Hello my dear happiness nerds, welcome back!
The short answer: So many things that have to write multiple posts on it and still be very selective about what I cover. Also: Some of the insights I didn’t newly learn from Cyberpunk but was merely reminded of. Still, quite the feat.
For those of you who don’t know: Cyberpunk 2077 is a sci-fi video game set in a futuristic dystopia. You slip into the role of the mercenary “V” who tries to survive and thrive in a mega-city ruled by mega-corporations, vanity, and violence. So yeah, not exactly the place one might expect insights into happiness.
But it’s actually not that surprising if you think about it. Game designers are experts in creating fun, interesting, challenging, and beautiful worlds which speak to our instincts, wants, and emotions. Hence, while watching ourselves play in these virtual worlds we get to know ourselves better regarding the real world, too.
Also, games in general are designed to give us all sorts of pleasant feelings—fun, joy, surprise, awe, wonder, relaxation, elation, ecstasy, and so on. And while pleasant feelings can be an obstacle to happiness (e.g., when chasing and craving them) they are also a big part of what defines happiness. After all, happiness itself is a feeling, probably comprised of things such as contentment, peace of mind, joy, love, and fulfillment.
Cyberpunk 2077 gave me insights on happiness through my 1st person experience (i.e., by feeling things) but also by understanding fundamental principles of how the world works and what makes a good life. That’s what sci-fi ideally does: It shows you an imaginable future (usually dystopian) to make you see the present day in a new light.
So, what were my insights exactly? Today I will only cover this one point: Real life is immensely beautiful and rich.
Those of you who know the game and maybe even played it know that hundreds of artists and programmers spent many years to create an open world that not only has a deep history and is filled with personal stories and a million little details but that also uses next generation graphics to look better than almost anything that came before it (the light in this game is amazing!). Yet, since I’ve played the game, I’ve noticed just how much more beautiful and awe-inspiring the real world is. Cyberpunk is an impressive work of art but it cannot compete with a world which has been shaped by billions (not hundreds) of humans (and other beings), which has a history that goes back billions of years (not decades), and where the resolution of the graphics is practically infinite (not just HD or 4K).
Take resolution, for example. In every video game one can get so close to even the most detailed objects that one can see the pixels and polygons. Doesn’t happen in real life: We could even take out a microscope and still see endless detail. And we should—the beauty of our world deserves appreciation! Not just with our eyes, either. We can smell spring, feel the ground under our feet, taste the salt of our sweat. All things we can’t do in computer games (yet).
Also, video games are limited by the computational power of one’s computer (gaming consoles like a PlayStation are computers, too). Not so real life. You could take a tree, for example, and dissect every leaf, every branch, every piece of bark and you would find deeper structures right down to the smallest sub-atomic particles. You couldn’t compute that kind of depth in a video game, probably not even for a single leaf (at least not yet). In this sense, video game objects are hollow while real life objects are rich and dense.
If you haven’t connected the dots yet: Immersing myself in the artificial world of Cyberpunk 2077 has made me notice and appreciate the beauty of the real world so much more. It enhanced my mindfulness, gratitude, and sense of wonder. I cannot put into words just how beautiful, rich, deep, and simply jaw-dropping every little aspect of our world is and what a privilege it is to be alive.
One last example, then I have to conclude for today. Night City, the place in which Cyberpunk 2077 plays, feels like a real city. The streets run naturally, different districts have different feels to them, and it seems like time and countless human lives have shaped the city to look exactly as it does. Incredible knowledge and craftmanship went into it, no doubt. Yet, of course, it’s fake. What isn’t, is the real world. Not only is every city literally shaped by real time and real human beings but so is every building, every room, every square inch of space. For example, that band poster on the wall is not just a JPEG that a developer put there because it fits the style of the room (and any similar JPEG would have done the job). No, it’s maybe a poster that you bought at a real concert, where real human beings played the music that they dedicated their lives to. The poster probably has a few wrinkles from the times you’ve moved and its colors may be slightly faded from the years of sun light on it. It’s absolutely unique. And it’s part of your life. Just like every other unique item is part of every other unique person’s life.
The detail is there. We just need to appreciate it.
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