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The Reality Bleed

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Take the Pepsi challenge.

I saw a movie a few nights ago, and as I was walking out of the building that houses the theatre, which is about a 15-minute walk from my apartment, I saw one of those ninja motorcycles parked by the door. My response was: “Hey, I’ll just take that and drive it home.” Preface: I’ve spent the last month playing through Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories.

This happens to me occasionally, when a reflex acquired to play a particular video game bleeds out into reality, and I get an urge to act in a way that just doesn’t line up in the non-digital world. I’m not talking about that “wouldn’t it be cool if” feeling, where you suddenly have a flash daydream about doing a Matrix run-up-a-wall and wire-fu kicking a random citizen (which happens to me about fifteen times a day). This is not something you can get from a movie — only from videogames. And not Tetris, not Super Mario Bros. When the circumstances or environment of a moment in real life match some common moment in a game, the wires cross and for a brief moment the wrong reflex reaction is summoned. It dissipates quickly, but for that instant, it feels as strong and rational as waiting for the light to turn before you cross the street.

It's like looking into a living snow mirror.It doesn’t seem to work the other way — I certainly can’t recall ever playing a video game and wanting to apply some real-world tactic to it that I already know isn’t applicable. I’m guessing this happens because of how the brain stores experiential memory (and here we dive into pure, uneducated complex psychological guesswork). When we recall the visual element of a memory, whether real or in-game, the image is a fuzzy one, but the brain repairs it, heightens the resolution and accounts for any missing information. Which would suggest how I can forget that all the motorcycles I’ve jacked in GTA were made of pixels and polygons, and why reality doesn’t intrude on gametime (memory distortions make fake things seem real, not so much the other way around, at least not making them seem a specific kind of unreal).

Maybe that’s a part of it, but I don’t think that’s the real culprit. When I grab one of those ninja bThe reverse Reality Bleed.  Click the pic for more 8-bit inspired art.ikes in GTA, PCJ-600’s they’re called in-game, the reason I’m doing so is typically speed. They’re a hell of a quick way to get around Liberty City, so when I grab one, often I’m looking to shorten a commute. Last night, as I walked out of the building, the subject being debated in the back of my mind was how to get from there to point B, a situation which makes up probably 60% of the gameplay in GTA. Seeing the bike just sitting there as I might in GTA made the conundrum feel like one in the game, and my muscles actually flexed in reaction, trying to point me towards the bike, until the absurdity of that struck me, and I pulled away.

Then, shouldn’t my thumbs have twitched, not my legs and shoulders? Shouldn’t I have tried to push the triangle button? I guess that’s a testament to the videogame contoller’s equivalent of a combination of persistence of vision and suspension of disbelief — the controller becoProject Gotham Racing 3 - We're not there yet, be we're getting closer. Click for hi-res.ming like a limb, manipulated subconsciously, naturally, so that instead of thinking “I’m pushing the D-pad right and holding the B button to make Mario run,” you just think “I’m making Mario run,” the same way you don’t need to consider the muscle mechanics needed to pick up and eat an apple.

This is, of course, complete speculation on my part. Not a speck of research done, nor was there any particular adherence to logic observed. But if there’s truth in here, it’ll only get more interesting as game and general computer interactivity develops. Currently, even the most detailed game words are pale, hollow reflections of the real thing. But as these games grow more realistic, both graphically and in terms of how well they recreate reality, and especially in terms of how intuitive their controls become, this kind of thing might start happening more and more. What if Grand Theft Auto 10 has you walk into a perfect 7-11 and choose which perfectly-rendered Pepsi produCrysis for PC - And even closerer.  Click the pic for hi-res.ct you’d like to purchase? In real life, I’ll always go for a Dr. Pepper, but what if in GTA’s America Mountain Dew is the beverage of most benefit (being the most XtrEEm product available on the market)? How close might I come to drinking some of that swill?

Obviously, that’s a joke. I don’t think this little phenomenon I experienced the other night will ever cause any real life damage — I certainly wouldn’t want this to become ammo for Jack Thompson‘s Army of the Righteous. I’m talking about a brief, deja-vu-like moment of confusion, not a Halo-inspired killing spree. Nothing that reflects a change in personality whatsoever. Worse possible effect would be on jobs where split-second, life-and-death decisions are made, and those people don’t tend to have time to play video games anyway. Though my mother once told me she never wants me to get a driver’s licence after seeing me play San Francisco Rush for the Nintendo 64, and I still don’t have one. If I did, perhaps I’d sI'm just not used to driving a standard.ubconsciously drive my car up onto sidewalks and through parks looking for jumps, shortcuts, and giant, hidden keys. But I doubt it.

Maybe I’m completely alone on this; maybe I’ve got a brain defect that causes these mistakes (one caused, no doubt, by excessive video game playing). But it’s happened more than a few times, for more than just Grand Theft Auto — I remember reaching to turn a valve on a random pipe, a la Half-Life; admiring the “dynamic source lighting” coming in through my bedroom door in a time when I was playing around with Quake 2 level design; smashing a urinal and drinking from the spilling water when I was feeling lethargic after an all-night Duke Nukem 3D session.

Now that I’ve taken the time to really dwell on this phenomena, I can see that it’s pretty strange, perhaps worrisome. If anyone else can offer up any similar experiences of their own to ease my new-found concern that I’ve got brain cancer, I’d gladly hear them. As reward, I offer this Tale of Interest from Futurama’s “Anthology of Interest II” episode. Ladies and gentlemen, “Raiders of the Lost Arcade”: laebmada

4 Comments leave one →
  1. James17930 permalink
    Wednesday, September 6, 2006 11:37 am

    I beg to differ on it working the other way — or ‘The Reverse Reality Bleed’ if you will.

    Remember that time we were playing GTA: Vice City and, after stealing a bus, I proceeded to drive the speed limit and pick up passengers, much to your utter annoyance?

    That was fun.

  2. Wednesday, September 6, 2006 12:52 pm

    The only game I’ve been slightly addicted to was Age of Empires, 1 and 2. And I must say, once I kicked the habit and have been clean now for a couple years I feel quite good about myself.

    Oh yes, if anyone’s interested I have a few trebuchets, catapults, some archers, a monastary and a few woad raiders in the garage. I’m prepared to haggle. I might even throw in some beserkers and some sheep to ‘sweetun’ the deal.

  3. Wednesday, February 7, 2007 12:42 pm

    It seems I am exactly five months and one day hipper than MTV, based on the criteria that everything MTV does is properly ranked in hip.

  4. James17930 permalink
    Wednesday, February 7, 2007 1:50 pm

    Dude — this guy totally ripped you off.

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