I’ll probably never write at length about video games on this blog. I like video games, downright adore some, but I don’t know nearly enough about the medium to tackle it here like I’ve previously tackled movies, TV series, and literature. (Of course, by “tackle”, I mean “use as a segue into tangentially related leftist rants”). But with that said, there is a minor aspect of video games that I really want to discuss, and that I think I can discuss without feeling like a fraud. That is the HUD, short for “heads-up display”.
Even if you’re not familiar with the term, you’ve definitely observed the concept: the arrangement of symbols, text, and gauges that adorn the edges of the screen in a video game. The HUD keeps you up to date on things like your health, your ammo, your stamina, what items you’ve collected, and what powers/weapons you’re currently wielding. It’s essentially a stylized spreadsheet of info pertaining to your character, updated in real time. This info helps you make the right decisions while playing; for example, if your HUD tells you that you’re low on health, you probably shouldn’t approach the irritable, poison-breathing giant toad just yet.
A vast majority of video games employ some form of HUD system. A racing game will have a map of the course and a number signifying your current position in the race. An arcade game will have a box in the corner showing how many lives and points you have. And an old-school point-and-click game might display all the mysterious items you’ve collected so far at the bottom of the screen. It’s also common practice to make the HUD look snazzy, sometimes with design elements that mimic motifs of the game. For example, the HUD in this old Lego Bionicle game looks like it was made from existing Lego Bionicle pieces. The functional and aesthetic variety of HUDs has always intrigued me, and about a year ago, I had a fun idea. What if I designed a HUD for real life? What if I could visualize an arrangement of symbols, text, and gauges along the edges of my actual field of vision? What if I had access to a detailed display of data relevant to only me, that I could blink in and out of existence at any time? I eagerly put my mind to work, and since that day, I’ve been using a mental HUD daily. It looks something like this:
Let’s explore the different elements!
- The five logos at the bottom represent the five online accounts that are important to my life: Facebook, Spotify, Snapchat, Google, and this blog. Those are the internet identities that I put effort into cultivating. Each of the five logos can transform into a different picture when I focus on it, a picture that visually reminds me of what the password to that particular account is.
- The text at the top is there to boost my confidence when I need it. It’s usually set to “you’re so goddamn awesome” (not in English, though, but in my native language), but I can easily replace it with something more specific when I crave specific encouragement. “You’re so goddamn attractive” might help me relax before a date, for example.
- The exclamation mark next to the text is not usually red, only when I’m in a bad place. It’s an alarm system of sorts; when it blinks red, I know that I’m vulnerable to anxiety and negative thoughts, that I should be extra kind to myself, and that it’s not a good time to take on major challenges. As I’m describing it, I realize that this element of the HUD is quite comparable to a video game health meter.
- The half-visible picture on the left is what I call a memory snapshot. You know that feeling of transcendence you get when you experience something really beautiful? I collect those feelings, by taking a mental photo of each lovely moment and storing it in the HUD. At the time of writing, I have about thirty such snapshots, sorted by date of creation from left to right. The picture that’s visible in the HUD is the rightmost and thus newest snapshot, and if I mentally pull on it, the whole collection (or inventory, if you will) comes rolling out, looking something like the picture below. Browsing through the most magical moments of your life is always a treat.
- Finally, there’s a feature called temporary images. When I need to remember something, and can’t be bothered to write it down, I like to create a visual representation of that something and place it smack in the middle of the HUD. If, say, I need to buy toothpaste, I’ll simply visualize a shiny squeeze tube somewhere between the logos and the confidence-boosting words. Once I’ve purchased the toothpaste, the temporary image will disappear. Kinda like a quest system in a video game, actually! If I wish to remember several things at once, I’ll create a picture for each one and then combine them, often in absurd ways. Let’s say I’m planning to buy toothpaste, write a clever comment on a Rick and Morty video on YouTube, reattach a button to my raincoat, and wash the dirty cutlery that is accumulating in my kitchen sink, all in one day. My HUD for that day would probably look like this:
Now, some videos games have the HUD visible at all times, but many keep it hidden until it’s needed (like in combat, where health and ammo meters become highly relevant), or until the player requests it via the push of a button. I went with the latter approach for my HUD; it’s hidden by default, only appearing when the alarm system goes off or when I push an imaginary HUD button. Hiding it is as simple as pushing that button again. And, amazingly, it actually stays in my memory while hidden. I don’t need to actively memorize anything before closing the HUD – I just close it, confident that it will look exactly the same when I open it again. It’s as if the code is embedded in my brain. As if it’s been programmed into me by cosmic game developers. Even the temporary images and the thirty-something snapshots somehow stick without problem.
Naturally, the brain being the brain, the actual HUD is a lot fuzzier than the images suggest. It’s visualization after all, so I don’t see the different elements in detail; I just have a general idea of their shape, their color, and the mental concepts that they represent. The real-life background isn’t suddenly blurred when I activate the HUD, either, and there’s no white Powerpoint glow effect surrounding the text. Those are alterations I’ve made to help you make out the various elements. But in essence, what you see in the pictures is what I see when I enable my HUD. And it works like a charm. It’s amazing really, how one can hack the human brain to enable near-perfect recall. Of course, I don’t know how universal this is; perhaps it works best for people with very visual minds.
Even so, I highly recommend that you try your hand at creating your own HUD! It’s heaps of fun, it’s practical, and it can even be a wonderful tool against toxic thoughts. How it looks and functions it is completely up to you, your taste in layout and design, and what personal data you’d like to be reminded of in your daily life. And don’t be afraid to go even deeper and crazier than I did – I’m sure I’ve only begun to tap the vast potential of human visualization.