how do we think about a diegesis designed by producers aware of the fact that components of the game may remediate while we are dreaming?  How, if at all, does this game change the way we think about the magic circle?

2.  In the comments section underneath the videogames as psychtherapy article, a reader disputed my assessment of the implications of dreamers taking over their dreams as follows: “Freud? The important question is what would Jung say! The most important aspect being that what chases us in our nightmares is part of ourselves. Often we are so removed from it that we no longer even know what it really is – but in the end when we kill what pursues us in our dreams we are only killing a part of ourselves, cutting ourselves off from the deeper, sometimes darker, intuitive self. If you follow that line of thought the killing of our fears/dreams is nothing to celebrate. Personally I find the current trend in lucid dreaming worrying. What happens when you circumvent our unconscious’ only means of demanding we pay attention to it? This is not working through what may be causing the dreams, not working to understand what they may really represent, it is just an attempt at a quick fix. Make the dreams go the way “I” want them to…”  How do we think about the relationship between player and algorithm when the “algorithm” is our unconscious mind and the “player” is our conscious mind?

3.  For those of you that take the time to play the game, you may find after not too long that you tire of completing the objectives and “becoming lucid”, since the experience of flight gets old somewhat quickly.  In fairness to the game designers, it would be difficult to produce a game that opens up all of the options that a veteran lucid dreamer would have when in control of the dream.  With that said, what are other options/functions that you think would be worth adding to “lucid mode” beyond flight?

4.  In light of our focus this week, it might be worth thinking about the role of simulation in Lucid Dreamscapes.  How does this role compare to the experience of simulation in The Sims and Civilization?

5. What is the correlation between dreaming and gaming?

6. (Olivia) If you can control your own dreams, is it still like a simulation? How do we define a simulation in this sense?

7. (Olivia) The game accurately captures the fact that dreamers may only temporarily gain consciousness and may float in and out of consciousness.  How do we compare this with the methods Dr. Barrett (see the above article from the Scientific American) whereby people induce lucid states by simply informing themselves of their intention to realize they are dreaming prior to falling asleep?  How do these lapses of consciousness effect our concept of time in the dream diegesis?

8. (Olivia) In my experience, the controls for the game were not really all that intuitive and were somewhat clunky.  Did you feel in control? And furthermore in an actual dream, how do you know you are in control. There is a definite difference in lucid dreams and being able to CONTROL your dream.  Do the constraints on the control represent a choice by the game designers to say something about the limits of our ability to control our dreams or was it simply poor interface design?

9. (Olivia) If you are actually able to enter a control state and take over your dream, are you then creating a subconscious simulation of what you want reality to be like or of what you want the dreamscape to be like?  Are they mutually exclusive?  How can we then compare this to the freedom experienced in so-called “sand-box” games?

10. (Olivia) Note that Dr. Barrett’s work suggests that it is images that are the starting point for controlling dreams.  Given that film also consists of images, what is it about video games that makes them allegedly more effective as a means of inducing lucidity?  Is there anything beyond the immersive nature of the medium?

This should be an interesting topic.  Sweet dreams.

-Olivia and Ross

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