While for many in the western world, material quality-of-life has been skyrocketing, rates of loneliness and depression are reaching epidemic levels. These times call for mindfulness and connection. They demand we ask ourselves difficult questions about our practices and technologies, and the values they embody.
While technological means grow exponentially, the same cannot be said for our civilization’s core wisdom and values. Like every medium, games cannot help but express and respond to those values, and they do so with incredible technological sophistication. Game developers, with ever-deeper knowledge of player psychology, must choose to build ever-more efficient slot machines or ever-more polished mirrors.
We Are What We Play
Weaving the disciplines of hypnosis, ceremony, meditation, and neuroscience into the fabric of a videogame’s feedback loop, technodelics are an emerging genre that is as new and sophisticated as any modern game, but rooted in something as ancient and universal as prayer.
Games invite us to embody the needs and behaviors of a role, and to play a game is to practice the mode of being invoked by that role. Practice builds habit, and with repetition, habit becomes identity. This practice of play forges new neural pathways and articulates existing ones - it is always a gauntlet of self-authorship and transformation. Of critical importance: what the game is and why we are playing will define the parts of ourselves that we bring to that gauntlet, and if our fundamental reason for play is to distract ourselves, then we only bring those parts of ourselves that wish not to exist to the gauntlet. In doing so, we lay the seeds of nihilism in the soil of our play.
To fully support the transformation of the player into deeper and more self-realized modes of consciousness, game developers must learn to gently invite ever more vulnerable and forgotten aspects of the player’s being into the light of play. Without collapsing into seriousness, players, in turn, must learn to approach their play with reverence and surrender.
The Eight Principles of Technodelics
Technodelics make use of all the same technologies as other videogames. Like other videogames, they are immersive, closed feedback loops that are centered around the player’s intrinsic enjoyment of play. But where they differ from other videogames is in the purpose of their core mechanics. Rather than engaging the mind with competition or problem solving, the technodelic actively disengages their player’s unconscious habits of self centeredness, and sinks them into a humble state of presence.
A technodelic does not achieve this by simulating another world. Instead, it acts like a digital spirit guide, unraveling the player’s mind into a state of prostration, surrender, and wonder.
The principles of a technodelic are:
Technodelics are abstract, so as to negate the player’s critical thoughts. Words and stories are avoided wherever possible, in favor of geometry and music.
Technodelics keep a player’s attention focused on the now. They will usually eschew the use of goals entirely, as goals tend to focus a player’s attention away from the present moment. Where goals are used, they are tied to on-going in-the-moment performance, and engineered to produce a flow state.
Technodelics use the audiovisual field to invoke mystery and the sublime. Light and sound are used, not to describe objects, but to directly stimulate desired activity in the brain.
Technodelics engage the player’s body in feedback loops. This creates a synesthetic relationship between sound, vision, and the player’s own biorhythms.
Technodelics are unbiased feedback loops, meaning instead of rewarding certain behaviors and punishing others, they reflect all player expressions in myriad ways. Their systems are reflective rather than prescriptive. This both inspires a player’s sense of wonder, and turns that wonder inwards.
Technodelics expand beyond the couch-and-screen into real-life set-and-setting. They make use of ritual and ceremony to amplify the depth of the experience.
Technodelics are fully immersive experiences that require 100% of the player’s attention.
Technodelics cannot be reductively designed. Instead, they must be intuitively channeled. Technodelic experiences are doorways to the ineffable, and the reasoning mind by definition cannot comprehend the ineffable.
Two emerging technologies will have a major impact on the scope and power of technodelics:
Virtual Reality. By cutting away distractions and fully enveloping the player’s sensorium, VR makes it possible to design ever more subtle experiences, inviting ever more intimate expressions of the player’s sense of self into the realm of play.
Inexpensive Biosensors. The integration of biosensors into gaming peripherals will allow games to slip away from the binary shackles of keyboards and gamepads, into the mysterious and organic domain of our human-animal biorhythms. When a player can see their heartbeat and hear their breath, synesthetically woven into the fabric of an immersive experience, it will make a categorical shift in the potency not only of technodelics, but of gaming as a whole.
Encountering these experiences, either as a designer or a player, requires letting go of many of our concepts of what a game is. Ironically though, the more the game industry is able to let go of the concepts that traditionally define gaming, the more gracefully those very concepts can integrate into the structures of something new… not as invisible dogma, but as hard-earned wisdom.
Early Examples of Technodelics
SoundSelf: A Technodelic (Andromeda Entertainment, April 2020)
Breathscape (Auralab, 2020)
Microdose VR (Vision Agency, unreleased)
Strata (The Mill, 2017)
Cosmic Sugar (David Lobser, 2016)
Panoramical (Fernando Ramallo and David Kanaga, 2015)
[by Robin Arnott]