What Are the Stages of Development?
Take a cinematic journey through the major stages of human development, using a series of 22 carefully-curated film clips (and more than 30 video games) to illustrate some of the most important qualities of each stage.
Because these stages are so difficult to point to in our immediate experience, we’ve compiled a series of short clips from some very popular films and games, each of which demonstrates some aspect of that stage — the view from that stage, the values of that stage, or the general leadership styles associated with that stage — offering some well-known cultural reference points to help flesh out our understanding of these stages of growth and development. What's more, these clips will help demonstrate how integral ideas can be applied to any medium or genre, while deepening our appreciation and enactment of our most treasured cultural artifacts.
As you watch, try to remember: all of this is actually happening inside of you. You may be viewing these film clips on a screen in front of you, but the stages we explore here are all alive within you right now, either as capacities you’ve already developed or as potentials that are waiting to be unleashed. The Witness itself is the ultimate movie screen — the effortless, simple feeling of being behind all of our perceptions. All of this is just a fleeting dance of light, sound, and shadow projected within your consciousness against that empty, all-pervasive awareness.
Note: The films and characters below are typically far too complex to be described by a single stage, which is why the qualities below are only being applied to the specific film clips, and not to the rest of the film, character arc, or filmmaker's perspective. We are not saying Lord of the Rings is a "magenta movie", for example, or that Gandalf a "magenta character", because both would include multiple combinations of views, values, and ideas from multiple different stages. We are focusing on specific moments here that distill the essence of each of these stages, and not making judgments on the rest of the films they are excerpted from.
Meanwhile, because it's difficult to focus on a single "scene" from video games, for these examples we looked at three separate categories for our analysis — a) the surface content and world-building of the game, b) the general themes and storytelling perspectives, and c) the gameplay mechanics themselves, which roughly correlate to views, values, and cognition.
Cognitive: Sensorimotor • Worldview: Archaic • Values: Survival
The Crimson altitude (alternatively known as "infrared", or "beige" in Spiral Dynamics) signifies a degree of development that is in many ways imbedded in nature, body, and the gross realm in general. Crimson altitude exhibits an archaic worldview, basic physiological needs (food, water, shelter, etc.), a self-sense that is minimally differentiated from its environment, and is in nearly all ways oriented towards physical survival. Although present in infants, Crimson is rarely seen in adults except in cases of famine, natural disasters, or other catastrophic events. Crimson is also used as a kind of catch-all term for many earlier evolutionary stages and drives.
The Quest for Fire (1981)
The human story begins with the Crimson stage, a period when we begin to use our new, comically oversized brains in order to find new ways to live, new ways to think, new ways to communicate, and new ways to manipulate our environment. The dawn of the individuated self.
BONUS: Crimson Video Games
The "survival" genre of video games typically features Crimson qualities. However, because most of these games tend to focus on content and themes from later stages, we decided not to include them in this segment. Instead, Corey deVos and Ryan Oelke use two other games to illustrate the Crimson stage — a neolithic city-builder called Dawn of Man, as well as the original game about food and survival: Pac-Man.
Cognitive: Preoperational (symbolic) • Worldview: Magical • Values: Magic-animistic ("kin spirits")
Magenta Altitude began about 50,000 years ago, and tends to be the home of egocentric drives, a magical worldview, and impulsiveness. It is expressed through magic/animism, kin-spirits, and such. Young children primarily operate with a magenta worldview. Magenta in any line of development is fundamental, or “square one” for any and all new tasks. Magenta emotions and cognition can be seen driving such cultural phenomena as superhero-themed comic books or movies.
Magic spells, inanimate objects coming to life, waltzing rodents wearing pointy wizard hats — Fantasia is perfect encapsulation of the childish delights of the Magenta stage.
The Neverending Story (1984)
There are many forms of magical thinking that are prevalent at the Magenta stage, including things like wish fulfillment and “word magic”, the idea that words have a supernatural ability to directly alter physical reality. Both are central to the plot of The Neverending Story.
The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Magenta is often the bedrock of fantasy stories like Lord of the Rings — though these stories often include content and themes from other stages as well, such as Red lust for power, Amber concepts of good and evil, threats of Orange industrial destruction, and Green fondness for the long poetic ramblings of talking trees.
BONUS: Magenta Video Games
Fantasy-based role-playing games and superhero-themed games often include qualities from the Magenta stage. Watch as Corey and Ryan take a look at some of these games, including Spider-Man: Miles Morales, The Witcher 3, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Divinity: Original Sin, Pools of Radiance, and Wizard's Crown.
Cognitive: Preoperational (conceptual) • Worldview: Early mythic • Values: Egocentric ("power gods")
The Red Altitude began about 10,000 years ago, and is the marker of egocentric drives based on power, where “might makes right,” where aggression rules, and where there is a limited capacity to take the role of an “other.” Red impulses are classically seen in grade school and early high school, where bullying, teasing, and the like are the norm. Red motivations can be seen culturally in Ultimate Fighting contests, which have no fixed rules (fixed rules come into being at the next Altitude, Amber), teenage rebellion and the movies that cater to it (The Fast and the Furious), gang dynamics (where the stronger rule the weaker), and the like.
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Arnold Schwarzenegger offers one of the most archetypal summaries of Red appetites ever filmed.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Charlize Theron shows a rare example of healthy, situationally-appropriate Red leadership. It's a wasteland out there. Want to live? Then do what I say.
Gangs of New York (2002)
Fear is one of the primary leadership strategies used by Red, menacingly demonstrated here by Daniel Day Lewis.
BONUS: Red Video Games
First-person shooters are often associated with the Red stage, where the primary goal is to dominate anything and everything on the screen. Watch as Ryan and Corey look at several examples of Red video games, including Fortnite, Wolfenstein, the Grand Theft Auto series, Assassin's Creed, and the game that kicked off the genre, Doom.
Cognitive: Concrete Operational • Worldview: Mythic • Values: Absolutistic ("truth force")
The Amber Altitude began about 5,000 years ago, and indicates a worldview that is traditionalist and mythic in nature—and mythic worldviews are almost always held as absolute (this stage of development is often called absolutistic). Instead of “might makes right,” amber ethics are more oriented to the group, but one that extends only to “my” group. Grade school and high school kids usually exhibit amber motivations to “fit in.” Amber ethics help to control the impulsiveness and narcissism of red. Culturally, amber worldviews can be seen in fundamentalism (my God is right no matter what); extreme patriotism (my country is right no matter what); and ethnocentrism (my people are right no matter what).
This famous "dueling of the anthems" scene demonstrates healthy Amber nationalism as a Nazi song is drowned out by a tearful cast (which included real-life refugees from recent Nazi invasions) singing "La Marseillaise".
A Few Good Men (1992)
Having a “code” — a strict hierarchy of rules, roles, beliefs, and boundaries that we must always adhere to, usually reinforced by whatever religious, political, military, or other group we may be part of — is one of the defining characteristics at the Amber stage of development.
Denzel Washington shows what Amber leadership can look like within a family environment. Amber hierarchies are typically known as "dominator hierarchies" with a very rigid chain of command, where respect and discipline is expected, and where power is only exercised from the top down.
BONUS: Amber Video Games
The Amber stage is often the home of team-based multiplayer games such as Battlefield 5 and Destiny 2, as well as some historic-based games such as the "feudalism simulator" Crusader Kings 3. The Amber stage is also associated with concrete-operational thinking, embodied by the classic game Tetris, as Ryan and Corey discuss here.
Cognitive: Formal Operational • Worldview: Rational • Values: Multiplistic ("strive drive")
The Orange Altitude began about 500 years ago, during the period known as the European Enlightenment. In an orange worldview, the individual begins to move away from the amber conformity that reifies the views of one’s religion, nation, or tribe. The orange worldview often begins to emerge in late high school, college, or adulthood. Culturally, the orange worldview realizes that “truth is not delivered; it is discovered,” spurring the great advances of science and formal rationality. Orange ethics begin to embrace all people, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….” Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, the US Bill of Rights, and many of the laws written to protect individual freedom all flow from an orange worldview.
The Martian (2015)
Matt Damon models some of the most positive qualities of Orange — the heart of human ingenuity, the spirit of discovery, and the capacity to "science the s**t" out of our problems.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1989)
Captain Picard challenges the Amber chain of command to make an impassioned defense for universal humanitarian rights, and explains why men, women, and androids of Orange conscience cannot blindly follow orders.
Ned Beatty delivers a thunderous sermon on the brave new world that Orange created — one that is not founded upon Amber notions such as race or religion or national boundaries, but on the almighty dollar itself.
BONUS: Orange Video Games
Strategy, simulation, and sandbox games are typically associated with the Orange stage of development, and often emphasize a "self-authoring" play style where the goals and win conditions are determined entirely by the player. Watch as Corey and Ryan discuss over a half dozen of these games, including Minecraft, Factorio, Kerbal Space Program, The Sims, SimCity, City Skylines, the Civilization series, and No Man's Sky.
Cognitive: Early vision-logic (meta-systemic) • Worldview: Pluralistic • Values: Relativistic ("human bond")
The Green Altitude began roughly 150 years ago, though it came into its fullest expression during the 1960’s. Green worldviews are marked by pluralism, or the ability to see that there are multiple ways of seeing reality. If orange sees universal truths (“All men are created equal”), green sees multiple universal truths—different universals for different cultures. Green ethics continue, and radically broaden, the movement to embrace all people. A green statement might read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, regardless of race, gender, class….” Green ethics have given birth to the civil rights, feminist, and gay rights movements, as well as environmentalism.
The green worldview’s multiple perspectives give it room for greater compassion, idealism, and involvement, in its healthy form. Such qualities are seen by organizations such as the Sierra Club, Amnesty International, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Doctors Without Borders. In its unhealthy form green worldviews can lead to extreme relativism, where all beliefs are seen as relative and equally true, which can in turn lead to the nihilism, narcissism, irony, and meaninglessness exhibited by many of today’s intellectuals, academics, and trend-setters… not to mention another “lost” generation of students.
Patch Adams (1998)
Robin Williams makes a moving plea for medical institutions to begin relating to medical patients with dignity, to treat the whole person, and to emphasize wellness as much as illness — alll hallmarks of the green altitude.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Much of the ecological and humanitarian disaster of the modern age has been due to Orange excess and its reckless pursuit of innovation, achievement, and profit. Jeff Goldblum isn't having any of it.
One of the most important gifts of Green is its capacity to discern, resist, and dismantle systems of oppression in the world, as seen in Sean Penn's portrayal of gay rights icon Harvey Milk.
BONUS: Green Video Games
Interestingly, unlike most of the earlier stages, there do not seem to be any specific game genres that are strongly associated with the Green altitude. However, Green content and themes are very common in many of today's games. Watch as Corey and Ryan discuss some of these games: Animal Crossing, BioShock, Disco Elysium, and what was perhaps the prototypical postmodern game, Metal Gear Solid 2.
Cognitive: Mid vision-logic (paradigmatic) • Worldview: Integral • Values: Systemic ("flex flow")
The Teal Altitude marks the beginning of an integral worldview, where pluralism and relativism are transcended and included into a more systematic whole. The transition from green to teal is also known as the transition from “1st-tier” values to “2nd-tier” values, the most immediate difference being the fact that each “1st-tier” value thinks it is the only truly correct value, while “2nd-tier” values recognize the importance of all preceding stages of development. Thus, the teal worldview honors the insights of the green worldview, but places it into a larger context that allows for healthy hierarchies, and healthy value distinctions.
Perhaps most important, a teal worldview begins to see the process of development itself, acknowledging that each one of the previous stages (magenta through green) has an important role to play in the human experience. Teal consciousness sees that each of the previous stages reveals an important truth, and pulls them all together and integrates them without trying to change them to “be more like me,” and without resorting to extreme cultural relativism (“all are equal”). Teal worldviews do more than just see all points of view (that’s a green worldview)—it can see and honor them, but also critically evaluate them.
The Invasion (2007)
Nicole Kidman offers a hopeful evolutionary view of civilization's history and future. This was is the first time Ken Wilber was mentioned in a major motion picture!
Star Trek: Discovery (2020)
An example of Teal leadership as the Admiral displays a capacity to operate from multiple frames of moral reasoning, skillfully reframing and redirecting Captain Pike's own Amber moral righteousness.
Team America: World Police (2004) [NSFW]
An exceptionally crass, but surprisingly insightful look at how multiple stages interact and regulate each other — Red/Amber (a**holes), Orange (d**ks), and Green (pu**ies).
BONUS: Teal Video Games
Teal games, at this point, are a bit hard to define, largely because it is still a newly emerging creative space. However, Corey and Ryan identify a couple qualities they look for at this stage — games that emphasize “emergent gameplay”, and games that consciously play with perspectives. Watch as we discuss some of the games that we enact and experience as Teal: Dwarf Fortress, Rimworld, and the classic Alpha Centauri.
Turquoise (mature integral)
Cognitive: Late vision-logic (cross-paradigmatic) • Worldview: Mature integral • Values: Systemic ("global view")
Turquoise is a mature integral view, one that sees not only healthy hierarchy but also the various quadrants of human knowledge, expression, and inquiry (at the minimum: I, we, and it). While teal worldviews tend to be secular, turquoise is the first to begin to integrate Spirit as a living force in the world (manifested through any or all of the 3 Faces of God: “I”—the “No self” or “witness” of Buddhism; “we/thou”—the “great other” of Christianity, Judaism, Hindusm, Islam, etc.; or “it”—the “Web of Life” seen in Taoism, Pantheism, etc.).
The Matrix: Revolutions (2003)
Integral films often excel at weaving transpersonal themes, multiple layers of symbolism, and spiritual states of consciousness together into something the public actually wants to watch. In this keystone scene from the third Matrix movie, Keanu Reeves discovers the transcendent golden "whoa" behind all things.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
Love transcends death – this is a recurring theme for many of these scenes, captured beautifully in this stunning soliloquy by Bae Doona. Integral artists often enjoy playing with the fundamental polarities and contradictions of existence — life and death, light and shadow, time and timelessness, unstoppable forces and immovable subjects.
The Fountain (2006)
Hugh Jackman gets enlightened. Again we find the familiar idea of a love that goes beyond death, reinforced by a cinematic integration of microcosm and macrocosm (another important polarity at this stage) as close-up shots of fluid dynamics and chemical reactions are used to represent the transpersonal clouds and currents of the subtle realm.
BONUS: Turquoise Video Games
Turquoise games are almost impossible to find. But we did find one that we think would qualify — an experimental game appropriately titled Everything. Featuring multiple pointing-out instructions by Alan Watts, Everything is a deeply meditative game where perspective-taking is itself the central gameplay mechanic. The game allows you to inhabit the 1st-person perspective of just about everything in the universe, from subatomic particles to subtle spiritual archetypes, producing all sorts of interesting reflections and state experiences for the player.
(As Told by Tom Cruise)
A short compilation of film clips from each major stage, all featuring Tom Cruise.
Learn Integal By Playing Video Games
Similar to the presentation above, but using video games instead of film clips to demonstrate the common qualities of each stage.
Learn Integral By Watching Movies
Corey deVos and Ryan Oelke discuss each of the clips above, and why they were selected for their corresponding stage.
About Corey deVos
Corey W. deVos is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of KenWilber.com. He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996. Corey is also a professional woodworker, and many of his artworks can be found in his VisionLogix art gallery.