Grind Your Way Past It

Among the many life lessons I have learned from gaming, one came back to me recently in sharp detail. I have been trying this new free-to-play game out called “Path of Exile”. It’s basically a Diablo clone with a couple of wrinkles. One of those wrinkles is that every class of character has (theoretically) full access to the talent trees of all the other classes. This means that your Marauder may play more like a Duelist than could ever happen in games where the talent trees of the various characters are kept separate. What this also means is that it is very easy to “gimp your build”, a not very politically correct gaming phrase meaning that you have built out your character in a way that is far less than optimal. The game also allows (again theoretically) every class to use any piece of equipment that drops from the monsters you defeat in play.

The result of all this possible customization is that Path of Exile is very easy to “get wrong” and the learning curve is more like a cliff. Because of this it is very easy to hit a wall in progression where you can’t get past the foes presented in a new level of the game. This leads to the life lesson. You see, hitting a wall of foes you can’t defeat is not terribly uncommon in games that have characters that progress in power, and which can be customized. I first learned this lesson while playing World of Warcraft.

The lesson is this: If you find yourself stymied by the enemies of a level you have advanced to, retreat to a place in the game where you can continue beating foes and solving quests so that you can gain experience and power and then you can return to the level that you bounced off of, and prevail. I call this, “out leveling the content.” In other words, when the content of the game outmatches you, go find content that doesn’t. Gain more power in the game (levels, talents, gear, etc.) and take on the content you had a problem with once it’s easier.

In life we can hit walls in pursuing the goals we care about. Sometimes the way past those walls is getting better at what we are trying to do. In these cases there is no substitute for grinding out more practice at our craft. Automation, gear improvements, money spent on boosting our signal… none of those will suffice when we just need to be more adept at our skill. When lack of proficiency is what is holding us back, it’s time to out level the obstruction by devoting time and energy to getting better at what we want to do.

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Yes, This Is Happening

assassin

Like a lot of people these days, I get most of the influx of world news from my friends. Through social networks, my feed gets peppered with items of note from all over the globe. Many of the postings include some expression of incredulity about what is being passed on. Many of them with lead ins such as, “Is this legal?, “This can’t be happening…”, “I don’t believe we are still this fucked up…”, and so on.

Side-bar here: Recently I started on a piece about Hassan i-Sabbah. You see, I am an avid gamer, as well as being a fan of fringe philosophy, whack-o epistemology, strange ontology, stripped down spirituality, shadow history, and the scientific method, all while working towards immanetizing my personal eschaton.

Recently, I caught quite a fascination about the original order of assassins by playing the “Assassin’s Creed” games (which are awesome, by the way.) In them, part of the credo of the assassins often quoted is the phrase, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” I had read that phrase before, of course, mostly in the Principia Discordia, and the works of Uncle Bob.

So, being the avid geek I am, I started researching. As I did, my romantic notions about the ideology of freedom that the phrase calls fort, and which the game creators emphasized, bubbled over. The idea of facing reality directly, without holding any one particular reality-tunnel as absolute, allows for a personal unbridled freedom. Our behavior comes under our full ownership and responsibility. We can begin to answer for ourselves to ourselves. For me, this formulation is right up there with, “The map is not the territory”, and “Whatever you say a thing is, it isn’t” from Korzybski, alongside the offerings from Aliester Crowley, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”, and “Will under love.”

Hassan i-Sabbah, was the founder of the original order of assassins, and the apparent coiner of this phrase. Trouble is, no one really knows when he said it, or why. The most compelling version (for me anyways), is as follows: After winning the castle-fortress Alamut in a con-bet that involved the hide of a bull, Hassan took up residence and proceeded to run his group of assassin’s to make targeted eliminations for the purposes of forwarding the agenda of the Muslim world. He recruited soldiers and conditioned them by using drug enabled trips to “heaven”, a walled paradisiacal garden built to evoke the fantasies of what awaits Muslim’s who give their lives over to the service of Allah in the afterlife, complete with virgins to provide physical delights. Hassan employed a wide range of theatrical shows to convince his troops. Once, he had a pit installed in his throne room. He had a follower stand in the pit, then rigged a false floor that made it look like his severed head was sitting on a platter. Calling his troops in, Hassan claimed this was the head of a man who had failed to obey him. He then evoked his “magical powers” and commanded the head to speak, at which point the man in the pit began screaming and detailing the tortures that he was undergoing in Hell.

Once Hassan was installed in Alamut, he never left his chambers (aside from one trip to the roof gardens) for the remaining 35 years of his life. He sank himself into studies of the religion, philosophy, science, and mysticism of his time. Hassan was a deeply respected spiritual authority, and he turned to his studies with an unmatched fervor. On his deathbed he uttered the phrase, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

Now, what did he mean by that? Was this a death bed confession that all he had believed in for his life was false? Or, was this some deep mystical revelation representing the culmination of his studies, and meditations? Or, was it the farewell of a con-man who wanted to assuage his guilt?

Who knows?

In any event, one thing is clear. Hassan was a confidence man of the highest order. He willfully used the fanatic religious conviction of his followers, which he magnified through genius level brainwashing, and spent their lives for his own ends. What he did was amazing, but it’s nothing to get romantic over.

This ended my fascination with Hassan i-Sabbah as a source of mystical insight. My respect for the insight remained, however.

Here ends the side-bar.

All of that was to illustrate the truth behind the term, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” You see, we all live in reality-tunnels sourced from our individual unique partial views. This reality-tunnel is colored by our physical and psychological structure, as well as the conditioning imprinted on us by our culture and life experiences. We each have a unique “take” on things, and none of them is ultimately true. They (at best) are just how things seem to us. This does not mean they are not real; it’s just that they are only real for us. In this way, “nothing is true.”

Each of us takes our actions guided by our own personal plum-lines. The thing is these conditions of morality, and ethics, and social norms, are installed in us during our upbringing. These rules of conduct dictate our actions to a large degree. If we had a glimpse (or maybe a good long look) at reality free of our conditioning, then we might understand that, “everything is permitted.” Then our actions become fully our own. That does not mean we will necessarily do good things. We can still be bad people. Some will take advantage of such freedom in service of their own needs and desires.

“There are trivial truths, and there are great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.” ~ Niels Bohr

It seems ironic to use that quote as a tool to look at an insight that states that, “Nothing is true…,” but to heck with it. Life is short. Following on with Professor Bohr’s line of reasoning, it seems to me that every deep insight can be implemented in a positive light and in a negative one. I am beginning to suspect that this insight, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” is floating around out there in the noosphere with a negative inflection. Not in the foreground like the countless LoLCats, and Ikea Monkeys, but just like those memes, it’s being passed around in the background.

Those working with this idea have a free license to do as they please. With no truth holding them back, they permit themselves actions that most of us would balk at.

So, yes, this is happening.

Governments are breaking laws.

People are being locked up for no reason other than convenience.

Teenagers are bashing each other’s brains in, and people are using these tragedies as an excuse to promote racial profiling.

Corporations are poisoning the bio-sphere and exterminating species to increase their bottom line.

All of that is happening. Really. It really is.

As long as we deny it, what’s going to stop it?

This is not a call for some overt action, or screaming in the streets. But, what if we all let in the idea that maybe, just maybe, “Nothing is true, everything is permitted.” And, maybe if we did we could slow the tide of license and abuses, and expose them all to the light of our awareness. Not our hatred, or our revenge, but just our knowing. Maybe that light could be shined into the darkest crevices and if they want to take their actions, at least they will do so while we see.

Just a thought.

Different Games

So one of my passionate interests is awakening, waking up from the sleep induced by the cultural held and transmitted beliefs about what I am, to directly face experience and stand as I actually am. To proceed through life from that point, rather than from some assumed point based on the words of others.

This sort of consideration is usually called spiritual. So, my interest has lead me to explore the spiritual cultural landscape.

One of the seemingly widespread beliefs in the modern spiritual realm casts life and reality as a vast game with no actual players. The (not exclusively) Buddhist teachings of no self get conflated with Cartesian/mechanistic world views to produce this image of a vast game board with pieces moving according to set rules with no one directing the movement beyond the rules.

I can’t ascribe to that model. My long career as a gamer puts forth another image. I imagine it more like a table with players moving their pieces according to the rules, but that the players tend to be hyper-focused. Generally, they get so engrossed by the game and the apparent rules that they get stuck into the grooves of that system. They lose the capacity to try something new. Get up and stretch. Try a different game. Create their own house rules. Take a break for a moment. Go to the kitchen and grab a Mountain Dew.*

The other concept that comes along with this vision for me is a distinction that a co-worker taught me once. (Thanks, Dan!) It’s the difference between convergent and emergent games.

In a convergent game, you are headed to a known conclusion. Like solitaire. At some point, you win by getting all your cards stacked in neat suite piles. Or, you lose by getting stuck with no moves to make. There is a feeling of relief at the end of a convergent game, regardless of the outcome. The tension of playing the game is released by its conclusion. You may immediately decide to play again, but part of the tension created by playing the game is released.

In contrary, emergent games have no end. Playing leads to more playing. It’s an exercise that may have goals along the way, but has no real end in sight.

What’s interesting to me here is how convergent games can get morphed into emergent games quite easily. Take chess for example. For an individual game, there are three possible outcomes. One of the two players wins. The game comes to a draw. However, the game space of chess is mathematically nearly limitless. There are always new strategies and tactics to explore. Also, there are always new opponents to face. Tournaments to win. Rankings to achieve.

*NOTE: I don’t like Mountain Dew.  I would be more likely to grab a beer.  But, mentioning Mountain Dew was too good of an inside joke to pass up.  ;

What do you think? Do you have any models of gaming you apply to life? Did you like the post? Let me know in the comments below, and if you think your community would enjoy it, please spread the post around. Cheers!

Hat tip to Plato and his Cave. 😉