Having now examined “Mental Breakdown” as a term within a mindmap, I further narrowed the topic down to four more interesting and researchable terms: Escapism, Terror, Insanity and Existential Crisis. During this research post I will further examine these four subtopics and then pick the most interesting or thought provoking one to continue with.
“The tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.“ – Oxford Dictionaries
When I began researching escapism, one of the first major points I came across is how prominent it is in real life. Videogames, for example play a large part in escapism, as people a lot of the time play them to become a different character (in-game) and so escape their reality, perhaps because it is a difficult or unwanted one. An example I then found in media that related quite well to this perception of escapism was the novel and subsequent movie Ready Player One.
The premise of the story here is that in the not too distant future humanity used up all of the fossil fuels on the planet, subsequently causing a global energy crisis. This combined with a ridiculously high rate of overpopulation caused a massive recession and economic collapse, and as a result a lot of people now live on the streets or in the Stacks, a dangerous, vertical attempt to combat overpopulation by stacking caravans and trailers on top of one another. A large percentage of people don’t have jobs, and the ones that do work for a massive corporate entity called Innovative Online Industries, who aren’t exactly known for being nice. So as you can see, it’s a pretty bleak existence and as a result the OASIS was then created, a virtual reality universe where you can go anywhere and do anything. Understandably, people then flocked to the OASIS and used it as a way to escape the grim reality they were faced with.
Escapism forms a large theme in Ready Player One (both in the novel and the movie) and it resonates particularly close to home , mainly because running out of fossil fuels and overpopulation are two ever growing problems in real life, and it’s not completely out of the question that the events of Ready Player One could occur in a similar manner in real life. Using games to escape reality is already a thing, and it’s not that far a reach to think somebody one day might invent an incredible one like the OASIS. Certainly I know if it was invented I would be one of the first in line to use it.
The idea of escapism then is an interesting one, largely because of it’s thought provoking capabilities. Just thinking briefly about it here my mind starts brimming with ideas for stories or game mechanics, and so I would definitely say it’s a good starting point for further research.
“Extreme fear.” – Oxford Dictionaries
Now terror is an incredibly interesting term, even just by it’s name. It even sounds scary. And terror isn’t just fear, it’s a level above that. Terror is when you’re so utterly scared you can’t even move. That’s why it’s interesting. it’s worse than scary, worse than horror. It’s the highest level of afraid that you can possibly be. So naturally when I took a closer look at this term one of the first things I came across was the novel The Shining, which is highly regarded as one of the scariest and indeed best horror stories ever created.
Having read it myself a few years ago (that was an experience), I found the way it uses suspense to be the primarily source of inducing terror (i.e. slowly building up the amount of creepy things that happen or that the characters do), although I must say the movie adaptation was far scarier than the book. This though is fairly obvious, as it is much easier to scare someone with visuals and sound than it is with words on a page. Stanley Kubrick’s rather masterful directing combined with the horrific score by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elking makes for an incredibly scary movie, and like the novel it builds terror primarily through a slow pace, carefully introducing more and more horrific elements (such as the blood in the elevator or the tricycle scene) as well as gradually showing Jack slipping into insanity until terror reaches peak levels towards the end of the film (where Jack goes on his iconic axe-wielding rampage).
During further research concerning terror within The Shining I came across a short academic paper about the subject (see here) and it was very interesting to see that the author agreed with a lot of my points and even went further with a few of them, citing specific moments in the film’s score where the music really takes the terror to an entirely new level.
“What’s more in the film we are often startled by music and noises and by their use. To give some brief examples, during the title sequence, Jack’s journey to the Overlook Hotel is accompanied by the disquieting rearrangement of a piece from the Fantastic Symphony by Berlioz.” – Elisa Pezzota, Translating Terror In The Shining
Diving deep into what really makes terror here (and where better to go than the scariest literature ever created) was an intriguing journey, as it helped me to really narrow down what it is that makes certain things scary. For example, in The Shining it was the combination of eerie music with sudden and horrifying events, and similar approaches are taken with a lot of horror narratives in order to induce fear in their audiences. As a potential deeper research avenue, terror is definitely an interesting topic, although I fear not as deep perhaps as other words in this research post. Certainly, I have found out a great deal about it by revisiting The Shining and seeing what makes terror work, and it’s there I find myself coming to a bit of a creative standstill. The next logical step would be to make a game where I have scary music and jumpscares, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a game but right now near the beginning of research I feel more avenues should be explored first. Terror is a bit of a jump to the end, and I would rather stick to the beginning for now.
“The state of being seriously mentally ill; madness.” – Oxford Dictionaries
The idea of insanity immediately starts a lot of different idea generations, branching off into dozens of directions. There’s a lot you can do with that word, as well as a lot of connations that come with it. While researching it however, I decided to stray slightly away from the mental condition directly, and instead look into the idea of insanity conveyed through artwork. This was primarily because I found several articles and links right off the bat when researching the word that pointed directly to using art as a medium of conveying the condition, and I found that idea intriguing. How could you do that, just painting insanity? What colours would you use? What style of brush? How would it all fit together? These were just some of the questions that came to mind, and I also thought that if I could see insanity within an image, it would give me a clearer understanding of what the word really means, and how I could perhaps apply it to further research or even a game idea.
Diving deeper into this idea, I found that the most famous and certainly most revered of the not entirely mentally stable artists was none other than Vincent Van Gogh. He spent many years battling his mental illness, and unfortunately because in his time they did not have the means to either diagnose nor treat his condition he subsequently died from it (More information and paintings can be found here). It is thought (although never completely proven) that his paintings also reflect his mental state, and so I chose two of them that I thought were the most interesting as well as perhaps the most reflective of him as a person.
Take a look at his painting here entitled “Tree Roots”, for example. The way he uses bright colours and simple yet effective brush strokes makes for a visually striking and indeed thought provoking image. This method is also used somewhat in the painting below, entitled “Wheatfields With Crows”. The way Van Gogh uses bright colours and manages to convey a lot of emotion (take a look at that beautiful night sky below) in his painting intrigues me, and given how serious his condition was it is hard to believe that his artwork wasn’t affected by it. Certainly there are odd and interesting elements in both pictures (for example, the blue tree roots above and the huge flock of crows below). Perhaps, what we are seeing here is insanity in painting. Or indeed, perhaps not.
Certainly, the idea of using bright colours and intriguing elements within the art to reflect insanity is an incredibly interesting one, and something that could definitely be taken forward as a game idea or deeper research avenue. There’s a lot you could do with it, and it’s definitely unique.
Existential Crisis –
“When an individual person starts to question their entire existence and questioning if being alive even has a point or if it’s all pointless.” – Urban Dictionary
An existential crisis is quite an intriguing concept. One of the fundamental questions asked by humanity as a whole is: “What is our purpose in life?”. Given that no particular answer has ever been given without doubt, a lot of people have difficulty assessing where they should go or what they should do in their lives. Sometimes it even goes so far as to cause an existential crisis, where the question starts to heavily impact their daily lives and they become depressed or try to change their lives significantly to try and find meaning. A large part of why religion as a concept became so popular is that it appears to answer the existential question, by introducing the idea that “God” has a plan for each and every one of us. Whether this is really true or not (and it could be, perhaps) also can have an impact on a person’s existentialism. While researching this condition, I also found that using existentialism as a base point rather than the specific crisis yielded a lot more interesting results, including it’s definition:
“A philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.” – Oxford Dictionaries
The basic meaning of this word as a philosophical theory is that humanity is not bound by actions or events in the past, and that they can essentially do whatever then want in the present and are “free agents”. This idea also seems to crop up considerably in media, and the example I found most interesting is the movie Interstellar.
In the film, humanity is facing it’s end as the Earth is slowly being rendered uninhabitable by dust storms and environmental catastrophes. Most of humanity has resigned itself to the idea that Earth is their end, and that when it fully dies so will the last of the human race. The main character Cooper and NASA however have different ideas, believing that their is indeed a future for the human race amongst the stars. The tagline placed on the posters for the movie highlight the existential elements of the film quite well: “Mankind was born on Earth. It was never meant to die here.” It suggests that humanity needs to let go of the past and so of Earth, essentially letting go of whatever is holding them down and becoming “free agents” as the definition of existentialism suggests. I also found a film review that dives rather interestingly into the themes behind the movie, which can be found here.
I watched the film for this research, and honestly found myself almost having an existential crisis from just the ideas that the film generates. The idea of leaving Earth and never coming back, the idea that humanity might have a destiny amongst the stars, or that we just need to forge our own path, and most importantly the idea that nobody is going to save us, and if we are to survive we must save ourselves. Interstellar is very hard hitting in the way of existentialism, and particularly in raising questions about it. The score by Hans Zimmer is a highlight, not just for it’s uniqueness, but because even just through it’s music the film can get you thinking. How the score didn’t win an Oscar, I do not know.
Back on topic, I find existentialism an incredibly interesting idea to take forward research-wise. It has such a broad research spectrum (think about all you could find about it!), and even just thinking about it for a few seconds generates so many ideas, for both game mechanics and story elements alike. Existentialism is definitely worth at least thinking about taking forward.
Having now looked deeper into “Mental Breakdown” by mindmapping and coming up with subtopics to do with the overall idea, I find myself at a bit of a crossroads when deciding which word to take forward as the first of the four words to present to my peers at the end of week three. I initially really liked Escapism, and had my heart set on it as soon as I watched Ready Player One (I have also read the book about a year ago). Terror was interesting but nowhere near as good research avenue-wise (I also didn’t want to be locked into making a scary game just yet), and Insanity just didn’t intrigue me as much as Escapism. I thought I was pretty much all set until I began researching Existentialism. It is such a thought provoking and very intriguing topic, and I found myself absorbed by it for a while. Watching Interstellar and reading definitions and articles about the idea as a whole, I found myself asking more questions and thinking up more ideas than I had for any of the previous three words, and so I knew in my heart of hearts that Existentialism was the one to take forward. I liked Escapism, but it was sorely beaten.