Justin Amirkhani

The argument for a documentary about taking mushrooms and playing DYAD

The argument for a documentary about taking mushrooms and playing DYAD

People often talk about playing games like DYAD through the filter of drug-like experiences, but it’s unknown how many gamers actually…. you know, take drugs while playing video games. Freelance journalist Justin Amirkhani, who recently backpacked across the country to visit game developers and writers, took a bunch of mushrooms, played DYAD in the presence of the game’s creator, and filmed the experience.

He’s now looking for $1,000 to turn the video into a documentary about the experiment.


“The purpose of the documentary is to help dispel the myths associated with drugs, while simultaneously taking a look at what happens to someone when they indulge in intense experiences,” Amirkhani explained over a series of e-mails.

“There seems to be a large misconception that playing a game like DYAD is identical to experiencing a drug trip, and it’s not. While other journalists have tackled the subject before - most relevantly Patricia Hernandez - there is a large difference between the effects of a drug like dextromethorphan and a much more potent hallucinogenic. This film will help debase some of the assumptions people may have about attempting something like this and become more informed before they attempt to experiment on their own; this could not be achieved solely through rhetoric.”

He noted that it’s important people realize the drugs were purchased, the footage was filmed, and the experience is over. The $1,000 will go towards editing the final cut of the documentary, not so he could “get high and have fun.”

What he learned

Amirkhani argued that games bring together the acts of consumption and creation like no other art form, and psychedelics allowed him to explore that concept. Having Shawn McGrath, the game’s creator, in the room while this was all taken place made the whole experience even more surreal, and possibly meaningful. That being said, McGrath was skeptical of the experiment.

“Shawn always thought this is a bad idea,” Amirkhani said. “As the creator of the game, I think he uniquely recognizes what a game like DYAD does to an individual and immediately and perpetually advised against it. Still, I think he recognized that if I was going to attempt this anyway, it might be a better idea to have him there guiding me through what he could. He understands how DYAD can make people feel because he built it and could provide more suited explanations of what at least the game was making me go through.”

The drugs, Amirkhani argued, were an important part of the experience. It was about removing certain aspects of his waking mind. “When you’re playing a game sober, even at your most neglectful you’re still aware of progress, objectives, and whether or not you’re playing skillfully. It’s entirely possible someone could forget all of those things without the aid of drugs, but I’ve never been able to,” he said.

“Though I didn’t know it would happen when I set out to do this, the combination of the mushrooms’ dissociative effects and DYAD‘s nonsensical audio-visual barrage set my mind in a place that understood nothing about what I saw and heard would be rational, and all that was left was the feeling I believe is at the core of the game. When your mind’s decided that everything you experience isn’t real, the only thing it can cling to is what’s going on internally. I don’t think I could have come to the same realizations, or experienced them as deeply without the drugs.”

He warns other players against taking drugs while playing games, and claimed that the experience was surprisingly intense. He also researched the effects, legal ramifications, and dangers of the particular drug he ingested before the project began, and made sure he was in a safe place with someone he trusted. The idea is to give people a better understanding of psychedelics, what they can offer to mindful users, and the impact of certain games on the human mind.

The creation of the project itself raises questions. Are we ready to say that taking certain illegal substances can be beneficial under the right circumstances? Do projects like Amirkhani’s promote drug use, or is it worthwhile to show the real effects of these sorts of drugs on a person as they play games? There is a large overlap between gaming and drug culture, but it’s rarely discussed openly, or shown this vividly. Amirkhani clearly believes the process and experience led to greater understand of the game and the world it creates within the player.

DYAD doesn’t have a story, or even a clearly defined protagonist/antagonist but it still taps into something deep within you through the gameplay if you open yourself to it and disregard the extraneous elements,” Amirhhani said. “For me, the drugs allowed me to lose track of anything but the pulse of the game and having felt it once, I know I can find it again. The story here is that - in the right frame of mind - games can unlock parts of ourselves and let us tap into feelings we may not even know we can access. This doesn’t take a drug trip though, all it needs is the right attitude.”