(This post was originally an article in Lilipoh)
Almost a year ago, I read Jane McGonigal’s New York Times bestseller, Reality is Broken, published in 2011, not simply for its provocative title, but also for its insider’s take on the social phenomenon that is online gaming. In her book, she argues that reality is broken most specifically because it appears, unlike video games and games in general, to have no design; in essence, it appears to provide no ready-made meaning:
“Reality is too easy. Reality is depressing. It’s unproductive, and hopeless. It’s disconnected, and trivial. It’s hard to get into. It’s pointless, unrewarding, lonely, and isolating. It’s hard to swallow. It’s unsustainable. It’s unambitious. It’s disorganized and divided. It’s stuck in the present” (348)
Almost immediately upon reading this, the iconoclast and poet in me began to wonder whether reality, as McGonigal here defines it, might in fact have been designed as a sort of game and if it had been, what perhaps is its purpose? If its purpose is exactly what it has achieved – we are naturally assuming hosts of good designers – and we know, with the help of McGonigal and thousands of social scientists some of what it has achieved (depression, hopelessness, isolation, etc.), why such a purpose? And as I thought more about this vast game of reality, I realized that its achievements were less fundamental building blocks of experience than symptoms of something deeper.
This something deeper the founder of Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, identified as human freedom, not so much its actuality, as its potential. In Steiner’s estimation, the purpose of our time, which he located in what he called the Consciousness Soul Age, is to achieve freedom. To allow for the development of human freedom, Steiner said many times during his life, that the spiritual world has ceased exerting direct influence on human beings – we have been left to our own devices, but not, as Jean-Paul Sartre claimed, entirely abandoned. Indeed, the spiritual world is longing for us to reconnect with it and is indirectly supporting us to do just that. It wants each of us to participate in and create a new, more full reality, but will not at all coerce us into doing so. All of the symptoms that McGonigal identifies in her book Steiner and others, such as Owen Barfield and Jean Gebser, have used to describe the human experience during the Consciousness Soul Age. In a certain sense, human evolution, according to Steiner’s conception, is a game of cosmic proportions designed to achieve, or allow for the development of, human freedom.
This past April I gave a talk on the contemporary hero’s journey at the Impulse Festival at White Feather Ranch in Placerville, California. In my talk, I used the example of a young woman in England, Jessica Thom, who has created an alter-ego called “Touretteshero.” The goal of her project is to celebrate “the humor and creativity of Tourettes Syndrome, without mocking or self-pity.” Basically, she has taken her so-called disability of Tourettes and re-imagined it as her super-power, her verbal tics becoming an essential part of the performance art of her life. One of her central aims is to help young people with Tourettes find a more empowering and creative relationship to their syndrome/superpower. What Jessica Thom has achieved is to me the most important step on the contemporary hero’s journey. She has taken a potentially depressing and hopeless situation, one in which we might think of reality as being broken, and transformed it into something wonderful and beautiful. At some point in her life, she chose the Herculean task of reversing her relationship to a part of herself which I imagine she originally wanted to reject, and then she integrated it into herself, and continues to do so. She realized, consciously or unconsciously, that it’s not reality that is broken but our relationship to it. And to achieve freedom – not as I said a given – involves healing that relationship. To reverse and integrate is the free work of today’s heroes.
This free work is not, however, only to be done individually and in isolation – it necessitates supportive communities of others doing their own free work. On her website, Jessica Thom wholeheartedly acknowledges the support of her friends in launching and sustaining the Touretteshero project. It is just such a supportive community that I am planning to launch in 2013. My vision, embodied in The Freehoodship, is different from Thom’s, but includes the same goal of doing the free work of reversal and integration. The grand plan of those of us in The Freehoodship will be to design a game for 2013 with a series of creative and fun missions that will best help us transform ourselves, our communities, and our relationship to the earth. I imagine these missions will involve personal development and study, interventionist art projects, culture creation, as well as joyful service of many other sorts. Participation in The Freehoodship will be entirely free, whether one functions on a given day as student or teacher, worker or artist. I have chosen 2013 because I’m hoping The Freehoodship will be a sort of healing chronopuncture in the new cycle of time that begins then.