Thursday, August 16, 2018

Watching People Watch Screens

            In a recent article, I discussed a form of technological expression that involved layers of mediated experience.  With virtual robots, there is the mediation of having robots to do jobs or tasks that would otherwise fall into the realm of primary experience for humans.  And there is the mediation that comes from these robots being in a reality without mass, matter and substance and, therefore, where there are no meaningful primary experience consequences from the tasks which these virtual robots are trying out.  The point is that because of the combination of these layers of mediated experience, the combined effect of separating humans from the external world of primary experience is much greater than the effect of each of these layers separately.

            There are other combinations of layers of mediated experiences that are separating humans from the primary experience external world.  One of these is being sports spectators of a sport where the bulk of the action occurs within the mediated experience world of screen reality.  Welcome to the world of e-sports.  Professional video game competitions are broadcast live all over the world to millions of viewers for prize money.  So you have the mediation of spectators watching a sporting activity outside of themselves.  And you have a sporting activity where the players are themselves immersed in a mediated experience activity.  There is a double layer of mediation separating the spectator from the activity.  And this a doubly mediated experience that millions of spectators all over the world participate in.

            But there is something that makes some people’s experience of watching e-sports different from that of working with virtual robots.  With virtual robots, a person is dealing with two technological realities: robots and virtual reality.  For those spectators watching the tournament on a television screen, there is also a double layer of technological mediation involved.  But then there are those people who are watching the tournament live as it is happening, and for these people, it is a different kind of an experience.  Granted that like at rock concerts, the players are magnified on large screen to make seeing them easier.  But even so, the players are still visible live.  For these spectators, there is a distinctly special flavor to their experience of the video game tournaments.  And it is these spectators of the live video tournament that I am going to focus on here.  A spectator of the live event is dealing with one layer of primary experience external world reality and one layer of video game screen reality.  To the extent that the arena spectator is watching the video game player play his video game, just the act of watching the player involves the player in his external world reality.  To the extent that the player is engaged in playing a video game, that is a layer that involves screen reality, pure mediated experience.  Because the player is in the external world performing an action, just watching the player is a mediated experience with primary experience components.

            Watching e-sports live is dangerous for humans in a different way than working with virtual robots.  With virtual robots, there is a threat to the person working with them of becoming so immersed in the experience, that psychologically it becomes very difficult to pull oneself totally back into the primary experience of the external world.  Immersing oneself in two levels of technologically based reality that reinforce each other in terms of their capacity to suck people away from external world reality, will lead in the long run to an increasing incapacity of these humans to easily return to external world reality and to the incapacity to absorb again the gamut of stimuli that is found in such a reality.

            With live e-sports events, the problem is not so much that of immersing in technological realities, but rather with blurring the distinction between external world reality and this technologically-based screen reality.  And this comes through combining the partially mediated experiences of watching someone performing actions in the external world with the somewhat more pure mediated experience of watching the efforts of these external world actions within the screen reality of video games.  In the first case, there is normally no neat divider separating the spectator from the player, while in the second case, the screen normally acts as such a divider.  And yet here, the external world actions of the player’s movement and the screen movements of what happens inside the video game become one seamless flow of experience.  This blurring is very pronounced for the spectator.  For the player, who doesn’t focus on looking at himself playing, the only meaningful movement he observes is what is going on within the video game.

            The blurring has a two-fold effort.  It tends to instill for the spectator a sense of external world reality into the video game that is being played.  Somehow, it seems to have the same hard edgy sense of reality as a basketball game or an ice hockey game.  It seems to have the immediacy and the urgency of a primary experience external world competition.  And it allows the game to suck the spectator into the digital reality world, as if it could provide the spectator a real sense of mass, matter and substance.

            By the same token, the spectator is imbued with the atmosphere provided by the screen reality of the video game and develops a lighter presence like that of an avatar.  A lightness of being that contributes to disconnecting the spectator from the mass, matter, and substance of his own physical body.  Actually, it makes sense.  This is a screen reality world seen like an external world reality to a person who has become like an avatar.

            The spectator of the live event, who becomes so addicted to watching a player play a video game, wastes so much time.  Not only is he not making organic imprints on the surface of his field of experience, but he is not even watching an external world athlete make a meaningful imprint by beating a flesh-and-blood human opponent in a primary experience game.  Rather, he is sucked over the bridge that is created between external world reality and screen reality, a bridge generated by this experience.  At least when a person immerses himself with virtual reality, there is no pretense that the person is still dwelling at that moment in external world reality.

            And it is almost worse watching a video game tournament at a stadium or arena than it is to watch a basketball game on television.  With the latter, there is no illusion that one is participating in a mediated experience, and that mediated experience is juxtaposed next to the primary experience in external world reality of being in one’s living room or in a bar watching the game.  One knows when one’s focus is leaving the external world reality to go into the screen reality and vice versa.  But in a video game tournament, the live spectator is living in external world reality and screen reality simultaneously.  Mentally, the boundaries between the two are broken, so that one loses his capacity to easily retreat back into external world reality from screen reality.  Which means the live spectator, after watching these tournaments a certain number of times, will have difficulty being able to live fully in external world reality again.  Mentally, he remains subtly numb and detached even after a tournament is over, and he physically leaves it.  And this affects his capacity to be able to fully function in primary experience in external world reality, having rich vibrant experience, making, receiving and preserving organic imprints, developing a meaningful life narrative and preparing for death with a surrogate immortality.  Complicated layered experiences like video game tournaments represent a greater danger to humans and their lives as mammalian entities than the simple mediated experiences that immerse people in screen reality and virtual reality.

© 2018 Laurence Mesirow 

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