There’s a good post over at ‘…and what will be left of them?’ by Phil Knight that talks about Gurdjieff’s concept of “sexual energy”, which is similar to Freud’s concept of the libido. Like Freud, Gurdjieff thought sexual energy could be used to pursue non-sexual goals (Freud called this process displacement and the result sublimation). What Gurdjieff considered an abuse of sexual energy was using it to fuel the activities of the “thinking centre” (philosophy, science, politics etc), the “emotional centre” (religion, abstinence, asceticism etc) or the “movement centre” (sport and other planned physical activity along with a tendency to “create various records”). When sexual energy was used to fuel these activities it created “a certain particular vehemence, and together with it, the USELESSNESS of the work in question. Neither the thinking nor the emotional nor the moving centres can ever create anything USEFUL with the energy of the sex centre. This is an example of the ‘abuse of sex’”. Knight humourously uses the truly useless Guinness Book of World Records as the perfect example of this.
Last night I was trying to complete some of the trials on Lords of Shadow. Some are pretty easy, but others are enragingly difficult; working against the clock, one false move and you’ve failed, that sort of thing. It’s very easy to see the desire – the need, it feels like – to complete this kind of challenge as being fuelled by sexual energy.
It’s also very easy to see the uselessness of it. Not the simplistic dismissal of reading books, watching movies, listening to music, playing sports or playing videogames as a “waste of time”, but useless in that it is undertaken stubbornly and for nothing. It’s difficult and not pleasurable and the reward is next to nil. It almost feels like we try to complete these aggravating tasks in videogames just because we’ve already started.
Really the only reason – apart from “because it’s there” – is to get on the high score list, or make every achievement thumbnail visible. This is exactly the same impulse behind gaining the record for “Largest collection of ‘Do Not Disturb’ hotel signs” or “Heaviest weight pulled with eye sockets”. It’s painful and pointless but you did it! and that’s it.
What is interesting about The Guinness Book of World Records – and Knight points this out in his post – is that it was founded and maintained by the McWhirter twins, who held right-wing Libertarian ideals. (As the Guardian obituary for Norris puts it, “He was also a fighter for ‘personal freedom’ causes – which almost always turned out to favour the political right.”) It’s a neat fit: an ideology that emphasises individual freedom and achievement, no matter how destructive or self-defeating, and a book that could stand as a monument to such things.
It almost sounds like I’m about to blame my inability to complete videogame challenges on them being too “right-wing”! Of course personal goals are valuable, despite how much that sounds like management-speak. The problem with the sort of tricky videogame challenges I’m talking about (the game version of “Okay, now do it using your eye sockets”) is that they aren’t fun or interesting; they make me angry and that anger is useless, impotent. At least North Korean gymnasts are working themselves to death for the pleasure of their “glorious leader”. Who or what do we do it for?