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, shaped by greed, vanity, and violence. So yeah, not exactly the place where 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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12 thoughts on “What Cyberpunk 2077 Has Taught Me About Happiness (Part 1)”
Would be no cyberpunk without real life! Great Read!
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True that! I’m really glad both exist 😊 Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙏
Every new game represents a leap in realism, and the progression is amazing: From Drakkhen to Shenmue to Vice City, then GTA IV’s recreation of New York, Arkham Knight’s moody Gotham, GTA V’s take on Los Angeles, Yakuza Kiwami’s Tokyo, Spiderman Miles Morales’ New York, all the way to Cyberpunk’s Night City, Watchdog Legion’s London and Stray’s Hong Kong.
But realism is incidental. We want realism, but only to a point. Nowadays environments are almost photorealistic, but human characters are not. That’s partly due to the extreme difficulty in rendering believable people, and an abundance of caution on the part of art designers when dealing with the Uncanny Valley, but it’s also because no one wants to think of them as real people given the amount of violence that happens in these games.
Open-world games are basically theme parks, and realism exists only for one reason — to increase immersion as players do things they could never do in real life and live out adventures that would be fatal, highly criminal or just impossible in the real world. Without that, open world games would be glorified walking simulators.
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You really know your games! Your comment may point my readers to beautiful virtual worlds. I mostly agree with your points on rendering people and open-world games/immersion but wonder if you also see the connection to real life gratefulness/appreciation/happiness? In any case, thanks for your comment!
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In some sense, yes, but I look at games as a way to explore worlds and do things I would not be able to do in real life. Elite Dangerous is a good example: The game’s sandbox 1:1 recreation of the Milky Way galaxy using real data for a bubble around our system (data from NASA/ESA) and a custom-designed “star forge” to fill out the rest of the galaxy with stars, systems and planets based on what we know of the galaxy’s composure.
In that game I can be a trader, bounty hunter or smuggler, or I can take my starship to see the supermassive black hole at Sagittarius A, catch up with ancient and slow generation ships traveling at .10c, land on planets and explore the ruins of long-dead civilizations, etc.
I cannot do any of those things in real life.
But there’s a different feeling when playing games that mimic real life. In late 2019 I bought Yakuza Kiwami 2 because I was missing Tokyo, and at one point in the game I found myself standing on a street corner in Tokyo’s Shinjuku districtn in front of a Karaoke Kan, the exact spot where I’d been standing a few months earlier.
I got a real kick out of seeing the incredible lengths the game designers went to in order to faithfully recreate neighborhoods of Tokyo. The buildings, the sounds, the people all felt right. Vending machines on every block, advertisements that mirror their real world counterparts, even the “menu” kiosks in the red light district. You can even walk into Family Mart and buy the delicious egg salad sandwiches that are a Tokyo staple.
But it is not the real thing. You can’t smell Tokyo. You can’t eat the egg salad sandwiches. You can’t walk down Memory Lane and get immersed in the smell of barbecue from the tiny restaurants and sake bars.
On the other hand, I have never been to London, so playing in a sandbox that is London recreated was interesting.
I think games are an extension of storytelling, just in a different medium. Done well, like books, they make us think about the real world or consider things we haven’t given much thought to.
To borrow a point from the novelist David Mitchell, these are places where you can explore outlandish ideas with impunity, without worrying about disapproving people saying those ideas are ridiculous.
To your larger point, though, I think being grateful is an essential part of being happy, and if games make us appreciate the real world more, that’s a good thing.
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Thanks for your answer! I love the attention to detail of the games you described. Coming to think of it, computer games might even help protect the environment, because we can get an experience of far away places that is maybe good enough and without getting into a plane.
I also agree on your point of story-telling – I think that’s what games are first and foremost. And Cyberpunk is great at that!
But yeah, they let us try out and experience things that would be impossible or unwise in the real world while ideally also opening our eyes to the inifinite wonders of the real world.
“Real life is immensely beautiful and rich.” I can kind of envision this in an abstract way after getting on antidepressants, but for most of my life (and specifically many others with mental disorders), this is almost impossible to comprehend. It’s like explaining the experience of colours to someone who’s born colourblind, I suppose. I have friends that are still trudging on (like the owners of the wordpress blogs that I linked you earlier), just making through each day. It was the same for me pre-SSRIs. I hope that one day I can truly experience for myself, how you experience life. Have you read The Noon Day Demon, if so, what do you think of it?
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There were times in my life where I totally couldn’t see the beauty either, so I can relate to what you’re saying. I hope it’s only a temporary color blindness, because, in theory, the beauty is there and perceivable. But for some people the veil of suffering is often too thick to see it. Working through that veil is worth it though. And it’s a gradual thing, too. The less veil the better. There is no point one must reach.
I didn’t know this book. Can you recommend it?
Here’s the author’s site! Maybe it’ll interest you? Yeah, I really hope so. Especially if I stay on my SSRIs and experience a depression-free life for longer, maybe I’ll work through the veil. 🙂
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Thank you for the link! I read some excerpts on his page now and also watched a TED talk. He’s great! I only worry that he generalizes from very severe depression to depression in general. Luckily, most cases are not that chronic/extreme/disabling and the treatments are generally more effective than he makes them seem. But yes, sadly there are still many cases who need lifelong treatment.
With this attitude you’ll definitely manage to cut through the veil more and more 😀