12. We created Man from a quintessence (of clay);
13. Then We placed him as (a drop of) sperm in a place of rest, firmly fixed;
14. Then We made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood; then of that clot We made (a fetus) lump; then We made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh; then We developed out of it another creature. So blessed be God, the Best to create!
15. After that, at length you will die.
(The Holy Qur’an, Al-Mu-minun 23:12-15)
In a way Life Online is like a work of art made of clay that turns to dust. Not too long ago while on the job at Domino’s, we had a young black man of about 10-13 come into the store with his Mother, following behind him to place an order. Upon my eyes meeting them I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of depression and nostalgia. As they were exiting the store as a result of forgetting their funds to pay for their order, seeing them together reminded me of my relationship to my Mother and how I used to be a child. It feels weird to be an adult for some reason, as if my childhood lasted an eternity. This encounter also reminded me of the transitory nature of life, of how the usual and mundane could be gone in an instant. Those that we grew up with, who we think we are, the jobs that we go to, the music that we listen to, the foods that we eat, all these things one day will be gone to make way for the new.
If we perceive God as an artist then he has no qualms about erasing His work of art to create something new, however nothing is truly gone. As much as we want to avoid the topic of death, we live as though we’re immortal. There are benefits as well as disbenefits to that, nevertheless it has a huge impact on how we experience Life Online. This is a stark contrast between life and video games. Life changes while video games in their current state do not. Luigi in Luigi’s Mansion is no different now than from when the game was released nearly 16 years ago. From when we were younger back then playing that game for the first time, we grew and changed since then while that game remained the same.
It is communicated in many world religions and mythologies that man was born from clay, and that one day we’ll return to the earth. Growing up in Islam I was educated about this through reading the Qur’an and how God created Adam from clay. It’s even interesting to note that modern science is catching up with this idea. Despite the achievements we make in life, the memories that we create, the wealth that we accumulate, eventually the time will come where we’ll depart from these earthly bodies. Not to say our existence is meaningless, it simply implies that we should live our lives to the fullest. The Tibetan Buddhists have a tradition that is the Sand Mandala that involves the creation and destruction of mandalas created from colored sands. It could take several weeks just for a team of Buddhists to create a single mandala only to destroy it in the end for what is called ephemerality, the concept of things being temporary. It’s amazing really how there are many ways to approach the creation of art whichever medium one chooses to work in.
If Tibetan Buddhists could put in many weeks of effort to create a beautiful work of art such as the Sand Mandala only to destroy it, what does that say about God’s approach towards His own creation? Excluding all lifeforms, humans are a beautiful and interesting creation, yet we still succumb to the forces of change and ultimately death. For me there’s comfort in knowing this, in knowing that there’s potential for something different, for life to naturally invite the new and discard the old. Man can resist change all he wants, to fortify his sandcastles that are his institutions, but he could never fight back the forces that push life forward. It’s like a theatre stage where the spotlight focuses on the up-and-coming aspiring actor only for the seasoned actors to lay the foundation for the next generation.
About two weeks ago I had an interesting dream. In the dream I was probed with the idea that there is this critical aspect of Life Online, this element that God wouldn’t leave it without, however that knowledge wasn’t revealed to me and thus I awoke from my slumber. This idea came back to me very recently in the form of what elements are present in Life Online that aren’t exactly found in video games/simulations. When I think of what elements (or mechanics) are found in life I think of many things such as change, thought, time, emotion, consciousness, good and evil, the 5 empirical senses, chakra, light, darkness, sacred geometry, etc. These are concepts that humanity has come to know for as long as we’ve been alive and yet many of them are still quite difficult to understand. Much study, interpretation, and analysis has been devoted to these various aspects of existence overtime, leaving in its wake much rich information and symbolism.
Observing this I can’t help but feel compelled to believe that everything happens for a reason, that there is an inherent design found in nature. I understand as I’m saying this that I’m veering ever closer to the watchmaker argument, the argument that states that design implies a designer. Now I’m not going get into that for that’s a domain that’s best left reserved for smarter people, but from the things I’ve learned over the years I can’t possibly believe otherwise. Never mind the fact that we don’t know God’s design process or whether he plays an active role in His creation or not. I can’t help but wonder why death exists, why life exists, why man was made from dust to go back to dust. As a gamer and game design enthusiast these are questions that fascinate me to no end.
When a game designer designs a game, everything he/she puts into the game was for an intelligent purpose. Why does Mario jump? Why must Mario jump to complete every level? Why does man possess consciousness? To what end does consciousness support? What are all of our faculties as human beings ultimately in service of? Mario’s jump is in service of rescuing Peach and beating Super Mario Bros., but for many of us we don’t know why we’re created in the first place. Nintendo, one of the premier game design companies in the video game industry, bases its entire game design philosophy on “form following function”. If we follow this line of thought, we arrive to the question that has long been asked and is still being asked, and that is “what’s the meaning of life?”
When we look at it our time in these bodies is relatively short. We’re born from clay into this experience only to die in the end. What happens to us after death is a cause of great concern, fear, and anxiety for many of us. Is life after death going to be eternal darkness? Eternal bliss? Eternal hellfire? Between being created from dust and returning to dust, what content should we fill our lives with? What story do we want to make for ourselves? Suppose this waking life is simply a dream and that the result of our ultimate destiny rests on the content of our lives, how we lived. To wake up from this dream, what would be waiting for you on the other side? Personally I don’t know, heck I don’t even know what I deserve. I feel like I don’t deserve bliss but at the same time I don’t want to burn eternally. But what I do know is this, that I have control over how I respond to this dream, this experience that is Life Online.
There’s absolutely no way that we as humans with all our gifts and complexity, our capacity to build civilizations and blast to the stars, are purposeless only to conclude that life itself has no purpose. This would imply that life has no value nor that it is worth investing in, that life isn’t worth living or fighting for. This is no circus or arcade were we’re given instant gratification for nothing. Life is beautiful and it contains many surprises and detours, man just has to be curious and open enough to explore just like in any open-world game with interspersed collectibles.