Note: This is an open letter to Daniel Cook at LostGarden.com. All replies are welcome.
I am responding to your article ‘Shadow Emotions and Primary Emotions‘ which was shared in response to my Twitter inquiry:
@danctheduck Hmm… I’m fascinated. I will write you a blog-letter with my own understanding of what you wrote. I think Jung can help.
— Chris Billows (@Doc_Surge) July 6, 2015
In your blog post, you state that there are two kinds of emotions: Primary and Shadow. Primary emotions come from Games, while Shadow emotions derive from Art. I am not enthusiastic about these labels since you are clearly stating that Primary emotions possesses greater depth than Shadow emotions. Because emotions are not objectively measurable, I am not convinced that its possible to say that one set of emotions is deeper than another.
Labels aside, your insight into the different emotional timbres of Games and Art is worth a deeper look. Through simple observation alone, we see that the act of participating in any game is far different than perusing an art gallery or reading a book. The level of engagement and stake in a game is far greater. But how do these different engagement levels lead to different emotions? You say it is the emotion of mastery found in games that makes them a ‘Primary’ and not a ‘Shadow’ emotion found in Art. I think you are onto something, but need to go deeper.
Games and Art are born of human imagination. They are like two sides of the coin of human creativity, and as such involve emotion. Since emotions are impossible to measure objectively, I think that using them to measure differences between Art and Games is not possible. Instead, we need to use some inductive investigation to explore how Art and Games share common traits and where they are different.
Emotions are feeling sensations that reflect back to us our external world. We experience emotions in our social world, in our thoughts, and in our imagination. Emotions pervade our lives because they are very useful, acting as Geiger counters / temperature gauges in various situations. They help tell us how ‘hot or cold’ something feels. So when the temperature is right, we feel comfortable to proceed ahead.
Emotions are useful, but it is important to know their limits. Emotions may act as mine detectors but are terrible compasses and cannot give us directions like a map, as they belong to the realm of sensation and energy. It is this very same energy that ties them to C.G. Jung’s concepts of ‘Complexes & Archetypes‘.
Jung proposes that being conscious is only a small part of who we really are, individually and collectively. Based on the map listed below, we see that Unconsciousness pervades across both Personal and Collective aspects. In the realm of Personal Unconsciousness, lie our Complexes which are engaged through our emotions and identity. In the Collective Unconsciousness, lie the Archetypes that also engage us through our emotions and calling us to purpose. Because both Art and Games are manifestations of human imagination, the Unconsciousness is engaged and manifests in the medium that pulls us. This is why dreams bring with them imaginative ideas, poems bring inspiration, coincidence bring anxiety, and so on. The Unconsciousness is the engine of our creativity and imagination.
Art borrows heavily from the building blocks of Archetypes, such as religion, mythology, and stages of the human condition. We see this practiced in literature and movies by their use of well worn tropes, which are a kind-of artistic short hand. Many Games use these same creative short cuts since they too use narrative and symbolic signposts. This is part of the common ground of Games and Art, in addition to both coming from imagination and containing emotion.
The emotion we experience with Games and Art is so instant it almost mimics a survival instinct. Yet, this powerful emotional connection (attraction or rejection) is only that, and does not provide a narrative behind its existence. As I said earlier, emotions are very poor compasses which is why we need a map or guide to begin understanding what they are pointing to. Thankfully, Jung provided such a guide to help build our capacity to become more understanding.
Jung called the process of becoming conscious of our unconscious aspects: ‘individuation‘. The term was pretty technical and is usually confused with the concept of individualism. Jung made the process more romantic by tapping ancient wisdom traditions and associating Individuation with the proto-science of Alchemy. To become conscious of our complete selves, including our unconsciousness, complexes, and archetypes is as magically transformative as turning lead into gold!
Jung used Alchemy to represent individuation because both needed a discipline that required trial and error, creative problem solving, and pure persistence. Fascinatingly, such behavior is also found in Games (and also in the creative-artistic process as any Artist will attest). This becomes where Games are distinct from Art (not the Artists themselves), because it is in their very nature that players are invited to simulate transformation. Games are unique because they manifest Jung’s Alchemy and allow players to practice individuation.
As players, we affect change in a Game’s simulated world. It is there we practice transformation without taking risks with our actual selves. A game’s mechanics will mimic transformation through such examples as: Leveling of character in a RPG; Completing a word in Scrabble; Rolling the needed combination in Yahtzee; Making a choice in a Twine adventure; Performing a tactic in Chess; All are simulated alchemical transformations. All are found in Games!
Even within Gaming’s negative aspects, where trauma and toxic behavior are common, we are presented an opportunity and workbench to practice Alchemy with the Shadow Complex in ourselves and others. Because Games are a playground, there is a risk for injury, especially if some choose to ignore rules. Games can be an ugly media because they engage with unconscious complexes, but this is all part of the alchemical transformation that allow us to become aware of, and ultimately make friends with, our repressed and neglected Complexes.
Games is a friend to Art, as Art is a friend to Games. They are companions, but are different and so possess a different emotional timbre for reasons that are complicated and Complex. It is with thanks for your insightful blog post that inspired me to further explore Jung and to write this response.
With warm regards, Chris
“One of the most difficult tasks people can perform, however much others may despise it, is the invention of good games.” – C.G. Jung