Video games are in the news again in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings. As explored in a recent piece on WBUR radio titled, “My Son, The Dragon Slayer: The Risks And Rewards Of Growing Up Gaming,” the debate over positive vs. negative effects of video games on children and adults rages on.
In fact, I’m going to put it right out there:
I believe that video games are a reflection of spiritual reality.
Virtual reality defies physical reality
No, video games are not exactly what we will experience after we die. But they are a product of the human mind. And as I said in my recent article, “Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?” the human mind, with all of its loves, feelings, thoughts, ideas, and motives, exists on the spiritual level of reality.
Of course, everything we humans make is a product of the human mind. However, when we make material objects such as cars, buildings, books, and clothing, they are subject to the material universe’s laws of physics.
The human mind itself is not bound by the laws of physics. We can imagine and contemplate things that we can’t reproduce physically. The laws of the material universe simply wouldn’t allow it. For example, we can easily imagine a whole forest of trees floating in the clouds. But if we tried to reproduce it in real life, they would all come crashing to the earth.
Video games and other virtual realities free us from the limitations of physical matter. They allow our minds to create almost any reality we can imagine. We can then immerse ourselves in that reality and experience it, subject only to the limitations of our current electronics technology.
Future video games may offer us a fully lifelike immersion in virtual realities, similar to the holodeck in the popular Star Trek science fiction series. But with a little help from our imagination, even today’s gaming technology can give us quite a realistic experience.
In other words, video games are a highly popular example of worlds of pure thought projected for our minds to enjoy, free from most of the limitations that the physical world imposes.
That’s why video games and other virtual realities are more like spiritual reality than they are like physical reality.
Physical death, virtual death, spiritual death . . . and rebirth
I mentioned forests of trees in the sky. That’s something virtual reality can do with no problems—but physical reality . . . not so much!
Let’s take another much more common example from video games.
When your character dies in a video game, it’s not necessarily “game over.” Yes, sometimes you get only one life per game. But then you just start a new game with a new life. Many games give you several lives before you actually “die” and have to start over. And in other games, you can die as many times as you want and just pick up where you left off, often with only minor penalties.
That’s nothing like physical reality. If you die in physical reality, you’re dead. You don’t get any do-overs.
But it’s a lot like spiritual reality.
In our spiritual life, we go through cycles of life and death all the time. When one phase of our life ends, another one begins. When one relationship dies, other relationships take its place. When our old ways of thinking and feeling stop working, we adopt new ways of thinking and feeling, and move on with our lives.
This is the cycle of spiritual death and rebirth that is presented in the world’s most ancient and revered spiritual texts, such as the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Rigveda. These ancient texts speak of people going through many cycles of death and rebirth. I believe they are speaking, not of physical reincarnation, but of the many cycles of spiritual death and rebirth that we go through during our lifelong journey of spiritual growth and development here on earth. (For more on this, see “The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation“)
As we grow and mature physically and emotionally, we continually experience the death of old versions of ourselves that we have outgrown, and the birth of new versions of ourselves that take their place. Yes, there is always some continuity from one to the next. We’re still the same person. And yet, we can become a whole new person even while we carry the memories of our old self with us.
Getting a new life every time we die in a video game completely violates the physical laws of biology. But it is in perfect harmony with spiritual laws that provide for repeated cycles of the death of our old self and the rebirth of our new self.
This is one of the many ways that video games are more like spiritual reality than they are like material reality.
The many realms of video games
The various religions of the world commonly view the spiritual world as consisting of realms of light and realms of darkness. Christianity speaks of heaven and hell, often adding an intermediate state where the two meet and mix.
Classic fictional literature such as John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy in three parts, Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise, depict these spiritual realms and their interaction with human society on earth.
Heaven and Hell, by Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), contains the most detailed non-fiction account of heaven, hell, and the intermediate mixed realm that he calls “the world of spirits.” This intermediate realm is where people first arrive after they die, and live temporarily until they are prepared and ready to move on to their final home either in heaven or in hell.
What does this have to do with video games?
Not surprisingly, as products of the human mind and spirit, video games cover the same broad range of human spiritual experience. Those who have experienced the spiritual world often report that reality there is not fixed and static as it is in the material world, but that the spiritual environments we find ourselves in dynamically reflect our particular character and state of mind. Video games have this same quality of immersing us in environments that fit with our character, interests, and mood, and dynamically adapting themselves to our changing interests and inclinations.
Some video games are quite heavenly. They offer good, clean fun, with little or nothing to object to. Examples are the Sims series and all of its variations, Animal Crossing, and the many popular sports and racing games—not to mention a whole host of educational and puzzle type games. The hugely popular Minecraft dwells largely in realms of light, with only a few relatively minor tinges of the dark and scary.
Some video games are a mix of good and evil. Various massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs), such as Runescape, World of Warcraft, and Maplestory, as well as single-player games such as Skyrim, fit into this category. These games offer both peaceful and constructive activities such as mining, farming, fishing, and cooking, and opportunities for violent combat with other players or with increasingly evil and demonic creatures. Games of this type cover the whole gamut from good to evil, mixing the two together in the same game.
Then there are games that plunge their players into dark, dangerous, and often very scary scenes of war, carnage, and horror. Sometimes these games require players to engage in highly immoral virtual behavior. To excel at Grand Theft Auto, for example, players must check their morals and ethics at the door, and become violent, thieving hoodlums. There are many graphic combat and shooter games such as Mortal Kombat, Call of Duty, and Halo. And in the realms of demons and horror there are such games as Resident Evil, Dead Space, and Slender.
Media attention often focuses on the more dark and violent video games. But the reality is that the virtual realms of video games reflect the full spectrum of the human spirit and the spiritual realms, from the light and warmth of heaven through the mixed bag of the intermediate spiritual realm to the darkness, evil, and horror of the hellish underworld.
Yes, the realms of light and darkness, love and violence are also reflected in the physical world of nature and of human society. However, the virtual universe of video games offers an especially vivid and varied representation of the many spiritual realms and atmospheres that we humans inhabit in our minds and hearts. These video games are often close approximations of the pictures of the afterlife painted for us by the many religions of the world, and by those who have experienced the spiritual world first-hand.
The reality of virtual reality
A common charge made against video games and video gamers is that it is all a fantasy world . . . that people who play video games are running away from reality.
But from a spiritual perspective, in some ways video games are actually more real than this physical world in which we live. As the classic rock group The Police said in their song of the same title, “We are spirits in the material world.”
Though we do live in the material world, we experience that world not directly, but in our minds and spirits. Video games bypass the material world almost entirely, and exist in realms of pure thinking, feeling, and acting. They inhabit the inner mental and spiritual realms where we actually experience the reality of our lives.
Does this mean that we’d be better off ignoring the material world altogether and spending our entire lives embedded in virtual reality?
Not at all. God gave us physical bodies and put us in this material world for a reason. We have work to do here. We must engage in the physical, practical levels of reality as long as we are living here on earth. What we do in the material world lays the foundation for our eternal, spiritual life.
Meanwhile, video games offer us a rich and lively taste of many inner realms—good, evil, and mixed—while we are still living in the physical world.
When we have finished our daily work and completed our physical tasks, the universe of video games awaits us. Through these human-created virtual realms, we can enter both the higher and the lower levels of the human mind and spirit. We can immerse ourselves in many different virtual environments that both reflect and help to prepare us for the many and varied spiritual environments where, once our life’s labors on earth are complete, we will live to eternity.
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