Tag Archives: Pizza

Mental life

If you’d start a religion today, would you ban or allow violent video games?

The reason why I ask, is that my sister gave me Grand Theft Auto V for my birthday. Playing it brought me back to my teenage years, when a big part of my worries could be narrowed down to the question: “how can I beat the next boss and get into the next level?”. It also helped me see this game for what it really is: a piece of art.

GTA V, not unlike earlier versions, has so many facets that it is hard to know where to begin talking about it. The game holds a tremendous amount of possibilities: you can shoot down people in the street, do some yoga, blow up busses in a drive by, play tennis with a real or virtual friend or you can just light up a joint and enter in a fist fight with one of the innumerable clowns that materialize from the smoke. GTA V has storylines in which you make choices and feel the consequences of your actions and characters that support you or fuck you over. All of it happens in a world full of detail which would take you about half an hour to drive around in one of the faster cars, stolen or bought.

The game comes with an excellent package of sarcastic jokes about all aspects of western society, in particular media manipulation, New Age gurus and consumerism.  The in-game equivalent of Facebook, for example, is called Lifeinvader. It has its own office building in Los Santos, which you can enter to mess with the technology. Another example: the day you steal nerve gas from a lab somewhere in the mountains, the presenter of the news on the radio wonders why “the criminals went to great lengths to get their hands on a formula for cheap perfume”. Afterwards, the same radio channel broadcasts a commercial on why “Flow”, with its great packaging and advertisements by famous people, is far better for you and your self-esteem than tap water.

The game has the perfect combination of qualities to suck you out of your daily trouble into a dream where you are the ruler of your destiny and that of the imaginary other. It has doubtlessly had more attention than the Mona Lisa – during the phases of crafting as well as appreciation -, has brought in more money than most blockbusters and has probably made more people happy than Jesus.

Still, people world-wide fight a battle against the virtual violence in such games which has little more consequences than getting some virtual cops on your virtual ass. Easy to shake off once you have some experience. Opposers of the GTA franchise argue that the violence promoted rewires the back of the players’ brains. They believe that shooting people in a virtual world will alter the subjects perception of life and death in the real world, reducing the barrier to shoot people in real life. Personally, I have to admit that after playing GTA for several consecutive hours, when going to the almost closing supermarket for a beer and a pizza, the thought of blowing someone’s brains out may occasionally cross my mind when a random bastard walks in my way. Of course, it wouldn’t easily happen: I don’t usually carry a minigun around.

The discussion raises an interesting series of questions about the perception of the real versus the illusory, quite relevant in a society where virtual and casual reality overlap more and more. How big is the influence of actions in virtual worlds on our actions in real life? Can the power we feel while playing such games settle inside us as a day-to-day desire? Or could such games satisfy desires we already have, and thus make us live our normal lives in a calmer way? Would that just be a superficial thing, or could virtual lives be deeply nurturing?

Mankind has made fantasy more tangible. Young generations are growing up alternating between real and virtual worlds. From a young age onwards, we learn to discern the two from each other. I do believe that being in touch with virtual worlds helps us relativize our own lives, by making us accustomed to be view things from a distance. I’d guess that rather than having us irrationally import behaviour from one world to the other, games help us see things in their contexts and act according to the circumstances. So next to being masterpieces, I believe they might have educational value.

As long as we still eat, sleep and jump around from time to time in real life. Let’s not forget that.

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Friendhopping – Part II: The Botanist

The holidays are nearing and it seems that there is some hitch hiking in store for me. In memory of my past trips, I decided to work through my old travellers’ blogs, take the mistakes out, change the names where necessary and post them here piece by piece, on Wednesdays. I’m starting with the final trip I took so far, written just after I finished my studies. The series contains a storyline about love and friendship. It has six parts. This is part two.

July 28th 2011
The Tatra mountains are not so high, but their peaks are everything you expect from a mountain: sharp, rocky and silent. Z., H. and I are sitting on one of the ridges, eating our well deserved and delicious Slovak lunch. We can see Poland rise above the clouds. Our guide is a 60-year-old energetic female botanist, also called Z.

There are several ways to distinguish a true botanist from the wannabes. Firstly, professional botanists drive around in 4 x 4 cars with big trunks. This helps them access awfully remote and unreachable areas and bring back significant amounts of preferably scarce types of local vegetation without any moral hesitation. Secondly, they wear camouflaging clothes – several layers -, ranging from hats and zipp-off pants to rain clothes and fleece jumpers, suitable for any weather type you can imagine. A true botanist could survive months in any place on earth on car and clothes alone. But most importantly, the real botanist can be distilled from charlatans by his remarkable skill in noting and recognizing a variety of plants species that most people would fail to see even if their face was pushed into the meadow. Z. scores high on all criteria: we have a real one.

Z. the botanist speaks some English, but she gets along far better in Slovak with our Z. For a botanist she talks a lot. Sometimes she turns to H. and me. She then explains us how the mountains have shaped the vegetation, what different plants there are and how some places are called. She also shares anecdotes. She met a bear last week.

Meeting H. in Trencin has been good. I had missed him without realising it too much. Long before H. moved into our house, we used to call him “Iron H.” because of his rock-in-the-tide way of being. I still do sometimes. He is brief, to the point and a strong worker. But he has also shown more sensitive and funny sides during the months preceding his departure to Slovakia for an internship. The last week on the Pohoda festival turned out as cool as ever.

Meeting Z. was awkward. She expecting, me distant. Staying overnight in Brno has not made things easier. And I am never the most caring person on events and festivals. In the crowded business it took two days before we took a moment together off the terrain.

One moment we´re in the sun with a breathtaking view; the next we are surrounded by clouds reducing our view to the spot we are on. We finish our food and go back down aided by metal chains tied to the rocks. I can see the abyss right under me when I hang a little to the right. The botanist takes us down to flowery meadows with big marmots. She guides us over boulders.
“I usually go straight down here” She points down a steep slope of rocks. No road to be seen.
“But we´ll take the path because I´m with you”. The is one of the steepest mountain paths around. Not much easier, but her story about the deceased minister in the Tatras convinces us we are taking the right slope. She keeps gathering plants along the way. The fog around us makes it look as if we stand on a tiny green island in a vast space of white nothingness.
“It is as if this is the only place on earth”. I have not spoken the words, or I see a sweet little forget-me-not smiling at me from the grass.

We eat the rest of our food on the rocks downhill while our botanist keeps looking for plants. Quite exhausted from the steep walks, we look around silently.
“You seem sad”. Says the botanist when she gets back
“We are”. Answers Z. She´s right.

Later this day we´ll have a final beer with H. Saris.
I´ll get the amazing idea of eating a pizza in Italy.
And I´ll break up with Z.
After that we´ll have two wonderful days together. It had never occurred to me before that the Dutch word for Vienna, Wenen, means “to cry”.

Joining forces

The trip to here was long but fun. A new meeting with Jordi, pizza in the dark, a tent in the forest and self made sounds at the shore. Our host family is a bunch of French loonatics with big hearts and today we slept on a cozy attick, barely bigger than the tent itself. Comawise.

At the start of this session, Mphathelene shared how her family sees her. As a demon. She’s one of the few who fight for sacred sites and values, in spite of christian propaganda. More of her kind parttake. The tears of some have brought the group closer together. Participants listen openly to one another. “I think fundamentalists do most of the harm.” Says Jessica from Massachusets. Jordi and I have had good fun trying to pronounce “Massachusets”. I challenge those present to love their enemies. It’s easy for me to say; I have no enemies, but some people close their eyes and do it briefly.

All people here – some from the remotest tribes – feel deep purpose in this gathering: to experience, share and cherish what is important for us in this life. As long as we focus on that, I don’t believe there is an enemy.