See you in a Fortnite – online gaming as the dream within a dream social scene
The latest craze of social networking via online gaming has really opened up human social dynamics to a whole new level of interaction and it has swept the world like a tsunami, transcending borders, even age groups and genders.
Roblox has been replaced by Fortnite, the new world within a world where you are what you dream. Millennials spend a large percentage of their waking life engaging in the online gaming world culture today. It’s a huge industry totaling over $2 billion a year, largely on in-game purchases. $126 million in revenue for February 2018 alone was brought in via Fotnite Inc. And many hours of pricelss time are spent there with more than 125 million players globally.Twitch is a popular live streaming platform too for gamers. When popular personalities - rappers like Drake - team up with Twitch streamers like Ninja to play live, a record-breaking 600 000 people will tune in.
In Fortnite – the latest global phenomenon, you have practically as many people as an entire country playing the online game at different times of the day and night. The alternate world is huge and one can dress up one’s avatar or character or alter-ego and roam around aimlessly for what seems like forever, hardly meeting anyone, only occasionally at most. You move along accumulating items and skills along the way and on odd rare occasions you do meet someone and a battle ensues. Sometimes someone dies, including you. Bu then you reincarnate in your next avatar. And so the game goes on…
This otherworldly existence can consume one’s entire world particularly when you start meeting friends there. Or you bring your real world friends along to join the network. Then you and your real world friends might all go online from your individual homes and spend hours of your life socializing together in the virtual world. You move around as a gang in the Fortnite arena and become a powerful form of defense in a style of gaming known as “battle royale” where 100 players compete against each other at one time in a huge but isolated virtual world scenario. Only one survives, but somehow this theme of rollplay has become very popular in recent years. TV entertainment wrestlers have also displayed the same format in big fights and so all sorts of strategies can emerge, facilitated by social dynamics. It goes back even to the Roman gladiators having live battles to the death. Here at least we may blow up but we come back just as fast.
When observing this current global craze, I can’t help but be reminded of how closely the theme echoes our existence in the real world. The movie The Matrix comes to mind, where it turns out we are really living in a simulated virtual world, while the real self lies in limbo. This theme is also a popular one in the Vedic tradition found in the ancient Sanskrit texts of India and Tibet. For example one 5000 year old classic describes things thus:
क्षेत्रक्षेत्रज्ञयोरेवमन्तरं ज्ञानचक्षुषा ।
भूतप्रकृतिमोक्षं च ये विदुर्यान्ति ते परम् ॥ १३.३५ ॥
ye vidur yānti te param
kṣetra — of the body; kṣetra-jñayoḥ — of the proprietor of the body; evam — thus; antaram — the difference; jñāna-cakṣuṣā — by the vision of knowledge; bhūta — of the living entity; prakṛti — from material nature; mokṣam — the liberation; ca — also; ye — those who; viduḥ — know; yānti — approach; te — they; param — the Supreme.
“Those who see with eyes of knowledge the difference between the body and the knower of the body, and can also understand the process of liberation from bondage in material nature, attain to the supreme goal.” Bhagavad Gita As It Is chapter 13:35 – translated by Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta
Here we see reference to the fact that we may have the body and mind but we are neither of them. We are the knower of the body and mind. This fits in with the analogy of our gaming platform. Life on earth is like the world of Fortnite and the physical body and subtle software of the mind are the avatar operated by the soul or eternal self, the observer. Within the avatar looking out while animating the otherwise dead matter, is the life force, consciousness. There is the individual self or soul, and also the supersoul. We are one localized consciousness while the supersoul is all-pervaiding and within all living entities.
Just as gamers move their avatars around the virtual landscape, so we too move our physical bodies through life, yet our real selves exist on another level simultaneously and only appear localized in the body. And when the body dies, like your game avatar, it is removed and a new one is provided according to the credits you earned with the previous one. The Vedas say that you pick up from where you left off in the previous life. That’s the law of karma.
The problem with Fortnite is that it’s easy to learn but hard to win, much like life again. It’s easy to roam around the world, keeping a low profile, learning how to survive, lifetime after lifetime, but all the while never awakening to the fact that it is a virtual world. It’s not the eternally conscious realm of our origins. It may seem pleasant and we even get to socialize and produce by-products, but unless the living consciousness within realizes that it is not the final destination he is almost living in a dream world with no end. And s/he can change bodies like we change clothes, becoming a new person while all the time remaining the same original operator of the avatar.
Once we spend too much time in the avatar, we begin to overidentify and our remembrance of our true identity is covered or forgotten. Many lifetimes can go on in this way, like a chapter out of the movies Inception or The Island, two great scifi stories alluding to our transcendent state. Fortnite is almost adding a layer of dream to the current dream of the eternal observer self animating the physical form. As a planet we have a nation in there, living out their dreams, living out their misplaced urge for a transcendent self, a life beyond the physical limits of the flesh. And even when you know it’s all virtual, still you can’t resist. It becomes hardwired by long association to be seen and enjoyed as the real, when it is really actually a polished illusion, a reflection of the real. And that real is described as eternal, fully conscious and totally blissful.
What gives Fortnite its attractive quality is the universal desire in all of us to want to transcend. We all somehow feel pulled to go beyond our limited body and surroundings. We intuitively feel that we can be more. That desire to be someone beyond the physical body is, some might say, a yearning for transcendence, life outside the daily norm. It is a fascinating and powerful allure. If we were placed in an insulated room with no windows and artificial light, we might never know what time of day it was and be able to live online in our avatars socializing with friends from all walks of life and all time zones. It would be a truly transcendent space, beyond even time. Time and space will be no more a limitation than the size of your game world. And that is almost as big as your imagination.
So is Fortnite the new real world? It’s trending online higher than Trump some days, And its multi-platform accessibility is really a big part of what catapulted it into viral status. That and being free of course. Another example of the “sharing economy” manifesting in the new economic model today. This “Hunger Games” theme where alliances and social skills are as important as brute force, will see Fortnite become the flavour of the day for at least a few more years. In the gaming industry things move as fast as in crypto. Even five years will be a lifetime for the Fortnite franchise before some other new phenomena comes along and sweeps more souls into a virtual world apparently even more transcendend than ever, perhaps with goggles and sensors. Then its “Surrogates” with Bruce Willis in a dystopian future where we live our lives vicariously through our three dimensional avatars.
But wait, aren’t the eternal souls doing that already in their temporary material bodies? That is exactly how the Vedic texts describe our current virtual game world called life on earth. It is a temporary experience for an eternal entity. It won’t satisfy us and so we seek substitute realities to entertain us, when according to the Vedic texts we should be going within and rediscovering the real self, remembering our original nature, and awakening from the illusion to who we really are. The supersoul or collective source is there to guide us all the time. We are never alone. And that is the beauty of living in full awareness outside of the virtual machine or Tron game we now call home.