Ever get the feeling you are playing some vast and useless game to which you don’t know the goal, and can’t remember the rules? Ever get the fierce desire to quit, to resign, to forfeit, only to discover there’s no umpire, no referee, no regulator, to whom to announce your capitulation? Ever get the vague dread that while you have no choice but to play the game, you can’t win it, can’t even know the score, or who keeps it? Ever suspect that you don’t even know who your real opponent might be? Ever get mad over the obvious fact that the dice are loaded, the deck stacked, the table rigged, and the fix — in? Welcome to gamespace. It’s everywhere, this atopian arena, this speculation sport. No pain no gain. No guts no glory. Give it your best shot. There’s no second place. Winner take all. Here’s a heads up: In gamespace, even if you know the deal, are a player, have got game, you will notice, all the same, that the game has got you. Welcome to the thunderdome. Welcome to the terrordome. Welcome to the greatest game of all. Welcome to the playoffs, the big league, the masters, the only game in town. You are a gamer whether you like it or not, now that we all live in a gamespace that is everywhere and nowhere. As Microsoft says: Where do you want to go today? You can go anywhere you want in gamespace but never leave it.
Suppose there is a business in your neighborhood called The CaveTM. It offers, for an hourly fee, access to game consoles in a darkened room. Suppose it is part of a chain. The consoles form a local area network, and also link to other such networks elsewhere in the chain. Suppose you are a gamer in The Cave. You test your skills against other gamers. You have played in The Cave since childhood.* Your eyes see only the monitor before you. Your ears hear only through the headphones that encase them. Your hands clutch only the controller with which you blast away at the digital figures who shoot back at you on the screen. Here gamers see the images and hear the sounds and say to each other: “Why, these images are just shadows! These sounds are just echoes! The real world is out there somewhere.” The existence of another, more real world of which The Cave provides mere copies is assumed, but nobody thinks much of it. Here reigns the wisdom of Playstation: Live in your world, play in ours.
Perhaps you are not just any gamer. Perhaps you want to break with the stereotype.* You are the one who decides to investigate the assumption of a real world beyond the game. You turn away from the screen and unplug the headphones. You get up and stagger out of the darkened room, toward the light outside. You are so dazzled by the light that the people and things out there in the bright world seem less real than the images and sounds of The Cave. You turn away from this blinding new world, which seems, strangely, unreal. You return to the screen and the headphones and the darkness of being a gamer in The Cave.
Suppose someone, a parent maybe, a teacher or some other guardian, drags you back out into the light and makes you stay there. It would still be blinding.* You could not look directly at things. Maybe the guardian prints out some pics of your family or maybe a map of the neighborhood, to acclimatize you, before you can look at things. Gradually you see the people around you, and what it is that they do. Then perhaps you remember the immense, immersive games of The Cave, and what passes for wisdom amongst those still stuck there. And so you return to The Cave, to talk or text to the other gamers about this world outside.
You communicate to fellow gamers in The Cave about the outside world of which The Cave is just a shadow. Or try to. Plato: “And if the cave-dwellers had established, down there in the cave, certain prizes and distinctions for those who were most keen-sighted in seeing the passing shadows, and who were best able to remember what came before, and after, and simultaneously with what, thus best able to predict future appearances in the shadow-world, will our released prisoner hanker after these prizes or envy this power or honor?”* You bet! The Cave is a world of pure agon, of competitive striving after distinction. But suppose you are that rare, stray, thoughtful gamer who decides to try this new game of getting beyond the game again? Suppose you emerge from The Cave and decide to take stock of the world beyond? You find that this other world is in some curious ways rather like The Cave. The pics of family, the map of the ‘hood, seem made of the same digital stuff as your favorites games inside The Cave. If there is a difference, it may not be quite what it seems.