In which Beat Saber does odd things to my head

21.16, Tuesday 31 May 2022

I’ve been playing a bunch of Beat Saber recently. It’s a VR rhythm game – you wave your controllers, one in each hand, to hit blocks as they zoom toward you along a track like you’re tied to a music stave made out of lasers. You (in virtual reality) have a red light saber in your left hand, and a blue light saber in your right.

Meanwhile: electronic music.

(The other game I have been playing a bunch is Walkabout Mini Golf which is (a) super zen in single player, and (b) in multiplayer, AWESOME for taking meetings. Walk-and-talk is genuinely the killer app for VR.)



Albums should be released with a Beat Saber edition.

Or maybe not quite a dedicated edition? I doubt the market could stand it. Like: part of me would like to see music released for Beat Saber + Peloton + Strava, like the way tracks used to get pre-released on national radio to build hype (does that still happen?). But maybe more realistically, perhaps Beat Saber should have a built-in podcast app and AI-generated patterns that are semi-challenging.

The attentional environment of the 20s is wild compared to the 90s. I remember when multitasking became the norm. Ha. And then 14 years ago I wrote:

2008 is the year we hit Peak Attention. You can either carry on encountering as much as you do now, giving every input less and less attention every year, or you can start managing it, keeping some back to take long-haul attention flights. What are the consequences of living post-Peak Attention? Nobody will be able to understand anything hard unless they make sacrifices.

(All the links in that post are broken.)

So there’s not a chance in heck I can listen to a whole album now, end to end. I can barely get to 90 seconds checking out a track on YouTube, and that’s after skipping the first third.

But maybe, if everything except my audio cognition was totally soaked, eyes body senses all occupied and novelty-baffled and saturated, maybe - just maybe - I could then focus on new music for a whole 74 minutes?


When I play enough Beat Saber I swear I can feel my hemispheres decouple.

One hand is doing one thing, the other another, no cross-talk. After a while I go fully automatic and I get to take a little step back. Hey left arm, look at you doing your thing.

Games which allow for the population of selves to appear.

I remember this from my days doing public speaking. At my best (which was rare) I had three selves – one doing the speaking, another super tuned into the audience reaction, and a third one step removed.

And for so long these selves could persist, avoiding the wavefunction collapse back into a single personality.

I feel like in our modern era there is an over-fixation on engagement and being in the moment – which feel like two aspects of the same elephant to me, one that app developers pursue as something to be inculcated in audience, not just response but habit, and the other than we attempt to attain for ourselves.

BUT MAYBE: what are the good sides to disassociation? When is, I don’t know, “simultaneous fugue” (to invent a term) an adaptive trait?

Brenda Laurel on “engagement” in 1993. 1993!

In the foregoing discussion, engagement was held up as a desirable–even essential–human response to computer-mediated activities. Engagement has cognitive components, but it is primarily understood as an emotion. Why should we demand that all human-computer activities elicit this particular emotional response?

Yeah, we shouldn’t.

So maybe in pursuit of engagement, and focus, and flow, we miss other virtues. For example: the quiet beauty and unusual satisfaction of settling into ennui. (It is FULFILLING to spend a night vaguely irritated watching movie trailers on streaming services, unable to settle on anything, otherwise we wouldn’t invest so much of our time in it, and if only we could admit that to ourselves then we could factor out the guilt, experiencing it instead in a pure fashion. It is the same feeling as the rich have, being perpetually bored and cool, and the French. This is the closest you or I will get.)

Let’s stick with simultaneous fugue.

What I’m imagining is a series of games that train me to hold multiple competing concepts in mind at the same time.

Perhaps, if I can operate my left and right hemispheres simultaneously but separately for an whole new-albums-worth of time, if only I play enough Beat Saber, I can hold (for example) the contradictory frameworks of capitalism and socialism in mind for long enough to imagine a whole new political philosophy, and thereby save the world.


If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it by email or on social media. Here’s the link. Thanks, —Matt.