Lecture Notes: Robin Arnott on Meditation & Gaming

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I experienced a rather significant personal paradigm shift after Robin Arnott's presentation "Everything is Boring" at the BDYHAX conference on February 24th, 2019. I have several versions of hand-written notes on it, and have spent countless late nights gesticulating on and on about the premise, so I figured to publish my notes (something between an inaccurate summary and personal comments) and suavely drop a hyperlink any time the itch to transmute this paradigm strikes, instead of acting like this.

The talk focuses on the issue at the center of the wellness-meditation economy: everything is boring. Using a psychological framework from Ken Wilber, it analyzes the wellness economy's own relative "health", and demonstrates that both wellness and successful consumer interfaces have a much stronger connection to passion-based areas like entertainment, music and gaming, rather than mass infrastructure like medicine or workforce training.

Robin: if you're reading this, please respond to my emails – I would love to have access to the slides from this talk. It's great that there's now a video recording available, but I am struggling to find the proper chart images the talk is based on.

Introduction

Arnott is the CEO and cofounder of Andromeda Entertainment, a gaming publishing company focused on titles that draw inspiration from wellness, i.e. games that enrich players lives in meaningful ways, rather than just baiting and distracting them.

He has spoken quite a bit about game design as a mechanism for transcendence, but this talk focuses on Ken Wilber's Integral Theory – a psychological theory that can be used not only for understanding oneself and the people around us, but also understanding trends in culture learning how to aid the psychological developments of culture at large.

Integral Psychology

Arnott believes one of the main issues with health technologies and the way we treat our bodies is it that it can be pretty joyless, boring and uninspiring. Analyzing current paradigms of health technologies, health economies, and our relationship with our body as a whole through the frame of Integral psychology offers some not-so-boring steps forward.

integral theory map
Figure 1. Ken Wilber's Integral Psychology theory map.

Figure 2. "Stages of Consciousness" map.

Arnott highlights three color-coded stages as separate paradigms from each of them:

Have you ever lied?

Let's say, you tell some huge lie, for example you have been cheating on your partner and you don't tell them the truth. What are the consequences of this lie? How does it make you feel? How much does it affect other decisions you make? Your entire life becomes predicated on this one lie. You lose confidence in your decision-making and your actions. You cannot build a life on top of a foundation comprised of a lie.

Medical Economy

The medical economy operates on the social lie that the medical system has the answer to overcoming death. The orange medical system maintains the lie that YOU SHOULD NOT DIE.

Medical Gaze

This argument reminds me of the "medical gaze", the practice of objectifying the body of the patient as separate from their personal identity, coined by Michel Foucault's in "Birth of the Clinic", which interrogates the dehumanization foundational to modern medicine, as well as the reasons why the scientific advances in medicine and healthcare have not succeeded in abolishing sickness and resolving the problems of humanity.

The green paradigm in the wellness economy

The wellness paradigm of meditation apps with their condescending "nudge" notifications, "should"-ing you, is also predicated on a lie. It condescends and infantilizes users under the false pretense that SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH YOU. You need to "get better". If you miss a day, you are a failure. Your habits are pathologized when they do not serve the app's interests of high user engagement and retention.

Now, how often do you pick up your phone to use a self-improvement app? How much time per day do you spend on this app category? There's mounds of UX research showing that this app category does not perform well in the screen time olympics. But what apps do you gravitate towards when you want to feel better? Spotify. Candy Crush. Snapchat. Tiktok.

Have you ever gone to a concert & felt spiritually transformed?

UX as Infantilization

Arnott's focus on "condescending infantilism" reminds me of Jesse Baron's essay "The Babysitters Club".

The teal paradigm in the next economy of health

The next economy of health is based in joy and transformation. Body - Mind is an expression of Truth. Music, entertainment, and socializing are healing economy models. They do not have a "should quality and your soul is open to them.

medicinewellnessthe new economy ??
identityindividualpluralistic global data point in a large databasespirit
achievementsystematizationaccessintegrated wisdom
relationship to the bodymechanicalpurging traumamaladaptive body patterns begin to dissolve