#MrBree: Instructing the basics of #neuroscience through video #games



{Posted as #rgmooc week 8 co-op}

Our brain is admittedly a highly sophisticated organOne of its core functions is the human ability to store chunks of information – roughly up to 7 “items” at a time – storing them either in our short term memory or better yet our long term one. A successful input of information is not an automated process; we have rather trained ourselves, using various helpful strategies in order to achieve what we sometimes take for granted: preserving memories. But why is it that we forget in the first place?

Scientifically, experts indicate either neurological or psychogenic (Dubuc: 2005) types of amnesia. Suffering a severe head injury might lead to irrepairable brain damage, thus rendering crucial parts of the brain – such as the hippocampus – disfunctional or entirely useless. On the other hand, there seems to be the case of Mr. Bree. Suffering a psychological trauma, such as intense fear, stress or perhaps a life threatening experience might escalate to a broad memory loss, despite the fact that there is “no detectable brain injury or brain malfunction.” (Dubuc: 2005) In this way, people seem to lose what is called their “episodic memory“. (Dubuc: 2005)

Mr. Bree (2012) is found in the forest, illustrated as a cute, anthropomorphic pig, sweating in agony, for he cannot seem to recall who he is or why he is there in the first place. Throughout the game levels, Mr. Bree is talking to himself constantly (personal, human-like countermeasure to his predicament); his thoughts depict his inner struggle to connect all the dots as to why this is happening to him. The first fifteen levels of this platformer game are appropriately called “bad memories“. Managing to finish one level adheres to a certain brain part being restored, through clever player feedback. Levels 16 to 20 are the notorious “Butcher” levels, designed in a scarlet pallette to match the gore. Game mechanics do allow for spots within the level, where one can go back to should one fail, without having to go through the level all over again. Similarly, humans combatting forgetfulness form points of reference that are familiar with, to facilitate the sense of comfort and awareness.

In his effort to understand what is going on, Mr Bree embarks on a fictitious journey through the forest where violent spikes and flying sharp metal objects threaten his existence. It should be noted that game difficulty progresses gradually. Everytime the player completes a level, Mr. Bree learns a new move or is reminded of something pertaining to his personal life. In either case, Mr. Bree’s monologue attempts to resurface what happened and eloquently draws comparisons between his past life and contemporary state, violence being the key link here.

In accordance to psychological treatment of amnesia, the patient is indeed forced to invoke the painful memories that lead to his / her current state of mind. The secret, however, is to attach those hurtful memoirs to realtively unrelated symbols in order to ease and soothe one’s psyche. Recent research suggests that being under psychological pressure anew actually enables the brain to behave in this way. Based on conducted experiments by Fenton and colleagues, Rachel Jones (2010) observed that:

“…stress can reactivate unrelated memories that are stored outside the hippocampus and render them labile through a mechanism that requires the hippocampus […] in humans, traumatic stress might reactivate non-traumatic memories and link them to the traumatic memory, thereby facilitating the pathological effects seen in post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions.”

Therefore, one must gradually submerge into the subconscious, if one is to discover the initial source of blockage; hence the psychoanalysis retrieves information from a person’s past similarly to levelling this particular video game. Indeed, it turns out, that Mr. “Pig” was actually about to fall victim in the hands of a merciless butcher when he miraculously managed to escape in the forest. Treading the forest pathways, Mr. Bree reenacts his way to the slaughterhouse one step at the time, putting together the missing pieces of the puzzle.

Mr. Bree could be considered as a substitute for any nameless victim of psychogenic amnesia. Stressing over obstacles is a homeopathetic way of acummulating information on his individual, agonizing past and coming to terms with stress related amnesia. If so, one can honestly hope that progressively even the worst state of degenerative dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease will eventually become itself a bad memory in the not so distant future.

Works cited:

Dubuc, Bruno. “Types of Amnesia.” The Brain from Top to Bottom. N.p., n.d. 2005. Web. 19 July 2013. <http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/i/i_07/i_07_p/i_07_p_oub/i_07_p_oub.html&gt;.

Jones R (2010) Stress Brings Memories to the Fore. PLoS Biol 8(12): e1001007. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001007

Mr. Bree – Returning Home. Online PC game. Kongregate. Vers. 1.0.35. Taw Studio, 13 Feb. 2012. Web. 18 July 2013. <http://www.kongregate.com/games/TawStudio/mr-bree-returning-home&gt;.

Optional assignment: The Modern and the Postmodern {Coursera / Wesleyan}

Optional assignment: Compare at least two of our thinkers on the possibility of “coming to terms with the past.”  How do they understand the importance of understanding history or memory?


Defiance of memory against time in art


Coming to terms with our past denotes huge emotional strength, which at times humans fail to exhibit; letting go is a hard thing. Nostalgia according to a popular universal law is one of the most powerful aspects of life. It is in our history and memory where we find things were much better, more proper.  However, reminiscing the old hides the danger of failing to accept what’s innovative and new. How are we to attain progress if we insist on inhabiting the past? Prominent literature figures like Virginia Wolf and Charles Baudelaire have spent extensive amount of their work exploring issues arisen as regards memory and history.

It is hard for the average fiction reader to follow Virginia Wolf’s “stream of consciousness”. It is like we are sucked in the very minds of the protagonists, trying to follow their chain of thought and their inner preoccupations; at the same time a plot, perhaps insignificantly so, unfolds.

In “The Lighthouse” [3] we witness the symbolic depiction of the sea as a figurative metaphor of time. The beautiful calm sea turns violent and waves come crushing to the shores, much like time abruptly brings about change.  Woolf is talented in visual description: what we see is also what we should try to perceive.  The second chapter exhibits strongly the devastating alterations that come to pass within a ten year bracket.  Recounting the deaths of Prue and Andrew Ramsay, Woolf’s sentences become few and short. Symbolism again dictates that their deaths were either violent (war victim) or unjust (during childbirth); either way time causes premature loss. Mrs. Ramsey’s death is also indicative of untimely departure, leaving Mr. Ramsey almost helpless and unable to continue his philosophical research.

Near the novel’s conclusion Lily finally gets to finish up the painting she started ten years ago (again the past is echoed). Can art be our only consolation of stability in an ever-changing world? Lily contemplates: “nothing stays, all changes; but not words, not paint.” The forces of time may be unrelenting; neither Mr. Ramsay’s philosophy nor Mrs. Ramsay’s social gatherings were able to preserve memory. However art seems, according to Woolf, to be able to attain our experiences, meaningful moments of our lives.

Charles Baudelaire was also a man, whose art was meant to capture the fleeting little precious moments of life “for art is long and time is brief «as he suggested.  In his prose – like poetry he deploys symbolism and images taken from the “modern” urban boulevards of 19th century Paris. Again visual imagery – much like in Woolf’s writings – plays a crucial role in evoking nostalgia and intimacy for the past, as a true Romanticist would attempt.

Two of the poems in Baudelaire’s “Paris Spleen” [1] are mainly focused on the poet’s views concerning the passing of time. ‘Enivrez-Vous’ (“Get drunk”) calls for intoxication and indulging in life’s sinful pleasures. Time flees quickly and change comes in the form of death. So in turn men must seek ways to “Get drunk! Stay drunk! On wine, virtue, poetry, whatever!” if they do not wish to end up “martyred slaves of Time”. Art and pleasures again can save the day and push back time’s decaying omens. The poem “Already” – in French “Deja” – poses a puzzling riddle for the poet. How is it that in all its power, nature cannot save the humans from mortality?

Time seems indeed devastating and unbeatable. Yet memories of the past and even the sweetness of the present can be preserved through the medium that these two predominant artists know all too well. Literatures, poetry, paintings or whatever the ancient Muses inspire keep the past intact as time runs with incredible speed, stampeding everything in its wake.

Shakespeare once wrote a sonnet [2] explaining that yet another force is able to stand against the menacing Time: true love. The beauty of art and love transcend time, providing mortals with immortal values. As the years pass, rest assured we will still enjoy the writings of Baudelaire, Woolf and Shakespeare. Such is the power of memory in the arts.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved. 

(Sonnet 116)




  1. Baudelaire, Charles: Le Spleen de Paris. 1869. Web. Retrieved 6th May 2013 from http://baudelaire.litteratura.com/le_spleen_de_paris.php#.UYeb-LWeOSo
  2. Shakespeare, William: Sonnets.1609. Web. Retrieved 6th May 2013 from http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/116.html
  3. Woolf, Virginia: To the Lighthouse. 1927. Web. Retrieved 6th May 2013 from http://www.polyglotproject.com/books/English/to_the_lighthouse










The Modern and The Postmodern 4th assignment {Coursera / Wesleyan}

ESSAY PROMPT 2: Describe how two of the following thinkers make use of memory or history in their work: Baudelaire, Nietzsche, Freud and Woolf

Memory serving to the hyper-ego


                Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud offered society an array of ground-breaking thoughts and stimulated philosophical discussions that constantly raise substantial debate.  To draw comparisons between these two figures or highlight their differences would be most challenging for a scholar; thus it might be of benefit to focus on one emerging commonplace in their works, namely that of history and / or memory.

Civilization and Its Discontents by Freud sheds light to the very first psychoanalytical attempts and the theory surrounding the continuous present struggle of the human nature against our past primal instincts in the name of social conformity. On the Genealogy of Morality by Nietzsche the origins of moral infringements and how these evolved to modern-day prejudices are traced. Specifically, the second essay depicts through the explanation of punishment the infamous “will to power”.

Freud suggests that the power of memory and “preservation in the sphere of the mind” is infinitely stronger as “in mental life nothing which has once been formed can perish”.[16]In fact, he borrows evidence for his assumptions from historical archaeology; the Roman Empire’s past is well preserved amidst ruins and scattered remains, beneath all the modern buildings. [16-17]And yet how is it possible that the same piece of land holds both worlds? How are we to distinguish between a church and the ancient temple upon the latter was built? “If we want to represent historical sequence in spatial terms” Freud remarks “we can only do it by juxtaposition in space: the same space cannot have two different contents”. It seems that for Freud even the history of a glorious city such as Rome fails to provide room for the simultaneous existence of memory and modernity. According to Freud the true grounds, where the past is preserved and can be traced back is the human mind. Only there he concurs “is such a preservation of all the earlier stages alongside of the final form possible, and …we are not in a position to represent this phenomenon in pictorial terms.” [18]

The dominant power of memory and the past emerges in the work of Nietzsche as well.  In the second essay, we find the following statement:

Indeed, there is perhaps nothing more fearful and more terrible in the entire prehistory of human beings than the technique for developing his memory. “We burn something in so that it remains in the memory. Only something which never ceases to cause pain remains in the memory”—that is a leading principle of the most ancient (unfortunately also the longest) psychology on earth. We might even say that everywhere on earth nowadays where there is still solemnity, seriousness, mystery, and gloomy colours in the lives of men and people, something of that terror continues its work, the fear with which in earlier times everywhere on earth people made promises, pledged their word, made a vow. The past, the longest, deepest, most severe past, breathes on us and surfaces in us when we become “solemn.”” [p.3]

Nietzsche insinuates a paradox occurring in modern era. Man is plagued by guilt and “bad conscience”; in his hour of solemnity and remorse he feels the past as a burden, our ill-doings stay with us just like the eternal torment of Sisyphus.  Nevertheless, the past and its people were not regarded as solemn but on the contrast “cheerful”! Through the transaction of “punishment” – freed of all moral repercussions – one could ease the pain inflicted upon him by simply punishing the culprit or redeeming oneself to his debtor. Things were simple in historic times.

Both scholars were considered beacons of thought each in their own time respectively. Nietzsche witnesses the fallouts of the Industrial revolution whereas Freud picks up a lot of similar ideas during the First World War timeline. In both cases, the memory and past serve as liberating forces; Nietzsche’s tribal God-mode opposite the Freudian “oceanic feeling” of wholeness. Intriguingly so, none seems to base those claims on data or empirical analysis; their historical references seem to serve such a purpose; yet one considers their notion of the past a somewhat personal view, elevated strictly on the premises of philosophical theory.    

Works cited:

Freud, Sigmund: Civilization and Its Discontents New York: W.W. Norton (1961)

Nietzsche, Friedrich Genealogy of Morals, essay 2 Leipzig (1887)