Tuesday, 19 July 2016 22:14

Games To Play Coming Down From Your Favorite Psychotropic Substance

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There's not a insignificant amount of time after any encounter with the more powerful plant teachers, when you’re filled with nervous energy, but the other, more desirable effects have all but left you. Whether you value entheogens for their recreational or spiritual uses, this jarring transition can put a huge damper on the experience. With the amount of thought that goes into set and setting for the beginning of psychedelic experiences, you’d think there would be just as much focus on getting something out of the tail end, as it is an excellent time for reflection. While I find myself more and more attracted to nature during my brushes with the otherworldly, and feel that the potential of most psychedelic substances is wasted on video games when their effects are in full swing, I’m starting to see the value in using games to aid the transition back to reality.

The trick is finding the right game to end your experience. The come-down can be both valuable and harmful to your journey depending on the substance you choose, and I find pairing it with the right title can spin the entire ordeal positively while subverting all of that manic euphoria into something entertaining. So, naturally, I’ll be drawing from my experience in both areas to suggest some games that go well with various substances to aid the transitional periods of the trip, that you may not have thought of.

Mescaline cacti, in addition to being my plant of choice, are by and large the gentlest natural psychedelic, and offer a far more emotional and cerebral character than the plants made psychoactive by chemicals in the tryptamine family. The return to cognitive normalcy is markedly more smooth than other traditional entheogens, and you tend to remain much more functional and aware under the influence. Any game you play when ‘sobering up’ is going to be an experiential aid rather than a distraction or mental analgesic. It pairs best with a game that offers emotional or intellectual content, as well at least some mechanical or puzzle solving challenge, which makes Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons a near perfect fit.

Brothers is a narrative rich puzzle platformer that tells one of the most compelling stories in video game history, using emergent gameplay and environmental interaction, without a single line of dialog. The head space that psychoactive cacti provide put you in a position that will let you uniquely appreciate the mechanics and story of this title, as it offers just enough of a perspective shift to make this game more effective, without affecting your spatial reasoning, making the game too difficult to enjoy. The total play time fits in well with the overall arc of a mescaline trip, letting you pack the full run time of Brothers into the last few hours that mark your transition to sobriety. Not only that, but with a price tag of fifteen dollars, brothers will likely cost less than a third of what you paid for your mescaline experience.

Honorable mentions: Bastion, Kairo, Firewatch

 

The unstable little brother of ayahuasca, magic mushrooms will plunge you deep into a relentless torrent of shifting unreality on a dosage dependent basis. The one seemingly persistent characteristic of any encounter with these fantastical fungi, though, seems to be the massive residual stimulation they deliver far past their visual or mental effects. This manic restlessness starts building towards the end of the visual stimulation, and sometimes refuses to leave for hours after your experience. It follows, then that you’re going to want a game that transitions well from the spatially charged, otherworldly nature of mushroom consumption and curtails that electrical nervous boost after the distortions and internal mind games start to subside. There’s one title that hits such a stride in this niche that I don’t think I’ve ever recommended it outside of this context, and it’s called Gravity Rush.

Gravity Rush subverts typical action platformers in a way that uniquely suits the fucked up mental state mushrooms can leave you with. The main character fights, platforms, and solves puzzles by manipulating gravity. Combine this strange mechanical structure with fluid animation and satisfying, tight controls, and an art style that screams 'surreal dreamscape' and you get the perfect distraction from, as well as outlet for, all of that electric mushroom stimulation.

Honorable mentions: Dive Kick, Amaterasu, The Stanley Parable, Element4l

 

This substance, while most definitely offering a worthwhile experience, is a strange beast to characterize. You’ll find yourself in a uniquely empathogen headspace somewhere between Mescaline and MDMA, with intense, decidedly inorganic feeling visuals that seem to affect your physical faculties more than mental. The emotionally in-touch, but non-stimulating and close-to-reality environment it offers makes more traditional fare more appealing, with a slant decidedly towards exploration and novel experience. That’s why I recommend you try A Story About my Uncle coming off of this substance.

This Indie exploration platformer offers up a unique universe with a very dream-like visual language, and the best swinging and acrobatics mechanics in a game since Spider Man 2. The story, while it takes a backseat to the gameplay, offers a very engaging if somewhat off the wall Bildungsroman in an unfamiliar world, and the strange blending of the two suit it well to the strange blend of stimuli that 2C-B offers.

Honorable mentions: Grow Home, Slime Rancher, Vanishing of Ethan Carter

 

LSD can be a deeply introspective substance, and lends itself more than the natural psychedelics to exploring the darker elements of the psyche. Arguably less recreational than most other psychotropics explored in this piece, I recommend pairing this game’s come down with something somber and cerebral. This may seem counter intuitive, but I guarantee you’ll get more from the experience with a game like Playdead’s Inside.

This game can be most easily and simply be described as a higher-rent, better executed Limbo. That isn’t a stab at Limbo's execution or merit, either. It evokes a feeling of aloneness and subjects the player to an existential, barren dystopia that uniquely elicits self-reflection. While my first thought was to recommend MoBD, the full experience isn’t yet available (though a compelling demo is), and Inside arrives at a very similar emotional landscape, albeit using very different methods.

Honorable mentions: Memories of a Broken Dimension (in development,) Kholat, Transistor

 

Aldous Huxley wrote about his mescaline experiences in the 1954 essay, The Doors of Perception. If it can be said that Peyote opens these doors, then Ayahuasca rips them from their hinges and unceremoniously drop kicks them into a wood chipper. Experiences with this tribal preparation are short, incredibly intense, and flatten your ego like a Tienanmen Square protestor. Coming out of an Ayahuasca fueled psychedelic romp is like putting a puzzle together with your family, that is, if the puzzle pieces were your psyche and you didn’t recognize any of your immediate relatives.

Games here serve as an ablative for the panic inducing realizations that you encounter when you’re getting out from under the influence of something that makes you forget who you are and where fit in in the universe. We can strike anything with strong narrative and character interaction off of the list, as they just feed the flames, and anything with direct real world context for the same reasons. What you need is a game with plenty of audiovisual stimulus, and a complete lack of things that remind you that your identity is being fed back to you piecemeal. For this reason, I recommend Audiosurf 2.

It’s visually pleasing, interactive, and comfortable by virtue of sourcing your pre-existing music library for its stages. It’s got enough going on to pass the time while your sense of self returns without challenging the parts of your headspace that were blasted into another dimension, and the music gameplay is a nice distraction.

Honorable mentions: Rez, Spate, Geometry Wars, Super Hexagon

 

Two Words: Desert Bus.

Jokes aside, those of us who have had the misfortune of taking these drugs thinking they were something in the lysergamide family, know that the experience is exhausting, lasting far longer than a psychedelic has any right to. They also offer massive central nervous system stimulation; the latter twelve hours or so of the experience become almost a chore as you wait for sobriety to return to you. The amphetamine component of these substances lend themselves to repetitious activity, and you need a game that whittles down the long road back to reality enough to be bearable. We’re talking about a real time sink, and one that holds your attention with a high skill ceiling and unforgiving gameplay. There are only a handful of titles that tick all of these boxes and manage to keep it up for ten to twelve hours, and the best one for the job, in my opinion, is Dark Souls.

The difficulty, nice balance of exploration, story, and visually distinct environments, will keep your focus on the game and beating it rather than the mental exhaustion and crushing fatigue coming to you in the near future. The obsessive nature of these drugs’ stimulating effects lends itself to this style of game, and Dark Souls helps alleviate all of the negative aspects of the come down from these psychedelics.

Honorable mentions: Dwarf fortress, Stellaris, Elite: Dangerous

Games fill a strange niche for enhancing the psychedelic mindset. Many find them to take away from the core experiences here, but I continue to argue vehemently in favor of their utility as an aid in coming back down to earth. They can ease the transition, help with reflection, and offer stimuli that color the other components of a trip quite nicely. I can’t recommend enough that people try incorporating them into their next contact with the transcendental.

Published in /Gaming
Twila Froude

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