Video Games, Chaos Theory, & Us
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been much of a gamer. In fact, I always prefer to watch someone else presented with the difficulties, the necessity of skill needed to get to the next level, or to complete the mission. Coryxkenshin, a YouTuber notorious for his unprecedented and lengthy hiatuses, has been the only gamer successful in attaining and maintaining my interest. He has recorded a slew of gripping games including Life is Strange, Until Dawn, and Detroit: Become Human.
And there’s something they all have in common.
We live on a planet layered in chaotic systems. Systems so complex, with no possible way of humans discerning the infinite level of accuracy necessary to predict outcomes. We’re talking about the atmosphere, the stock market, and the economy - you get the picture. The sensitivity of these systems means any unknown variable at the onset can be compounded until what we’re left with in any single choice is distinctive consequence leading to a variation in the future state of that system.
That’s what entranced me as I sat back to witness scenes unfold in these games. Dozens of alternate endings all dependent on seemingly infinitesimal choices. It reminded me of the joy of reading one of those novels where my choice dictated which page I ended up on and how the book ended. These games are comparable because any cluster of choices results in consequences as serious as death and even destruction of entire towns, as with Life is Strange.
If you’ve seen any of this gameplay you know some of the choices are obvious, some require more strategic consideration, and I’d venture to say there are some unavoidable pitfalls. Some call it an error in their game mechanics, I say it gives depth to the narrative. Definitely reminds us control isn’t always ours, even when we think it is. Except, the butterfly effect isn’t a phenomenon I can always sit back with a box of extra toasty Cheez-Its and observe unscathed as someone else feels the weight or enjoys the windfall. Just like with any good fairy-tale or movie or game, we’re enraptured because we can associate. We’re fixated because we know our decisions determine our direction and destination too. Although, life doesn’t include a restart option, not the one we’d like anyway. Not the one that eliminates the blunder like the all-clear button on a calculator.
There are some paths in life we can be sure will lead us to destruction, or at least anxiety or mild annoyance. We know what follows procrastination, or texting while driving. If someone peered into the movie of our life we know there’d be times where “What are they doing?!” or “Don’t go in there!” would cascade from the viewers' lips. But if you’ve ever watched a movie too, you know there are times we’re taken aback and caught off guard. We say, “I did not see that coming,” as shock settles itself into our chaotic systems. Because not every choice is ours to make. We feel the effects of other’s choices too. We can’t just adopt the guilt and hopelessness offered to us, even if cynicism is wrapped with a pretty bow and called reality.
Most times the restart buttons look like experience. It looks like reckoning with history. It looks like getting your GED, it looks like apologizing, it looks like doing community service, it looks like forgiving, it looks like deleting that tweet, it looks like….well, you fill in the blank.
I was reminded this week that we’re all philosophers, like it or not. The question is how well we follow-up. So do we just keep watching the video game like it has no bearing on our lives at all, or do we entertain that nagging thought that demands examination? I’m sure something has struck a chord. Follow it to where it lands, because that’s a decision too, one with a butterfly effect.