Video Games Human Values Initiative (VGHVI):
The Psychecology Game

Story-based video games: a technological approach to research on the cognitive unconscious using narrative-metaphorical frames


In the not-so-distant past, James Reston observed that, “Almost everybody who dares make a public speech these days talks about the ‘interdependence’ of the modern world, about the need for fundamental reforms and the creation of a new world order.” Since that recent moment ontological and epistemological changes have been profound—even, as Carl Jung remarked, traumatic. (Jung, 1933) Indeed, since the sixties, throughout the world there has been a diverse but resounding call for a reappraisal of values. Founded on a vague understanding of the unified field principles of psyche-physics and translated in the human context as interdependence, legions of people in hundreds of planetary-scale movements addressed the need for more responsible human action—for a reframing of the cognitive unconscious. The environmental movement, civil rights, peace, intermediate technology, the consumer protection movement, holistic medicine, and many others gained influence and struggled to establish a new value framework consistent with a newly reiterated ontological holism.

The paradigm shift introduced as the nuclear age has morphed into an age of the media—a mediated age—and human civilization is beginning to experience the profound epistemological shifts resulting from the proliferation of media technology. One of the most profound innovations in the media-sphere is video games—especially story-based games (SBGs).

The proliferation of serious games research has been exponential, and the integration of academic and industrial cooperation in this essentially holistic field is imminent. The term “serious games” has been applied to a genre of research related to the use of video games for non-entertainment purposes. In 2002 the Serious Games Initiative was established to “encourage the development of games that address policy and management issues,” and serious game platforms are being increasingly used in business, government, education, medicine, and the military. Two sub-group of the serious game movement are “Games for Change” and “persuasive games.” The former emphasizes social issues and social change; the latter emphasizes visual rhetoric as it applies to politics, advertising, and education. As research advances on the cognitive and cultural impacts of video games, civilization will experience an epistemological quantum leap, and story-based games may become an important research instrument for understanding and applying the the new epistemology.

VGHVI addresses issues of the relationships that exist between serious and entertainment games, and SBGs are an appropriate focus of attention. Because of their interactive nature, SBGs can be highly immersive. They provide a self-reinforcing context that increases motivation and amplifies educational potentials (Schafer, 2006; Schafer, 2008), so SBGs represent the quintessential “serious” games. On the other hand, their greatest immersive capability resides in their entertainment value. Research on “Media-based” and “Problem-based” pedagogies addresses these issues in an incipient way, but the true potentials of games that are both serious and entertaining has yet to be effectively addressed. The argument of this paper is that because of their narrative-metaphorical structure and interactive-immersive potential, story-based video games constitute the quintessential instrument for research on the cognitive unconscious, for exploration of the normative-conceptual levels of culture reflected in the media dream, and for the recovery of human sanity within the Psychecology.

Psychecology is a term that represents a synthesis of unified field theories as defined by psyche-physics—archetype and spin type—(Sharma & Clark, pp 38-39) and applies them to the mapping of an a priori territory. Alfred Korzybski (1931) pointed out, "the map is not the territory." Korzybski's dictum is cited as an underlying principle employed in neuro-linguistic programming where it is used to signify that individual people do not generally have access to absolute knowledge of reality, but only to a set of language-based beliefs they have built up over time, about reality. The phrase has come to encapsulate the view that a metaphorical representation of a concept is not the concept itself.
However, for the purposes at hand, the narrative-metaphorical map may be used to simulate the “territory.” The DNA “map,” star maps, and cognitive framing maps have proven so accurate that they constitute recursions of the isometric “forms” resident in both map and territory. Such recursions of isometric form exist in SBGs between levels of computation (software) and image projection. It is hypothesized (Schafer) that this recursivity constitutes a veridical relationship between unconscious and conscious dimensions such that SBGs can simulate the theatre model of Global Workspace theory, the Jungian Psyche, and the relationship between conscious and unconscious states that exists in all cognitive models that employ narrative-metaphorical framing. Game simulations could, therefore, access veridical data relative to unconscious states with the use of standard contrastive analysis and Jungian amplification methodologies.
The Media Dream is the symbolic, semiotic, metaphorical map projected from a culture’s collective unconscious in the form of its media content—particularly film, television, the Internet, and video game. Our hypothesis is that, just as the narrative-metaphorical patterns in a dream can be analyzed to afford insight as to the psychic condition of a patient, the narrative-metaphorical patterns in a culture’s media dream can be analyzed to afford insight as to the psychic condition of a culture. Moreover, SBGs can be used in the analysis of the media dream as well as the amplification processes employed to reframe the cognitive unconscious of a culture’s people. In Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972), Gregory Bateson pointed out that understanding the “territory” depends on some representation, and that no matter how carefully it is measured, a map is ultimately a retinal representation—not the territory itself. However, in the same volume, Bateson observes that the usefulness of a map is not necessarily a matter of its literal truthfulness. Rather the usefulness of a map depends on its having a structure analogous (for the purpose at hand) to the “territory.” SBGs have the structural-representational capability to simulate the territory.
For the purposes at hand, the media dream—like Jungian dreams—is subject to analysis by virtue of the analogous narrative-metaphorical structure shared by images in the collective media and images in dreams. In a classical sense (As it is above, so it is below.), Jung understood that the collective psyche (both conscious and unconscious) has recursive relationship with the individual psyche, and the “forms” (electromagnetic) of the personal and collective unconscious (archetypes) are likewise recursive with dimensions of the personal and collective conscious as projected in the symbolic (living) images of dreams. It is with this understanding—an extension of the theatre model---that the dynamics of dream analysis may be applied to both the dreams (hypothetically, the individual’s chosen media content) of the individual microcosm and the collective macrocosm.
The cultural influences of advertising, statistics, polls, and propaganda are illustrations of the collective dream principle as well as of the cognitive framing potentials latent in the media dream. Within the unified field context of Psyche, the narrative dimensions of dream images (dramatic unities, place, time, dramatis personae, exposition, peripety, lysis, premise, purpose, etc.) also exist in the collective dream-field as portrayed in the media dream. For an illustration of how premise can be structured and subjected to the amplification process in film, please refer to “Premise: The Key to Interactive Storytelling.” (Schafer, 2007) Also, the importance of characterization has been reviewed extensively (Freeman, Glassner, Gard, Meretzky, Chandler, et al.), the significance of the hero’s journey as plot (Dunniway, Bates), and the significance of the psychologically immersive connection between player and avatar is gaining momentum.
Story-based Video Games (SBGs) constitute simulations of the a priori territory expressed as veridical a posteriori projections of the energies of psyche-physics (archetype and spin type). Research increasingly validates the age-old axiom that the human reality is dream-like. Whether we consider epistemology from the standpoint of physics, psychology, perception, philosophy, history, communications, or alchemy, the human sense of reality is an illusion in which purpose begs to be recognized, understood, and applied. The narrative-metaphorical structure of SBGs is analogous to all existing cognitive research models.

SBGs can be employed as a research instrument for accessing data consistent with all existing cognitive models. Theoretical and operative synchronicities based on linguistic principles of narrative-metaphorical structure exist among primary cognitive models: Global Workspace Theory (Baars, et al), the Jungian Amplification Method of dream analysis (Jung, Jacoby, Schafer, Broodryk, et al.), and Neurobiological Framing (Lakoff, et al.). Story-based video games have narrative-metaphorical structure, are interactive, and have affective-immerse impact on players within the parameters of the theatre model.

The framework for synchronizing the theoretical dimensions necessary to link physics with psyche by way of language and cybernetics has already been established. (Foster) A paraphrase of Dr. Foster’s valuable work does not do it justice, but his logic relative to the emergence of meaning out of chaos is argued in his concise treatise, The Philosophical Scientists. Essentially, his argument relates to the way that pixels afford shape, shape affords context, and context affords meaning. Like the ancient philosophers, Foster employs the metaphor of the human body to establish a context for discussing the recursive meaning latent in the structure of metaphor. He employs Whitehead’s organic hierarchy (electron, atom, molecule, organic molecules, cells tissues, organs, organic systems) to illustrate the correspondences between the atomic-molecular level of the human microcosm and the atomic-molecular levels of the cosmic macrocosm. Accordingly, he provides mathematical proof (the law of specificity) that refutes any idea that life occurs by random chance, links physics with biology, and proceeds to relate atomic shape to the shape of letters and to the increasingly complex arrangements of words and grammar that lead to meaning. Dr. David Foster, who did pioneering work on the cybernetic law of negative feedback control and “look-ahead” control, integrates the unified fields of psyche-physics. Without theological or religious predilections, he bases his conclusions on purely mathematical and scientific grounds. So doing, he paints a cybernetic picture of ontology in which god (Psyche) exists and is the Master Programmer. It is within this context that SBGs may be considered the quintessential medium of a media age.

Psychecology Games could be designed to simulate the complex dynamics of narrative-metaphorical framing, affective symbolism, and interactivity (recursion of isometric form) experienced in dreams. Because narrative-metaphorical framing appears to be a dynamic shared between SBGs and dreams, SBGs become analogous to dreams as to their appearances, affordances, and dynamics. According to this analog, the computational dimensions of the game = the cognitive unconscious, the symbolic projections on the lighted stage of the game-screen = consciousness, the gamer who is interactively immersed in the kaleidoscopic play of symbols on the screen = the dreamer. The play of symbols may be understood as narrative architecture. (Jenkins), and a player’s responses may be understood to be a combination of conscious and unconscious input based on percept and affordance. In a discussion of this phenomenon, Soergaard says, “According to Gibson,” an affordance, “is independent of the actor’s ability to perceive it.” (Soergard; Gibson; Norman) In this context, player immersion = the affective influence of archetypes on the gamer-dreamer. Interactivity = conscious-unconscious player response to computationally projected and computationally recursive narrative-metaphorical symbols. Finally, winning insight on the part of the gamer = healing insight (as to meaning) on the part of the dreamer.

Based on synchronicities in the fields of physics, psychology, neuro-biology, and cybernetics---the design of the Psychecology Game as simulation of the cognitive psyche is feasible. Foster’s brief survey of the Cambridge Club provides a good beginning. It includes discussions that include: the universe as the thought of a mathematical thinker (Sir James Jeans), mathematics and logic are identical (Bertrand Russell), organic mechanism (Alfred North Whitehead), and sums up in the words of Sir Arthur Eddington, “The stuff of the world is mind-stuff.” (Eddington) Foster remarks that, “Jeans tightens up Eddington’s rather vague mind-stuff proposition by suggesting that reality is centred around symbolic data as a general interpretation of what we mean my mathematics. This implies that the mind-stuff has specific forms or what we call symbols, including numbers and letters,” and their permutations. (Foster, p 27) Jungian scholars have written extensively about the affective symbolism in film (Broodryk, et al.), and the affective use of symbols is being increasingly addressed by the game industry. (Freeman, Jenkins, Emsense, et al.)


Jung observes that, “Disruption in the spiritual life of an age shows the same pattern as radical change in an individual.” (Jung, 1933, p. 202) Though such an assumption may sound strange to the modern Western mind, its veracity has both mythic (As it is above, so it is below.) and scientific (fractals, DNA, holography) dimensions. I note this because the recursive principle is central to the argument of this paper. The scientific applicability of the Medieval metaphor known as the Great Chain of Being has been well established beginning with Alfred North Whitehead’s hierarchy of being. (Whitehead) The metaphor can be understood as applied in the entire structure of the modern electronic media that is based on Fourier transforms and the permutations of light.

It is precisely an assumption of recursive metaphorical relationships and connectedness that integrates psyche-physics in modern scientific thinking. Western culture employs this mathematical dynamic extensively, applies it to technology, but does not translate the findings of fact to dimensions of values, morality, and law. In these sociological realms, the implication that thoughts and feelings are energetic and have influence on the unified field of energy is poorly understood and largely ignored. Human unwillingness to appreciate the tangibility of thought and feeling is an outdated notion of the rational-material age. Blindness to the scientific fact has led to the extraordinary perversion of human technological expression and to the increasingly psychotic episodes we witness on the nightly news. Because the human brain and mind seem to be structured according to the metaphorical principle, it is the current mandate of science to research the collective unconscious and to apply its findings to social design. Research on the cognitive unconscious and the collective unconscious is critically important in our contemplation of cultural sanity.

Cognitive models are subject to research using SBG research instrument. Theoretical and operative synchronicities based on linguistic principles of narrative-metaphorical structure exist among primary cognitive models: Global Workspace Theory (Baars, et al), the Jungian Amplification Method of dream analysis (Jung, Jacoby, Schafer, Broodryk, et al.), and Neurobiological Framing (Lakoff, et al.). Story-based video games have narrative-metaphorical structure, are interactive, and have affective-immerse impact on players within the parameters of the theatre model, contrastive analysis, and the amplification method.

A gamer makes choices based on partially conscious and partially unconscious impressions (Jungian sensation/intuition) relative to perceptions of symbolic elements on the game screen. The screen constitutes a lighted stage that is a veridical projection of unconscious computational levels. Interactivity is a component of both dreams and SBGs. Like dream images comprised of “living” symbols as defined by Jung, game images comprised of percepts and affordances elicit responses by the player. Dreamer-gamer responses resonate to the conditions and frameworks of their cognitive unconscious, and such “conditionalism” is an important aspect of successful Jungian therapy.

Dreams, games, and (of course) real life take place within a unified field of energy—a fact of physics that has been understood for some time, but rarely and ineffectively applied to such critical realms as education, medicine, or law. Already, serious games research has focused on substantive healing at both physical and emotional levels. Industry research is already probing the nuances of thought-controlled and emotion-controlled games—the interface between the energy of affective thought and physical forms. I am suggesting that the research process can be facilitated by using SBGs to collect data relative to the archetypes of psyche. As a dreamer responds to dreams from both conscious and unconscious dimensions, an SBG gamer responds from both conscious and unconscious psychological dimensions to the “living” (energetic) symbols that constitute the image. For these reasons, SBGs can be formatted computationally to simulate Jungian functions of Psyche as well as Jung’s amplification method of analysis and treatment. Amplification is akin to contrastive analysis and the framing dynamics of the cognitive unconscious. Accordingly, experimental design using SBGs can be articulated to track neurobiological pathways in the cognitive unconscious of the player and to associate these pathways to archetypal libido. (Jung’s libido is defined as life energy. The term is not applied—as did Freud—only to sexual energy.)

Data derived from this tracking process can be employed to calibrate a restructuring of neurobiological pathways according to sane principles of narrative framing defined by George Lakoff as the Nurturant Family Metaphor. (Lakoff) SBGs could be designed as analogs of the Theatre Model in which contrastive analysis could be employed to research the narrative-metaphorical framework of the cognitive unconscious and the narrative metaphorical archetypes of what Jung defined as the personal and collective unconscious. Such restructuring of personal cognitive-neurological pathways would have impact on the content and quality (value intensity) of the collective energy field. Though research on cognitive frames is already extensive, in order to achieve optimal benefit from cognitive reframing in cultural and global dimensions of psyche, the accumulation of neurobiological data could be expanded to incorporate Jungian principles and methods of psychological healing. (Of course, Jungian amplification is not the same as Psychoanalysis.)

Such healing would hinge on the authentic calibration of narrative-metaphorical symbolism (as related to research in contrastive analysis, framing, and Jungian amplification) with image-based narratives. Such cognitive research would have a tendency to permeate and influence ongoing research as to correlations that may exist within the disciplines of physics, molecular biology, language, and cybernetics. As suggested above, such research could consume an entire age of science and human experience. On the other hand, if we don’t begin immediately, humanity may not survive to see a new age. This may be the mandate of serious-persuasive game research. But when engaging in such research, the first thing to remember is that the potential of SBGs resides in both structure and content (entertainment value). The dimension of entertainment can simulate all the affective, didactic, experiential, psychic potentials of drama and all the narrative-metaphorical potentials of what we define as “real life.”

SBGs designed according to principles of the Theatre Model, narrative-metaphorical framing, and the amplification method could be employed to research the dream dynamics of the cognitive unconscious and to define the healing potentials of cognitive frameworks that are consistent with psychic balance and beneficent decision making. Such healing frameworks could be fostered in SBG game design and applied to global media policy in order to address the media dream. This paper is an introduction to the potentials of SBGs for research on the Psychecology of a media age, for educational reform, and for benign amplification of the media dream.

All of the above-mentioned cognitive models have a linguistic-symbolic basis that can be studied as narrative-metaphorical frameworks. With the same approach used to define such fundamental cognitive frames as the Nurturant Parent Metaphor (Lakoff), the dynamics of Jung’s amplification method could be researched. Resulting knowledge of framing dynamics underlying the Jungian functions of the unconscious could be applied to the computational design of SBGs and SBGs could be applied to both research a culture’s media dream and to facilitate meaningful collective insight relative to right action in a civilized context.

Designing “healing insight” into the associative context of “winning insight” in SBGs could trigger metanoia or collective insight (Markley). In the name of survival, the mandate of contemporary scientific research and contemporary humanitarian action is to redefine human sanity within a unified field of global psyche and to explore the narrative “frames” with which a benign global culture may be articulated. Such articulation facilitated by SBGs could revolutionize educational curriculum, leverage a restructuring of global media policy, and contribute to a collective experience of insight on the order of an epiphany—an apotheosis that affects collective humanity in the same synchronistic way that successful navigation of the “road of trials” affects the hero on the journey.

Since the beginning of the atomic age, among scientific and philosophical thinkers there has been a consensus that a paradigm shift is taking place and they have warned us about the challenges. These thinkers have understood that human ontology goes far beyond rational materialism, but scientific work that did not fit into the patterns of anachronistic materialism were strenuously ignored. The work of David Bohm and Carl Pribram on the holographic model of reality (Talbot), virtually all research on psychic phenomena including the affects of mind-altering drugs (Strassman), even the empirical work of such giants as Carl Jung fell into this category. An entire library having to do with synchronicities in Eastern philosophy and Western science (Capra, Chopra, et al.) was dismissed by orthodox Western pedantry. As we all know, terms like holism or spiritual were laughed out of the scientific lexicon. Jung was one of the scientists who pointed out that rationalist-materialist pseudo-science had no basis in reason or logic. (Jung, 1933)

The Meadows’ Limits to Growth study put a fine point on the challenge and for decades scientist, philosophers, and pragmatists from every discipline have recommended tools and solutions for our use: Zero population growth, peace, educational reform, citizen action, corporate oversight, decentralization and diversification of farming, vegetarianism, animal rights, interspecies communication, small is better, intermediate technology, alternative fuels, mass transit, environmentalism, self-realization, and a myriad of solutions that fit the projections and scientific facts. If these framing tools had been applied, they may have worked to prevent the crisis complex which we face today.

However, after decades of strenuous effort to avert catastrophe, informed observers tend to admit—we humans may not be up to the challenge. The great humanitarian, Dr. Aurellio Peccei who founded of The Club of Rome that sponsored the Meadows study on the Limits to Growth, observed that the only hope of planetary salvation is to create “better people.”

At the time, educated people understood something about the psychological power of propaganda, but—notwithstanding Aldous Huxley—they could not foresee the dangers or the potentials inherent in the media revolution. No one could imagine how the digital revolution would alter human ontology forever. At the time, the most advanced scientists in universities and industry were excited about the potential of computer games for testing alternative scenarios in order to plan our future. With the help of room-size computers, software was developed to digest massive data and spit out computational alternatives to social policy questions. Invariably, the programs addressed only the substantive levels of problems, but ignored cognitive levels.

An excellent paper dealing with the holistic-psychological approach to complex global problem solving was presented by William O. Markley to the International Seminar on Human Unity and published by the Stanford Research Institute. Markley says many important things, but among them he argues that resolution of complex global problems must be addressed at four levels of problem solving: Substantive (applied or operational levels of problem solving); Process (priority, strategy setting problems); Normative (appropriateness and effectiveness of a people’s values, preferences, and goals); and Conceptual (difficulties intrinsic to the way we think, the words we use, our vision or understanding of reality that is dominant in a culture). (Markley, p.3) The use of story-based games as research instruments would address all of these levels of complex problem solving.

Now, standing on the threshold of a media age facing seemingly insurmountable problems and having experienced forty-odd years during which the Internet, PCs, advertising, video game simulations, digital paraphernalia, political lies, and propaganda have become commonplace, a practical possibility for creating better people has emerged. Not only do SBGs have the capacity to access the personal and collective unconscious as defined by Jung but the capacity to access the cognitive unconscious as defined by Lakoff and Baars. SBGs may have the potential to create better people and a sane planetary human culture while addressing all four levels of problem solving as defined by Markley.

It seems, then, that “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Within that spotlight of consciousness the players have, “widespread access to unconscious sources of knowledge, such as the mental lexicon, meaning and grammar. (Baars, 297) Consciousness resides in the percepts and affordances of “living” symbolism that are projected from subjective states to objective states (Jacoby, p 92). Archetypal meaning is embedded in the projected images we call dreams. So, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on…rounded in a sleep,” because “The same part of the brain we use in seeing is also used in imagining that we are seeing, in remembering seeing, in dreaming that we are seeing, and in understanding language about seeing. (Lakoff, 39) Many would concur that reality is a dream somehow generated from the spin types of physics, the archetypal dimensions of Psyche, or the narrative-metaphorical frames of the cognitive unconscious. Now, it appears that the images on SBG screens may be analogous to images in dreams. “Is all our life, then, but a dream?” (Lewis Carroll) This is an idea whose time has come again.
Related Topics

1. The need for a sane approach to the future
2. Structural synchronicities of myth, alchemy, and psyche-physics
3. Global Workspace & the Theatre Model
4. The missing element: purpose & research on the nature of synchronicity
5. The message of the quintessential medium
6. The reality of illusion
7. Healing potentials of interactive narrative
8. Lucid dreaming
9. Subliminal education
10. Mending bridges & the media dream
11. Tracking player feedback to improve game design
12. Expansion of the collective consciousness


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