If you’re of a certain age, you might not know about the on-line multi-player video game, League of Legends. I don’t have much of a clue about it, but Google informs me that 27 million people played it daily last year. I’m sure that number is higher now.
On a recent drive with my son, he shared his fascination with the structure and strategies of League of Legends. I got a bit lost in the jungles and turrets and pathways and minions, but the offensive-defensive seesaw that accompanies a quest for power is absolutely familiar. It’s at the centre of many of our games and stories; we’re watching a public version play itself out in the current slurry of political posturing…
When we got home, I watched over his shoulder for a few minutes. Wow: so much speed and light and activity—it was anxiety-inducing chaos for me. But my kid? He was all the way in there, predicting different players’ decisions and responding accordingly. He was quick and intense, but still relaxed.
He had explained to me that players in this game can easily get surprised or rattled. In LoL lingo, they go “on tilt.” (I laughed out loud over that—what a perfect expression!) It’s fascinating to me that creating emotional overcharge is built into this game’s offensive strategy, but of course it makes sense. Players “on tilt” aren’t as formidable in battle. They stumble or retreat or become aggressive. They don’t think clearly or act strategically. One player “on tilt” weakens a whole team, because the collective’s creativity is diverted to recovering from a player’s rash moves and restoring that player to good judgement.
But at the same time, we’re all looking for some charge, right? My son, playing that game, is energized and excited. For him, his pleasure in the game is partly about being able to maintain equanimity when the voltage is high.
I think a similar thing is happening when we head out to concerts or dive into great books. We want to surrender to our capacity for feeling, whether that’s rhythmic charge or the drama of love or loss. We want tilt—it lets us know we’re alive!
I have a theory that art actually helps us experience the falling away of our identity, a release from the work of managing who we are and how we present ourselves to the world. When we have a powerful experience of art, we allow ourselves to be inhabited by another sensibility, another framing of time and space and meaning. When we read, we can become a paranoid boy or an angry woman or a zombie or an elephant. When we go to a jazz club, we can give over to the tempo and timbre of the music pouring into the room. When we wander through a photo gallery, we can interrupt the relentless narrative in our heads and sink into fragments of colour and shape.
In a way, all of these experiences put us “on tilt”—we are not ourselves, not fully in control of our strategic minds. But at the same time, we are charged up by encountering the complexity of the world and developing our capacity to be at home in it. With practice, we become familiar with big feelings, and learn to be more easy in their company.
Equanimity in balance with intensity: to me that sounds like the Good Life.