I’ve been playing a lot of Spelunky lately, and the more I play the more parallels I see with Buddhist practice. The Four Noble Truths form the core of Buddhist and are the framework of Buddhism.
One of the first things that any player realizes in Spelunky is that life is suffering. You throw yourself endlessly to your own doom. As you continue to play you come to realize Damsels, Dude-sels and Pug-sels, Cavemen, Shopkeepers, and even lowly spiders, snakes and frogs are all subject to the same rules and casual cruelties you are. Which brings us to the First Noble Truth: All beings suffer. This isn’t pessimistic, it is just an acknowledgement of how things are. We all suffer. This knowledge allows us to have compassion and connection to others. Any time you have a conversation about playing Spelunky with a fellow player, it will be a recounting of your shared suffering.
And Spelunky provides plenty of ways to suffer. Blind jumps, spikes, spiders, misplaced bombs, angry shopkeepers, the rock you threw that falls back onto your head, traps you didn’t disarm or avoid and the combinations of all of those and more. In his interview with Roguelike Radio, Derek Yu states that “when greed kills you in a game, I think it’s a good thing”. The Second Noble Truth is that suffering has a cause, and that cause is desire (or longing, or craving, or attachment). Desire is occasionally broken down into the Three Roots of Evil: greed, ignorance and destructive urges. Spelunky will promptly kill you for any of these poisons.
I think what makes all the suffering enjoyable (in a game sense) is that you are almost always the architect of your own suffering. I never feel cheated by the game. These are all my mistakes. As I learn and play and repeat I get better. I start to make the jumps, I learn how far I can fall, I can use a rat to disarm that arrow trap, my bombs and rocks start to find their targets. The Third Noble Truth is that there is a way to break free of the cycle of suffering. Nirvana is described as the state of cessation of suffering. By working to free yourself of the illusions presented in the Three Roots of Evil, you can achieve Nirvana.
The Fourth Noble Truth is that there is a middle way that can be applied to achieve Nirvana, and that is the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path is the core prescription of Buddhist practice and consists of the following pieces: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Awareness, and Right Concentration. The pieces do not require an order, but are parts that support each other, like spokes on a wheel. By studying the Noble Eightfold Path, you can come to understand the patterns in your world and in your life that are at the root of suffering, and by studying you can over come the Three Roots of Evil.
So, in short, Spelunky and the Four Noble Truths:
- Spelunky is suffering
- There is a cause of suffering, and it is our attachments
- There is a way to the cessation of suffering
- That way is the Noble Eightfold Path