Inception: Reality Is Not a Game

This is going to sound like a stretch to you, but it’s not: Inception is about video games… kind of. While the primary theme of the film had something to do with reality and love (I’m sure Adam can tell you all about that), the movie actually had a fascinating subtext that’s relevant not just to those who play video games, but anyone who partakes in any kind of media, whether it be television, film, or books. Inception is about reality, and how it can be changed and altered by the media around us – and how we let it.

First, let’s look at some of the signs: constant references to “levels”, a need for a “level designer” who is essentially a virtual architect, the fighting with numerous faceless enemies, the need to accomplish a specific goal at the end of every level, the selection of weapons taken directly from “Call of Duty,” and the snow level, which depending on who you ask is either a carbon copy of the Nintendo 64 game, Goldeneye’s snow level or the snow level in Modern Warfare 2, complete with snowmobile chase.

These references aren’t mere easter eggs for gamers, but are instead signals that declare the relevancy of the subject at hand. As in most sci-fi films, the premise isn’t merely a fantasy concoction, but an acknowledgment of a current or imminent reality. There is a key scene in which we are introduced to a basement full of about forty old men who we are told spend their lives in the dream world. When asked whether they should be spending their time neglecting reality, the man who orchestrates their dreams responds, “This is their reality. Who are you to say otherwise?”

While the rest of the movie explores the key question of what constitutes reality, and the importance of living within it, it’s that scene that demonstrates the relevance of such a question. The scene brings to mind people who spend most of their time with their World of Warcraft guilds and make claims like “These are my real friends!” when confronted. But the problem isn’t isolated to those people we have deemed to have gone “too far,” or mediums known for a excessive use. Whether it’s immersion in a video game, book, television show, or film, we live in a world saturated with opportunities to escape reality.

Even if we don’t spend most of our day immersed in these worlds, it’s still possible to view them unhealthily. If we merely find safety, refuge and relief in our media – if we prefer false realities to real ones – we risk sinking deeper and deeper into a state of being out of touch with the real world and everything within it. Already, it’s happening. We grow bored easier, not just with boring meetings or hard work but with difficult relationships and mundane tasks. We expect more out of life, not because we require more, but because we are used to observing more in our dream-worlds, which just happen to be displayed on screens and read about in books. We desire profundity around every corner. We want to save the world. We want to know that we matter.

Unlike the world of Inception, the danger we face isn’t so much that we will confuse reality with our dreams. Instead, it’s that we’ll allow our dreams to warp our perception of reality. These stories can be nice. They can be illuminating. They can be convincing. But reality is truth, and it should never be willfully abandoned for the sake of a story. After all, the best way to take in a dream is to stay lucid.

About Richard Clark

Richard H. Clark is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He has a Master of Arts in Theology and the Arts from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, Ky. He is also the managing editor of Gamechurch and a freelance writer for Unwinnable, Paste, and other outlets.
E-mail: clarkrichardh [at] gmail [dot] com.
Twitter: @deadyetliving

  • http://waxfamilyprinting.com Kevin Wax

    Great post! You say that the real danger is that we’ll allow our dreams to warp our perception of reality. I’ve seen the movie twice, and I think that is one of the main dangers that is discussed in dialogue between Dom and Ariadne. Your post is very insightful and helpful. I’m not a gamer, so it helped me see the connections.

  • http://spoonfulofhahne.com The Dane

    If we prefer false realities to real ones – we risk sinking deeper and deeper into a state of being out of touch with the real world and everything within it

    I think I might wish to take issue with whatever it is you might mean by false realities. If I understood exactly what you meant by that.

    Without having a concrete understanding of what is meant by your term reality, it’s hard to know whether there’s any real danger here or not. You talk about reality and truth and the warping of reality and the escape from it, but I can’t be entirely sure what you’re talking about there.

    The warping of perception happens continuously and is a part of the human experience. My perception of the world shifts continuously based on the catalysts that prompt me in every moment. Generally these influence coincide well-enough with my established perception, but occasionally these influences are much more powerful in their effects. Still, not necessarily a bad thing.

    I’m just having a hard time seeing where you’re going here.

  • http://www.fellowstream.com Deborah Fike

    I hadn’t made the connection between Inception and video games, but the movie definitely asks a lot of questions about what constitutes reality. I think the comparison lies less with “Inception is about video games” so much as it is about people with an addiction that alters their reality, possibility to the detriment of those around them. People who love drug addicts or severe alcoholics could probably see symbolism in this movie.

  • Ian

    What defines reality? Alterations of perceptions are necessary for the learning process. They allow us to create the world we live in the good as well as the bad. Exploring alternate realities allows us to make the impossible possible and continue to learn allowing us to experience more of the reality we were born into. This exploration of reality and whats possible also allows us to spread life, so just as it is important to experience and enjoy the reality we were born into it is also important to explore the ability to alter reality.

  • Dylan

    I stumbled across your article on a search for a deeper explanation of the symbolism used in Inception. Having read the article, I have to say that I don’t understand what you are trying to say. It just leaves me with questions and doesn’t really provide any answers or insights in the issues you seem to be raising.

    Very confusing. I hope you will find the time to finish the article and add some sort of conclusion – I get lost somewhere in the last two paragraphs.

    Thanks.


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