I’ve been exploring the idea of emotional avatars recently. What do I mean by that? Well, some examples would be our favorite TV show characters, movie characters, book characters, including those in video games. Virtually any fictional or sometimes even actual historical figures can be thought of in this way.
These all represent emotional touchstones – triggers if you will. They do not, in and of themselves, actually possess these characteristics that we attribute to them. They reflect them.
Which means, by definition, if we have any emotional attachment to them whatsoever, it is because we have endowed them symbolically with a certain emotional signature.
In essence, we have decided that each of these individual blank slate images will effectively be the repository of a specific emotional signature of ourselves. Again, the avatar is empty, blank. We fill it with whatever we wish to fill it with (signature-wise), but that avatar is neutral in and of itself.
To better explain the point, let’s take this Star Trek: Timelines game I’ve been playing lately. Now, for context, my wife and I just recently completed watching the full seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix – yes, at her request. I had seen them before of course, and some episodes I’ve seen many times.
Re-watching this entire series tapped deep wells of emotion within me, and watching as my wife discovered this amazing show for the first time, I was also enjoying seeing the episodes from the perspective of a total newcomer.
Now, upon the completion of the final season, I had a palpable emotional release, as if I had just spent a prolonged bit of time with dear friends that I had not seen for decades, and I knew that it was likely going to be many years before I would see them again – if ever.
It was a bit silly if I’m honest, but the feelings were very strong, and very real – undeniable in fact – but we’ll come back to that a bit later.
Almost immediately after completing the series (and having my emotional reaction to losing my “friends”), I found the Star Trek video game app that I began to use to fill this gap left behind within me.
This game is structurally rather simple. “It’s a ‘prettied up’ status bar,“ as my game-and-app-designer brother would say. There’s not much that the avatars can be made to do, action-wise. You select different characters for a mission, which is fairly well described in text, and then chance decides how well they do (which equates to whether or not their status reaches the end of that bar or not).
You can develop selected characters (that you acquire randomly) so as to improve their chances in their next status-bar challenge. (There are some other facets, but this is the game in a nutshell.)
Now why would I be at all interested in spending any time playing this? Because of the emotional energy I have invested in those specific avatars. The game is loaded with characters from all of the different Star Trek shows and movies, and each avatar is an artistic representation of a specific still image of a certain character. There are several different iterations for each character, and most of them, when you click on them, will play one of a few iconic lines that character said during their show.
Through the different involved processes of the game, you find yourself going about the task of “upgrading” your favorite characters from the show. And for me, seeing their images, hearing their recorded voices saying their lines (plus all other laser blast/button push/etc. sound effects) triggers a bit of the emotions that I have endowed these avatars with.
So it occurred to me today, what if these images were of characters I had never seen before from something other than Star Trek? What if it were Hello Kitty, or the Care Bears, or characters from the ridiculously annoying cartoon my three-year-old nephew watches?
What if the avatars weren’t images at all? What if each were simply… a color? Would I play the game then? Would I spend any time at all “upgrading“ lavender or teal?
Obviously not. There would be zero appeal.
So this epiphany began to crack open my perspective a bit more on this front, in a lot of different expressions:
If I wouldn’t play the game without the specific avatars in it that I have invested my energy and my emotion into, then what if I mentally shifted what each of these avatars means to me?
Essentially, what if I were to neutralize them all? Since they are only mirrors of my emotional investment anyway (not to mention being neither real nor sentient), why not reclaim the energy I am still sending to them?
Why not clean up my energetic investment that I’ve been splashing around myself so carelessly? Wouldn’t that energy be better utilized in a focused beam, aimed towards living as the greatest version of myself? Even from a time management perspective, wouldn’t I be better served with a proper investment of my time, my energy, my emotion and my focus into something that could actually create a difference in my life?
But the exploration did not end there.
Where else have I been pouring my energy onto an avatar unnecessarily?
Other TV shows and movies are obvious. The horrendous disappointment that was Star Wars: The Last Jedi was a shining example of another area in my life where I had made a considerable emotional investment in a set of characters. Here I was, paying real dollars to continue following these characters, no matter who was now in charge of telling their story, no matter how upsetting it was to see the direction in which these avatars were being taken.
Why would I even care what some writer or director or film studio did with some figments of imagination? I only care because of my emotional investment in those figments.
Now obviously, taking this a step back to see the bigger picture, it becomes very easy to see why there are still Star Wars and Star Trek movies, TV shows, and games.
It becomes easy to see why there are so damn many remakes, reboots, and sequels.
It becomes easy to see why most movies today that get made come from a “pre-existing property” (books, comics, and biopics of “real life“ stories that “captured the hearts” of so many).
It becomes easy to see why old songs are reused in movies, TV, commercials, and even recycled within new songs.
It becomes easy to see why people continue to adhere to traditions, or religions, or politics, or superstitions, or relationships of any kind, whether they are serving an individual or not: it’s the emotional investment we have endowed these things with. It is the “sunken cost” of our own emotional currency that we have spent on that thing already that keeps us hanging on.
The powers that be – those behind the structures of our society know this very, very well. They know that evoking emotion is the most powerfully useful method for moving the “human herd“ where they like it to go.
Sometimes that direction includes some mutual benefits for us, as in a temporary reward of good feelings of one sort or another. But were those good feelings to become a permanent condition for society, it would immediately become near impossible to sell us anything that we didn’t actually need for survival: movies, TV, Coca-Cola, religion, government – you name it.
And so, if we all work to see where our emotional investment is going as we move through this experience, and we were to play with the idea of neutralizing them, what might happen for us individually and collectively?
Would we care about seeing the next superhero movie if they all had characters we had never experienced before, set in the world we have no previous emotional investment in?
Would we care whether our favorite artist had another album coming out? Would we even have a “favorite” anything at all?
Would we care to continue investing in a political party (“upgrading” red or blue) if at each election, every candidate was a neutral, yet qualified individual we had no previous investment in?
Would we care to measure ourselves and the people we have relationships with against the expectations of our emotional investments in them?
For me, I feel as if I’m seeing a new side to “the game.” I’m seeing an opportunity. I’m not suggesting running through life being neutral to everything and to avoid emotionally investing in anything. Not at all.
I’m suggesting that we select (and choose to maintain) our emotional investments far more consciously. After all, the “meaning of life” is left to us to decide for ourselves. We don’t find meaning “out there” somewhere – we bring meaning to our life as we live it.
It’s fundamentally neutral, set up for us to decide (as individuals and collectively) what to invest in, using the only real currency any of us truly ever own – our lives. We decide the who, what, when, where, and how of our investments. We decide the why.
And in playing with the investments we’ve made up to this point (many of which we made rather unconsciously), we can bring our conscious awareness back into these decisions by making them neutral (even if only temporarily). Then we can make new decisions about whether we’d like to continue them or not, from a bigger picture point of view.
Ready for the bonus round?
So we’ve explored how one could effectively neutralize their own emotional investments. That’s one worthwhile method of reclaiming our energy – but what if we could use what we have already invested in a different way?
Drawing from my own experience, I have found that it can be challenging for me to pour my energy and focus into tasks that I know would lead me in a direction I’d like to go. On the flip-side, as I’ve mentioned, it can be quite easy for me to “lose” hours of time playing a simple video game that happens to make use of avatars comprised of still images and audio from my own personal favorite Star Trek show and characters.
Emotionally, it’s more exciting to spend time with those things that reflect the emotions I’d like to be feeling, rather than those that reflect negative or neutral or challenging things. (Yes, sometimes our wires get crossed, and we choose to spend our energy on avatars that trigger/reflect negative emotions that we’ve invested in them, but that’s another discussion for another time.)
So what if I were to create a game of my own around the tasks I wish to accomplish by using the avatars I already have an emotional investment in?
What if I were to associate a specific avatar that I love to a certain task/area/skill set that I wish to upgrade?
What if I were to associate a Counselor Troi avatar to the task of improving my channeling skill set?
What if I were to associate Lieutenant Worf to my personal fitness regime?
What if I were to associate Lieutenant Commander Data to my task of learning/facilitating new technical skills like formatting my book for multiple digital platforms, or in learning how to record/edit the audio version of my book?
You see where I’m going with this. Any character – any avatar from any area of my life (fictional or nonfictional) I can harness in this way, by redirecting the emotional investment (the sunken cost) I’ve already given it.
The applications of this are endless.
And once I have associated my own pre-invested avatars onto my own personally relevant areas of my life, then any efforts I give to that area, I am now upgrading that character, spending time with that avatar, bettering my relationship with them.
Because they are only mirrors, I am of course only reconnecting with my own specific emotional energy that I have already given to them. By super-imposing a character’s avatar onto an area of personal significance in my life, I can reclaim my energy, and do so in a fun way.
I mean, if we’re going to keep investing in characters/avatars with our energy, why not choose to be the director of their story ourselves (instead of haphazardly trusting others to do that job for us), and guide that energy – our energy- towards only what serve the highest good of us all?