02.Dec.2011 The Taoist Experience of Geometry Wars 2
I have a confession. The closest I have ever come to having a religious experience occurred last week. While playing Geometry Wars 2. Specifically, the Pacifism mode. I decided that any game that can provoke such a response is probably one worth looking at in further detail, so let’s dive in.
Tao means “way”, but it can more specifically be thought of as flow of energy through the universe. Ok, so what does this have to do with Geometry Wars 2? I’ll back up and describe Geometry Wars 2: Pacifism (just Pacifism from this point on). To understand Pacifism, you have to understand what it is not (man, that sounded very Yodesque). Standard Geometry Wars (regular, Retro Evolved, Retro Evolved 2:Evolved) has the player zipping around as a little ship shooting varying geometric shapes (purple pin-wheel, blue diamond, green square, etc.) each with it’s own quirks. The goal is to destroy as many shapes as possible while not dying. Pretty simple. Pacifism subverts this formula by removing the ability to shoot; however, there are gates (no idea if this is the standard nomenclature, but it’s what I’m going with) that will destroy all enemies within a certain radius if the player passes through them. When I first played Pacifism and discovered that the ability to shoot had been removed I thought, “Ha, that’s cute. Can’t shoot == pacifism. Oh well, back to killing blue diamonds.” I was an idiot. I was wrong.
Here’s where we get to the tao of Pacifism. Pacifism isn’t about killing blue diamonds. How could it be? The name is pacifism, the embodiment of non-violence and non-aggression. It was childish of me to think, “Can’t shoot == pacifism,” as there is still plenty of room for violence and/or aggression even without the ability to shoot. No, Pacifism IS pacifism. The tao of Pacifism is PACIFISM. The only way to truly succeed at the game is to reject the idea that you are killing blue diamonds. So, if you aren’t killing the blue diamonds, what are you doing?
“inherent character; inner power; integrity”
You are maintaining your integrity. One step further, you are finding your place in the Pacifism universe and acting according to your way. Simply put, you are surviving. The way to success in Pacifism isn’t to view the blue diamonds as your enemies. Rather, they are your dance partners, your allies, your obstacles. But not your enemies. This isn’t to say that they won’t die. They will. And you will be the one to bring it about. It isn’t an act of violence but a symbiosis. Their purpose is to die to raise your score, you are helping them realize their purpose in the universe by bring about their end. It is an act of mercy, or perhaps a release, not an act of violence. It is like saying that reaping wheat is an act of violence. The wheat is grown for our sustenance. As the wheat must die to sustain life, so too must the blue diamonds die to sustain your existence (and your score). If the play in Pacifism is simultaneously a sowing/reaping and a dance, then how does one actually succeed in playing the game well?
For the sake of this post, think of “wu wei” in the context of “wei wu wei” i.e. action without action, or rather effortless action. Read the story of Cook Ting here before moving on.
Done? Well, TL;DR for those of you who can’t click on a link:
Cook Ting is amazing at cutting up an ox. He is amazing because he knows the way of the ox’s body. He is able to effortlessly cut up the ox. Because his cutting without resistance, he never has to sharpen his knife.
Particularly, I want to focus on this quote, “I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.” What he describes here, is how one succeeds at Pacifism. You follow the natural makeup, find the hollows, avoid the obstacles. If you do this, you find success. If you see the game as a flow of energy, a shifting of negative space and positive space, it becomes a simple affair. You go where the game demands that you go and it is effortless. Watch this video to see what I mean.
He moves with effortless precision. Despite the sheer number of things on the screen, he finds the hollows, moves to them, and follows the way set out for him.
If the path to high scores is so simple, then why is it so hard?
Once more I ask you to ignore the definition and think of “pu” as a passive state of receptiveness, the ability to see things as they truly are. As you saw in the above video, there is a lot going on. Lots of bright glowing things. Lots of sparks flying around. Lots of gravity distortions. Just a whole hell of a lot of stuff. All of it is there to distract, confuse, and confound. Its sole purpose is one of obfuscation. To make the game harder to play. Watch how in the video when he triggers a gate, he will dart in, collect the geoms (glowing green things) and avoid the diamonds, despite the fact that a metric ton of particles are flying around and gravity is going crazy. He is able to look past these distractions and see the game for what it is. This is one of the hardest things to do in Pacifism. But this is only level 1 of “pu” in Pacifism. Next level “pu” is the ability to act without ego or fear. See how close he gets to obstacles. If he had any hesitation, he would be killed. He is able to clear his mind and see that being right next to a blue diamond is no different than being across the screen from it. So long as you aren’t touching the diamond, it matters not where you are in relation to it.
Hopefully, I have conveyed my thoughts cogently on the brilliance that is Pacifism.
I apologize if I got a bit flowery and religious studies 101 on this.