Place of origin: Arcturus. Role in human experience: shamanic initiate, healer. Loves the Beatles.
The clouds were dustier today than yesterday… I think. It didn’t matter much. I traversed the arid terrain at a continuous pace, keeping my eyes peeled for another traveler. I was low on money and supplies and desperately needed to find a shred of hope in these barren dunes. My stomach grumbled; I was starving too. That’s when I saw a small figure appear in the distance and slowly make the way my direction. Tattered, dead bushes littered the hill I was hiding behind before the figure in the distance could notice my presence. I looked down the scope of my rifle when I was in position to get a better view. I saw a man, probably mid 30’s, walking alone, armed only with a small handgun and an over-sized backpack. I needed to find out what was in that bag.
Through my own experiences, and my own expanding knowledge on shamanic practices, I quickly connected my experience in video games with the initiation process. In video games, whether it be an RPG (role-playing game), a first-person shooter, or a strategy-based game, you always have a task that awaits you. This task is essential to beating the game, just as you must pass through various "trials" to progress along your shamanic initiation. In some games, you use magic and swordplay, in others you use laser guns and plasma grenades. Aliens, monsters, spirits. These are all part of a reality within the video game realm.
I wish I could have bartered with him but I had nothing more than a few bottle caps, my rifle, and the tattered leather armor I picked off a dead raider. Instead, I lined up the man’s head in my crosshairs. Too easy. I took the shot and watched his head roll off his shoulders out of sight over the horizon, and the rest of him plopped to the ground in helpless defeat. My stomach grumbled again.
I paused the game and got up from the couch. I walked along the carpeted hallway of my parent's basement and then made my way up the dark mahogany steps. I was just trudging through a dead, post-apocalyptic wasteland in Las Vegas, and now I’m back under the warm, welcoming lights of our house. I’m still the same mind, but acting as a different person in a different reality. I can come and go from the screened life as I please, but for now I’ll choose to be Merrick. The avatar of this 3D time space reality.
This is how gaming goes for me. Every time I sit down at my PlayStation and pick a new game to play, I gain a new understanding on life. While it seems like just a game to observers, those who play know it is much more. I look through my stacks of video games and I see portals- portals that take you to new worlds and new ways of life. And what I realized over time is that by living other lives, it’s a natural reaction to stop being so fixated on your own.
That’s why I’ve always liked to become a master of the various portals I enter.
I noticed when I continually stepped out of my own body and ego and into someone else’s, the empathy and understanding I gained for other living beings drastically increased.
I attribute this to the out-of-body nature of video games themselves. By entering different situations and different worlds, dealing with hostile entities and helping friendly ones, I learned just how complex life is. And in understanding and accepting the randomness and intricacies of life, I found myself able to respect and understand others at the level of their soul, instead of silently judging their human self when I notice something about them that is attached to any sort of preconceived notion.
Playing video games to the large extent I did, especially while growing up, forced my mind wide open. Some might say it provided a framework leading up to my shamanic initiation. Video games opened my eyes to the existence of other sentient creatures on other planets inside and/or outside our solar system, possibly other dimensions. Video games inspired me to have vivid dreams of reactive apocalyptic scenarios where I had to fight to survive, and others where I’ve traveled to alien planets where I could hardly communicate with anyone or anything. My wild imagination was fed heartily by video games while also keeping me open-minded to nearly every possibility.
I get to choose how I explore the portals, which makes each video game portal unique to each person who uses it. Choice is a central part in a lot of video games, and everyone makes their own choices. In a game like Mass Effect for example, everything plays out in the game based on how you act and react to given situations.
In a scene in the game, our spaceship, The Normandy SR1, was under attack and I had to make a quick choice to either positively encourage my hesitant crew members to abandon the ship, or instead invoke my position as commander to give them direct orders to leave. My choice would prove to be futile, as the ship would be destroyed in a fiery explosion regardless of my decision. I ended up being blown into space as I sacrificed my life to save my best friend (also the pilot of the ship). I died. I woke up two years later, after having been rebuilt by a menacing corporation that wanted to use my combat and strategic skills for their own gain, and I had no choice but to work for them. During play, I travel through a galaxy with the burden of someone else’s mission undecidedly on my agenda. Whether I want to or not, I need to loosely adhere to the path the game has laid out for me, which means I must carry out tasks assigned to me by a shadowy corporation.
The corporation, however, at least gave me a ship and my old pilot back. That ship is my portal within a portal. It allows me to travel to other star clusters and planets in the Mass Effect realm. I can take it across the galaxy, meeting and forming alliances with friendly alien races or investigating other sites of interest. I had better make sure to have my weapons loaded, as I never really know what to expect when exploring new grounds.
While the Mass Effect version of myself has all of these obstacles to overcome, so does the physical version of me. The difference isn’t in the struggle itself, but the nature of the struggle. Physical Merrick might have to overcome exams by making flash cards and spending hours looking over study guides, but Mass Effect Merrick’s struggle might mean having to adapt quickly to organize his team into a firing wall so that he can successfully flank the enemies.
When it comes to the shamanic journey, video games and the way you must adapt are an excellent representation of the constantly evolving quest to defeat the forces of darkness, save the princess, or level up spiritually, emotionally, and in some cases, magically.
With the endless possibilities of video games come the endless possibilities of realities you can choose to experience. I get to explore alternate universes, and by doing that, I explore the universe of existence as a whole. And once I accepted video games as more than just a game, but a slice of someone else’s reality, that’s exactly what video games became to me.
Video games could be considered an escape, or they could be seen as embracing a new way of living, or a new reality without risk or fear. And when the actual shamanic initiation occurs, you'll be better prepared to understand advanced spiritual concepts like healing, protection, journeying, out-of-body travel, and ascension. And with infinite re-spawns and the ability to retry failed missions, quests, or objectives, it is a great training ground for any young initiate.
Every living creature endures a struggle of some sort. That’s what unifies us all. Video games are a constant reminder to me of this fact. Every time I play a new one, I gain a new understanding on life, because I see a drastically new way in which a life can exist. I have to make decisions and manage obstacles in another life besides my own. The more portals I enter the more I exist outside of my own body and in someone else's. The less I exist in this body, the more I learn about new dimensions or timelines, and the very fabric of the universe itself. The more I learn about the universe, the less confined I am by the constraints of the perceived "universe" in which we reside.
Seemingly childish to some, video games are a way in which one can maintain an open mind and gain spiritual enlightenment.
I am wiser for having been through the portals that I’ve been through. I’ve seen more bizarre things than most people who don’t play video games, and I’ve travelled to places and lived things some people will never know.
Some may feel video games are a pervasive element of our culture. I come from a generation who has never lived without video games. So for myself and my peer group, they are the culture. And some of the elements commonly known among gamers, such as leveling up, hit points, health packs, and elemental magic, can serve as shamanic initiations in an urban culture.