Significance

“Do you know what’s worth fighting for, when it’s not worth dying for?” –Green Day

I keep hearing that the younger generations have decreased attention spans and that they have a game-like perception of reality. Do we need game inspired design to bring us meaning, when the unbearable lightness of high quality living has deprived our lives from purpose?

“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” has been one of my favourite quotes, even though, until now I haven’t known anything else about the book but the title. Now I read it and loved it. In the core of the story, one of the main characters, Tomas has written a political text, which has been published in a news paper in a shortened form. Tomas sees that the shortening has made the text different from the original – more aggressive. He is approached by the oppressive government to sign a letter for the news papers, where he renounces the text. He is also approached by rebellious people to sign a petition that would continue on the line of the (especially the shortened version) text. Tomas fails to see the impact of signed texts and refuses to sign either one. He refuses the rebellious people, because he doesn’t even see the original text as his own, due to the shortening. Tomas denies his own significance.

In the Populous game series one gets to play god. People of height less than one’s little finger walk around a world where the player raises and lowers mountains and can even summon an erupting volcano in the middle of  everything. The player can see the huge impact of one’s actions among the little people. In Final Fantasy VII, the player can summon powerful monsters. A fight can go on at lengths with damage being dealt on both sides at the magnitude of hundreds. Then, the player makes a small choice, and that choice makes the battle come to a pause, while an ernomous animation is displayed of a huge monster rising and smiting the foe with thousands of points of damage. The player’s action was certainly heard.

In normal, non-fantastical life, one’s actions don’t always bear such significance. A person in a group feels like having something to say and opens up one’s mouth, only to be interrupted by someone else in the group, who was a fraction of a moment earlier or a tad bit quicker in starting to speak. The impressive beast of one’s thought was not summoned. Instead of an awesome show of it’s arisal in the discussion, it was instead trampled as a sprout by this other person’s thought.

I perceive the lack of self-esteem behind a huge majority of all issues people are having. Have video games given the modern generations a concept of higher goals that we should reach in effort to be adequate, least to say good? Or is it always so that the new generation has to prove themselves better than the previous, hence lifting the goal? How is “goodness” even measured here? Is significance an absolute measure, or a percentage measure in relation to one’s known population? When one’s message can reach an audience of millions in the Internet, what good is it being heard and considered by “mere” hundreds of thousands?

The traditional impact on legislation of a common citizen in Finland has had two options: 1) One votes for one’s candidate to get them elected in the parliament to make decisions, or 2) one gets into politics and gets elected into the parliament by others to be more directly making the decisions. The newest fancy in Finland is the citizen’s initiative system, which is from between the two traditional options. One doesn’t need to dedicate one’s life for politics to do politics. One only has to spend a couple of weeks of time with a few friends to come up with a well formatted proposal. This is then placed on the public media and one starts marketing it to see how it gains popularity. Upon having reached 50.000 supporters (points?), the beast has manifested on the battle ground of the parliament and the politicians and officials will have to face it. YOUR proposal is being READ and CONSIDERED by the PARLIAMENT! Suddenly the audience of 50.000 is significant, even in the world of internetconnectivity.

For how I have currently perceived it, people’s need to feel significant has been used to guide them forever. A child is born to a solipsistic world, where they are the sole thing with any significance. The world reveals itself greatly through disappointments, as one has to compromise with other people and the restrictions of the physical reality. This can easily even overshadows the positive experiences, such as fulfilment and physical pleasures. These “carrot and stick” are often applied by the parents to rear the child. The child also typically learns to see their parents as gods. As a child discovers their own non-omnipotency, they perceive their parents as greater beings and start to trust their significance. To mature into adulthood would benefit from learning away from this misconception. However, relying on something that has significance is something we found our sanity on – a fixed point in the chaos of the world. We tend to 1) keep expecting the universe to provide for us, like our parents used to provide for use, or 2) find new significant replacement for our parents in religions, or 3) regress into considering ourselves omnipotent again. This tendency has been used to guide and control people throughout history. Priests are telling us the words of the omnipotent gods. Politicians are urging us to make a difference by voting (and being content in silence, so that our impact wouldn’t disturb their own impact in the society).

H.P.Lovecraft’s mythology roots from the human discovery of one’s own insignificance. The universe is ancient and huge, and stellar events are gigantic – and they don’t care about humans. In Lovecraft’s stories the main characters go insane, when they discover that nothing in their actions or existence matters at all to the ancient gods – the universe.

Without as much knowledge as to call myself a kitchen-anthropologist, I would make a guess that the size of a natural human community is in the magnitude of 100. In that size of a group, each member has on the average 1% significance. 1% is tangible. You can clearly see it – almost touch it. If a member’s significance drops remarkably, they easily become outsiders and may easily stray to another community, where they have higher significance. Because it feels good to feel important. Now, in the modern era of Internet, the community sizes are easily in the magnitudes of 1000-1.000.000. There are people with gigantic significance, such as the leaders of the biggest nations, religions, media and the corporations.

The easiest way for people to find significance in the Internet is by being provocative. It takes a lot of effort to impress anyone with anything constructive. Anyone can write a blog about important things, and many do – how to be heard from among all the others? Persistance and effort, I would assume to be the minimal requirements. If one makes a rational comment on something on the web, people just nod in agreeance as they read past it. It takes wit and swiftness to provide with a correction to the original writing, not to mention that the original text needs to have something of a fault to it in the first place. That’s once again requiring effort. But posting something outrageous is relatively easy. It will also provoke a load of people, many of whom finally see their opportunity of pointing out a fault in something someone has written and their chance to present their wit and swiftness in being (among) the first to correct this outrage. The provocation has significance. The beast has been once again summoned in the middle of the battle field. The provocateur is in the center of attention, dealing tons of effect among a number of people. And this audience is just as faceless to the provokateur as the generic monsters one fights in Final Fantasy VII, or the little people one caters for in Populous. Zombies for the slaughter.

In game design significance can be seen in the theoretical frameworks. For example, in Radoff’s 43 FUNdamentals, #5: Gaining Recognition for Achievements, #11: Being the Center of Attention, #15: Being a Hero, #16: Being a Villain, #17: Being a wise old man, #18: Being a rebel, #19: Being the magician, a keeper of secret knowledge, and #20: Being the ruler, are all directly connected to the need of having significance. I assume that with deeper analysis, the 36 other FUNdamentals could be rooted to this basic need as well.

Now, with modern technology, we are seeking significance, or at least the feeling of significance in games and social media. And we are still only learning, how to harness this there to control the masses.

References:

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1984, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Unbearable_Lightness_of_Being

Jonathon Juvenal, 43 Things That Customers Think Are Fun, 2011, http://www.billyinc.com/tumblr/pdf/cheatsheets/43FunQuickSheet.pdf