Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Zynga’s Woes, Freud’s Literary Nose, and Playing Psychological Games

Those of us not following the Fiscal Cliff chatter were paying requisite attention to Zynga’s end-of-the-year announcement outlined on TechCrunch that the company would be shuttering eleven games, or pulling them from the app stores or not accepting new players to PetVille, Fishville, Forestville and others.  The constituents not in mourning could be found on the Zynga site bashing executives for producing a series of me-too, copycat games that were destined to die on the corporate vine when the blue-suited, cost-cutters came to town.

Others, more emotionally invested in the notion that family connections can even extend to fictional creatures who populate the rugged digital landscape, expressed outrage that Zynga killed their pets or, at the very least, did not give them time to download lovable Spot.  One gamer with no obvious ironic intent advised fellow players to only get open source pets and run them on their own servers.   The family who had time to dress their pets in PJs and bunny slippers and apply a little lipstick to their cheeks was the decided exception.

From a psychological point-of-view the jury is still out on the effect such imaginary pets has on the real lives of individuals.  From my study of psychology, I think such projection, play, and creativity is healthy and, short of us all becoming Spot, necessary.  The late Dr. James Hillman, a psychologist, writes in his Healing Fiction how we are constantly exposed to a pandemonium of images and from these come our art and our sanity.  In this context, Zynga might or might not be a helpful partner.

I have long been amused by Freud’s acknowledgement in 1934 that his job was “to translate the inspirations offered by modern literature into scientific theories.”  After all, Freud won the Goethe Prize for literature and not the Nobel Prize for science.

The notes Freud took while famous patient Dora told her life story on the couch behind his back became a case history.  The style in which the father of psychology actually wrote these case histories was literary and, by the author’s own account, they were closer to dramatic stories than scientific fact.  Or in the vernacular, they were fiction, which doesn’t mean they weren’t true.   Modern psychology owes more to literature than to science, as every parent who has been involved in the Oedipal wars already knows.  

Dr. Hillman, one of the most original thinkers in this field in the last fifty years, extends Freud, differentiating between case history and soul history.  The case history is a biography of historical events.  The soul history spontaneously invents fictions and “inscapes” without major outer correlations; it is reported best by emotions, dreams and fantasies. The case history presents a sequence of events; the soul history is about imagination and play. 

I have looked in vain for Dreamville, the ideal original, finding rather a company that sells hoodies inspired by a 1950's cartoon about dream chasers.   But no sectors, even our nighttime dream and fantasy worlds, are safe from SEO.  The online Dream Dictionary has identified 5,300 dream keywords that to date have at least 20,000 possible meanings.  The Dictionary has only scratched the surface of our collective unconscious.

Dr. Hillman has warned us about this attention to the literal and about assuming every image or dream has a one-to-one correspondence to events we experience in daylight.  In his words, the difference is between image as presence and image as presentation or between symbol and allegory.

Nonetheless, even with this psychological proviso, there might be a way for a prospective new Zynga venture we’ll call DreamMe that marries the essence of crude SEO mapping with the personal, interior landscapes of our psyches revealed in dreams, nightmare, fantasies and similar niceties.  This is not a stretch.  I note that Dreamvale, available on iTunes, is a perfect dungeon crawl involving four players and six levels.  I could envision a similar dungeon crawl, for example, based on Carl Jung’s Psychological Types that would enable you to find your true Self.   If that is not demanding enough, how about a dungeon crawl through Jung’s world of alchemy and encounters with the sleeping king, the wild man,, and Hermes, among others.  I should advise that these figures represent projected psychological conditions and killing the monster means we are putting the shadow sides of our psychology behind us.  In other words, the Gamer grows up.

In the meantime, until developers seize on these very pregnant and free business ideas, there’s always Dream:On, the app for those who want no more than to dream of strolling the countryside, flying, or lying on a sun-drenched beach.  It’s as simple as that.

Spot can be summoned at will.

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