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.


What aren’t they telling us?

This almost has the title of a political rant (or, better yet, conspiracy theory) but it’s not. I know—what a relief, right?

Here’s what it’s about: don’t believe everything blogs, news sources, and other “experts” say to you. Especially if they provide you with a rating or some kind of statistic.

People want to naturally trust statistics and “experts” but without all the details, it’s hard to really trust the information. Two examples.

Car reliability
Consumer Reports gives information about vehicle reliability each year, indicating which are most reliable, and which are less reliable. I used to live by these things until I realized something important—they’re not giving us all the information.

Here’s what I’d like to know: just how more reliable are the reliable cars? Is it significant enough to really influence my decision? The answer might be yes, but I’d like all the information so I can make a truly informed decision.

In illustration, car XYZ may be the most reliable. But what does that mean in real terms? Maybe it means that XYZ breaks down 1 out of a 1000 cars. The fifth most reliable car is going to break down more than that, certainly, but just how much more? Is it significant? If it’s breaking down 100 out of a 1000 times, then yes. But maybe it’s only breaking down 3 out of a 1000 times. That is not significant.

See what I mean? Give me all the information so I can make a better decision.

Rooftop carriers
I read an article yesterday that gave ways to stretch your fuel dollars. Good article. But one point stuck with me: take the rooftop carriers off the top of your car. They decrease gas mileage by as much as 15% at 65 mph. That’s pretty significant, and probably a reliable number.

But here’s what I’m wondering—what kind of roof carrier were they using? Was it a boxy type? Was it an aerodynamic type? I reckon that if the rooftop carrier manufacturers gave us a statistic, it would be more favorable than the one in an article about how to improve gas mileage.

Anyway, question everything that you read. Don’t take it at face value, because chances are you’re not being told everything.


Life-changing experience this week

About 10 days ago I went camping with the boy’s scout troop. We had a head lamp for light in the night, and I was disappointed with its performance—especially since it was new last summer. I attributed it to the boy destroying it.

So, on Monday I hit the last day of the REI Anniversary sale and picked up a new headlamp for myself. This one is a nice one. For me. No one else will be using it.

I took great pleasure in shining it in my wife’s and kids’ eyes, and even greater pleasure in comparing and contrasting this fancy new head lamp with the crappy old one.

At some point someone had the idea to swap out the batteries. It was probably my wife. She’s smart like that. So I took out the new Energizer batteries from the new headlamp, and put in the Heavy Duty batteries from the old head lamp. And put the Energizer batteries in the old head lamp.

Much to my dismay, suddenly my fancy schmancy new headlamp is not as bright, and the crappy old headlamp is much brighter.

Yes, this is life-changing.

I always thought the talk of different batteries being better than others was marketing hype. Turns out I was wrong.  It’s okay, i can admit it when I’m wrong.

Like having a baby, this changes everything. I have a feeling I’ll be spending more money on batteries from now on.

Two government projects I’m in favor of

Don’t get me wrong. I like small government as much as the next person. But in my travels I’ve decided that there are several government projects that I am really in favor of. Two, in particular.

  1. National and state parks. You can actually lump this one in with “preserving nature’s gems.” Now, I’m no environmentalist. In fact, I think that many environmentalists take things way too far. But I do value the beauties of this fine nation, and in fact I would like to visit them all. I reckon that if national parks weren’t created, the beautiful areas would be overrun by capitalist pigs (I say that with the utmost of affection). There’s nothing quite as awe-inspiring (that is, awesome) as a towering waterfall or natural formation like Delicate Arch. In fact, it’s a wonder just driving through national and state parks. Which brings me to number 2.
  2. Roads. Especially highways. And rest stops. I spend a fair amount of time on the road for work, and really, it’s amazing that I can travel so far so quickly–on a government-funded project, no less. Simply amazing. Cars represent freedom, and they couldn’t do that without anywhere to drive them. The national highway system, in particular, is a real wonder. Thousands and thousands of miles of concrete and tar and who knows how much road base all put down so that people can get from point A to point B, C, D, E, F, all the way up to ZZZ in relatively little time.

The interesting thing about these two projects is that it’s not necessary for things like income tax to pay for them. They could probably be totally funded by the people that use them. Simple use-fees (tolls, gasoline tax, or entrance fees) really could pay for them. They could be operated like a business, without tax subsidies. That might make them extremely expensive, but then we know that the people who actually enjoy them are the ones paying for them.

After all, if Joe Bob never goes to a national park, and absolutely hates nature, why on earth should he help pay for the national parks? I’m not sure. I suppose someone out there has an answer to that.

So, anyway, do you have any government projects that you really, really love?

It’s true: a wife makes life better

Last week I spent Wednesday night digging a hole, Thursday down in the hole, and Friday filling the hole.

By the time it ended, the hole had assumed the title of “The Hole” and phrases like “I’m going in” had become part of the vernacular around our house.

I learned several interesting things while dealing with the leak four feet under ground, where our main water line meets our sprinkler line, but one of them stood out far more than others. Namely, it’s good to have a wife.

No, really. I mean it’s, like, really good.

It’s easy to take her for granted. Married fifteen years in January. She’s always there. I’ve got dinner ready for me every day when I get home from work, and it’s usually tasty. (Just kidding, dear, it’s always tasty.) Not to mention the magic clothes hamper. It’s amazing. You put your dirty clothes in there, and a few days later they magically appear in your closet. Clean, even. I swear, it’s a miracle of modern technology.

Like I said, it’s easy to take her for granted, sometimes. I imagine every man is guilty of it from time to time.

But as I worked in the yard, and made one of six (yes, six) trips to Home Depot in three days (I have yet to master the art of planning ahead for what I not only certainly need, but also what I might need and can later return if I don’t need it), I realized on two separate occasions just how valuable it is to have a companion around.

The first time was one of the trips to Home Depot. As I stared at the myriad options of rocks, wondering what to buy, I distinctly remember thinking, “If only she were here, to help me make this decision. Heck, I’d even go for it if she just told me what to buy.”

You see, it’s good to bounce things off of other people. Rather than making decisions in the sick little world that is my head, it helps to have someone to talk with, get input from. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been working on something and turned to her to find out
what she thought on the matter. More often than not, she raises considerations that I hadn’t thought of and probably wouldn’t have if I worked on the problem for a decade.

The next day, as I filled The Hole, I decided to fix a few other things around the yard. It just so happened that my wife was gone for a little while, and I was left alone, filling in holes, cutting out grass, and laying drainage pipes. You know, really good times.

By about 2:30 in the afternoon, I was hot, exhausted, ready to give up and finish another day. I was moving slow. My back ached. My knee hurt. All very good reasons to throw in the towel.

When my wife came home, I gave her a sad look and said, “It’s lonely out here. Will you come out and work with me?”

You see, somewhere during those six hours of work, I’d realized just how craptastic working in the yard all day, all alone, was. And I figured that if she would join me, not only would it be more pleasant, but I would then have half as much work to do.

She laughed and gave that little smile of hers. If you have a wife you know what smile I mean. It’s THAT SMILE. The one that says you’re ridiculous but she loves you, anyway.

“Of course I’ll help,” she said, and turned to go inside. She said nothing more but  looked over
her shoulder and gave THAT SMILE again. She did not say it. She didn’t have to. I knew it was true.

I was a sissy because I could barely handle three days of yard work, when she does all the yard work, including mowing the lawn. I spend a few days out there and am reduced to a quivering pile of goo. She’s out there day after day while I sit at some cushy desk, punching away on a keyboard.

She changed her clothes, came out, and we worked together. And I was right. Not only did my work get cut in half, but immediately the work became bearable, again. The manual labor proved no less difficult. My body had not magically rejuvenated. But having her there with me,
chatting cheerily about whatever it is she chats about (yes dear, of course I’m listening) made the entire experience much more bearable.

In fact, I’d say that it became enjoyable.

And so, here’s to all you wives out there who make life easier on your husbands–in whatever way you do it. Don’t worry. Sometimes it may feel like he takes you for granted. Maybe he forgets to always thank you for everything you do–but trust me, he appreciates it. And he
loves you all the more for it.

And if he doesn’t, you should give him a good swift kick in the pants so that he does.