Greatness awaits in video games, not real life

This is a fun video advertising the Sony Playstation.

I like it, but I think it highlights a challenge that our up-and-coming generation is going to have with life.

Real life is not as rewarding as video games. Therefore, why bother participating in real life?

Sure, sure. I know. With video games there’s a feeling of success. There’s a rush of adrenaline when you kill that final boss. I totally get that. I’ve killed the devil, myself.

But it’s pretend. It’s not real. You didn’t actually kill a dragon or take down the mob boss or the alien hordes—even if you feel like you have.

I know you know that, but the problem arises because of how it trains our minds to work.

You see, it may feel like we’ve done something incredible, but we haven’t.

In reality, what we’ve done is learned to perform some tasks that were designed to be manageable and doable by degrees to provide the illusion of accomplishment. We haven’t killed a dragon. We’ve been led by the hand through tasks that while successively more difficult were formulated by the game designers to be manageable. They wanted us to like their game, after all. Who can blame them?

And maybe it was difficult. We couldn’t have defeated that dragon without all that work. But the problem is that it was designed to be manageable. It was designed to lead us along until you succeeded. It was designed with our success in mind–and to make us feel that rush.

In a sense, we did in fact slay dragons. We did, in fact, uncover the government conspiracy to turn us all into frogs. We did, in fact, defeat the aliens. And that’s pretty satisfying.

Here’s where there’s a problem. The feeling of accomplishment in real life isn’t anywhere near as great for the amount of work you do.

At some point a kid is going to think something like this:

  • I’ve spent an hour a night for the last week playing basketball, and I still miss 50% of my shots. I could have been slaying dragons.
  • I sat in this class and learned first aid so I could get this crappy little badge? I could have been racing Lamborghinis in Italy.
  • I’ve worked six months washing dishes and earning $8 an hour, and you’re promoting me to fry cook? I could have spent that time dismantling an alien civilization.
  • I studied 2 hours last night, and got an A- on my test. Pshaw! I could have been creating worlds.

The adrenaline rush—the reward—for video games, is so much greater in the short term, that it’s easy to trade work (or even play) with long-term rewards for those short-term rewards. So, kids will want to disengage from real life, spend their time doing things that–while contrived and fake–provide a fair amount of emotional reward.

Without good parenting, it could be rough on them when it’s time for real life.

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Van Bender prequel and trilogy available now!

Van Bender and the Burning EmblemsFinally! After about two years of work, the Van Bender Archives are available on Amazon. Strangely enough, the hardest part was getting Amazon to list the prequel for free.

The series is about Richie Van Bender, the hottest teenage rock star on the planet. All he really wants is a chance at a normal life. He’d like to use Facebook and interact with his friends online. Maybe even hold a concert or two and win an award here and there. His mother refuses, saying it’s for his own safety. She basically treats him like a criminal.

But with a little help from his friends, Richie seizes an opportunity to live his dream, and learns exactly what his mom is talking about when she says he has no idea what’s out there.

Here are links to all the books:

A word in favor of content guides

Somehow, books have maintained their status as one of the few modern entertainment mediums that are not subject to some kind “objective” rating system that advises consumers regarding the content of the book.

I suppose this is fine, but as a result have found myself reading a fair number of books without a clue regarding some of the content in them, and subsequently stopping because I simply wasn’t interested in some of the content.

I would prefer it if I could learn beforehand the nature of the content I will read in a book. This desire is amplified as my children grow older and select their own books. How can we choose books that we will dislike due to content we aren’t interested in if we have no way of knowing what the content is? I don’t know of a way.

For example, these days the movie rating system is not detailed enough to tell me if the content of a movie is something I want to watch. So, before I go to a movie or rent a DVD, I use the IMDB app on the iPad to take a look at the parental guide. I’m interested in seeing what kind of content the movie contains. Not just for my children, but for me. On several occasions, I’ve decided not to watch or rent a particular movie because I’m not interested in some of the content.

I suppose I miss out on some good movies, but I can handle that. I don’t need to see everything that most people would probably deem worth seeing. Content guides have benefited me. I’m aware of friends and family members that use content guides in the same way.

As far as I know, we don’t have the same resource for books. I’d like to suggest that writers take the initiative to provide content guides for their own books as a courtesy to those who would prefer to filter certain types of content.

Note that I did not say “parental guide” but “content guide.” Sure there are types of content that are inappropriate for kids, but there are also types of content I don’t want to experience. It’s that simple.

I imagine some people (both authors and readers) will object to these content guides on various grounds, but I view the guides as a courtesy to readers interested in them. Nobody is going to make anyone read the content guide beforehand.

As an author, I see content guides as beneficial. If someone knows beforehand whether they won’t like some of the content of my book, there’s a better chance that they won’t read (and subsequently rate) a book they won’t like. This will probably lead to higher ratings for books.

So, from here on out, I’ll be providing content guides for my books, and will be looking for them before I read other books. Will it stop me from reading a book if I don’t find one? Probably not, but I’ll probably review a book poorly if I find content in there that I don’t like. After all, I didn’t like it, and that’s what a personal review represents.

Are big boats real?

This morning my 6-year old looked at my wife and I and asked, “Are boats real? The really big boats?”

“Like cruise ships?” my wife said.

“Like pirate boats.”

We responded that yes, they are real, but it made me feel bad for the poor kid. I don’t know that it’s any deficiency on her part that she can’t tell that big boats are real or not. Rather, I think we’ve reached the point that some types of media (i.e. CGI) have become so life-like that someone who doesn’t know better won’t be able to tell truth from fiction.

That’s pretty cool. And a little scary.

Of course, she’s 6. She’s still learning how to read (which is a difficult taks. After all, in English there are so many exceptions to most rules that you almost might as well not have rules, sometimes), and so is still pretty early in life, and so she’s learning about life on a much more basic level than most older people. But the fact that our technology has made it possible to create fake things that look real is scary because as that advances, it will be harder to tell where that line is drawn. Even for mature people.

This could likely evolve into a question about what is real and what isn’t, but I’m not that interested in such an existential topic. I just think that once our technology reaches the point that our brains can’t tell the difference between real and fake, things will be interesting. That will be the new drug of choice. People will want to escape to virtual reality where life is good, where the rules make sense and can be gamed. Where they can do whatever they want, and there aren’t any lasting effects.

Oh, wait, video games are well on their way to this, aren’t they?

Anyway, in my head, the net effect can only possibly be negative, because the fact of the matter remains that we live in a physical world, and that world hase to be taken care of. As people lose their grip on reality, they became more likely to care less about real people, and therefore hurt others in the real world.

I’m sure there’s plenty of fiction out there that explores this. Anyone know of something really good?

Are big boats real?

This morning my 6-year old looked at my wife and I and asked, “Are boats real? The really big boats?”

“Like cruise ships?” my wife said.

“Like pirate boats.”

We responded that yes, they are real, but it made me feel bad for the poor kid. I don’t know that it’s any deficiency on her part that she can’t tell that big boats are real or not. Rather, I think we’ve reached the point that some types of media (i.e. CGI) have become so life-like that someone who doesn’t know better won’t be able to tell truth from fiction.

That’s pretty cool. And a little scary.

Of course, she’s 6. She’s still learning how to read (which is a difficult taks. After all, in English there are so many exceptions to most rules that you almost might as well not have rules, sometimes), and so is still pretty early in life, and so she’s learning about life on a much more basic level than most older people. But the fact that our technology has made it possible to create fake things that look real is scary because as that advances, it will be harder to tell where that line is drawn. Even for mature people.

This could likely evolve into a question about what is real and what isn’t, but I’m not that interested in such an existential topic. I just think that once our technology reaches the point that our brains can’t tell the difference between real and fake, things will be interesting. That will be the new drug of choice. People will want to escape to virtual reality where life is good, where the rules make sense and can be gamed. Where they can do whatever they want, and there aren’t any lasting effects.

Oh, wait, video games are well on their way to this, aren’t they?

Anyway, in my head, the net effect can only possibly be negative, because the fact of the matter remains that we live in a physical world, and that world hase to be taken care of. As people lose their grip on reality, they became more likely to care less about real people, and therefore hurt others in the real world.

I’m sure there’s plenty of fiction out there that explores this. Anyone know of something really good?

Discipline and the basics

My 11-year-old son’s basketball team lost tonight. First game in the playoffs. To a comp team one year younger than them. It was a very physical game, and pretty brutal. Lots of kids on the floor, several of them crying and holding onto various body parts. The refs asked our coach to take out our star player because he was out of control.

Now, I am no coach, and no expert in basketball, but I could see clearly why the other team won: greater discipline, and better mastery of the fundamentals of passing and rebounding. Seems like the enemy team passed 4-5 times per possession, looking for an open shot. Then, if they missed, they would get 2-3 rebonds.

On the other hand, our team acted like a pack of wild men, just throwing shots up that didn’t have a prayer. Not taking time to set up shots. Not passing. All kinds of offensive fouls. Just crazy.

Really, when it comes down to it, the other team was better prepared and better trained. No doubt about it. The fundamentals made all the difference.

My 6-year-old daughter is learning to read. I’ve noticed that she struggles a little with some letters and recognizing their sounds. No wonder she is struggling to read–she hasn’t mastered the basics.

The same will happen in any person’s efforts, in any endeavor. We must master the fundamentals before we can excel. We must know the basics, and they must be second nature to us. In basketball, I must know when to take a shot, and when to pass. I must know where to position myself for a rebound. In reading, I must know what a G says.

What are the fundamentals of writing? What are the things that must be second nature to us?