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.

Face your adventures with boldness

Last month I drove my family to San Francisco. Before leaving I experienced a vague nervous feeling. A sensation that things might go wrong.

I shrugged it off. We packed the suitcases, three kids, electronic devices, and goodies into the car, and started out on I-80, westbound. Things went well until we left the Muir Woods National Monument and headed for our hotel on Nob Hill inSan Francisco. Even then I was confident. We had directions on the iPad. Things would go well.

We passed across theGolden GateBridge. The kids, sitting in the back, gaped in awe. I did the same. How many times had I seen this icon in pictures or movies? I couldn’t help but love driving across it.

Thirty seconds later, I missed our turn.

But I stayed calm. We re-routed our course and found our way to the hotel.

Only—the entrance wasn’t where Google said it was. Or had I taken a wrong turn? I didn’t know, but no problem, right? I could go around the block and look again. Right?


An array of one-way streets on alarmingly steep hills foiled us. Not to mention the trillions of people everywhere. Every way I turned there were people. There were signs telling me I couldn’t go that way. And trolleys, looking like they would probably lose control and crush our little car.

Our quick trip around the block turned into ten minutes of maze navigation. My wife’s tension level escalated. Naturally, the kids were going bonkers in the back, having a fantastic time with I have no idea what.

“What are you doing?” my wife suddenly screamed.

“I’m turning left!” I said. It was too late to stop. I’d already begun to turn the wheel and hit the gas.

“Not that way!” she said.

In the back, my kids laughed as one of them made a joke I didn’t hear.

“It’s one-way this way,” I said, pointing at a sign.

“No it’s not!” she said, and jabbed a finger at another sign on the other side of the intersection.

My eyes found the sign as I turned into the street. To my horror, her sign directed traffic to the right.

I veered as close to the side of the road as possible and stopped, dumbfounded by this urban oddity. Not in all my life had I ever come across a place where a one-way street switched directions.

To make matters worse, there was a trolley right in front of us, with people getting on and off. A steep hill loomed ahead and dropped away behind us. People everywhere.

The kids laughed louder. To this day I still have no idea what was going on back there. I’m sure it was hilarious.

I switched to panic mode. By that, I mean reverse.

I looked all around, checking blind spots and visible spots. When the way was clear, I gunned it. I backed into the street I’d just gotten off of, wrenching the wheel to one side so the rim of my front left tire scraped against the curb.

Two men getting off of the trolley pointed and laughed. I didn’t care. This was it. I had to get us to safety as fast as possible.

I found myself aimed in the proper direction, shifted into drive, and shot up the road.

A part of me wishes that—just for the sake of this story—I’d gone down another one-way street, the wrong way. If I was writing this scene in a book, that’s how I would do it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t going the wrong way down a one-way street. In fact, in another few minutes we found our hotel and were out, buffeted by freezingSan Francisco wind and checking into the hotel.

In fact, the entire trip passed without major catastrophe. Now I could return toSan Franciscowithout worry or fear. I’ve realized that my feeling of worry was completely normal. I was trying something new. I was stepping out of my comfort zone.

I was going on an adventure.

Adventures take many forms. Trips to new places. Moving. Changing jobs. Publishing a book. Starting school. Starting a business. Leaving home for the first time. Trying something new. Getting married. Having a baby.

Adventures almost always include some level of discomfort. But you know what? Discomfort is a function of growth, and afterward you’re that much stronger.

So the next time you start an adventure and you get that unsettling feeling, face it with boldness, knowing that it’s normal. Rest assured that things will probably be just fine, and that when you’re done, you’ll be that much stronger.

Is it bad that I love the man-made world so much?

I spent about four days last week up in the mountains, up at Camp Frontier.

While there is nothing particularly new about my camping, the nature of the camping and the location rather gave my system something of a shock.

You see, I had no paved roads. Several times I was quite frightened that my baby (a sweet, sangria red mica 2009 Mazda 6) would get stuck–and I really felt pain when it bottomed out three times. Like, I mean real pain. A tossing in my belly.

Know what else? At the camp, I had to . . . how do I put this delicately . . . defecate in a hole. One that did not include flushing afterward. I cannot describe the smell. Well, I might be able to, but then you probably wouldn’t want to return to this blog. Ever.

Furthermore, I had no hot running water–although thank the heavens we did have cold running water a short ways off, and at dinner time they did give us hand sanitizer. That made me feel somewhat better that perhaps I wouldn’t die from any number of diseases I might have picked up at the kybo.

And–get this. No heat. Yeah, I know, it’s late June, but up there it got pretty cold at night, and–get this–there was no way to stay warm except with my body heat and the sleeping back I slept in. I would like to say that I didn’t curl up into a fetal position, pull my hoody up over my head, nearly suffocate myself with the sleeping back, and whimper. But, I can’t say I didn’t. In fact, I did all of those things, and then I couldn’t move because my feet might extend to a part of the sleeping bag that wasn’t hot from my laying on it. Yeah, no extending my legs out. Every move was like dipping myself into freezing cold water. Holy cow.

And, know what else? No electricity. Yeah. I know, right? Downright abominable. My phone/camera RAN OUT OF BATTERIES. I cannot express the relief I felt when I had the opportunity to drive out to Evanston, WY, because it gave me a chance to re-charge the batteries with my car running.

Oh, and said phone/camera? Really it was only a /camera because there was no reception out there. How many times did I, out of sheer habit, pull the phone out of my pocket wondering why the devil I hadn’t heard from anyone in so long. Or, wanting to send a message to someone (usually my wife). Have you ever felt cut off? I mean, like you WANTED TO DIE, cut off? Scary.

Anyway, it really made me realize how fabricated is the world in which I live. All day, every day, I am surrounded by man-made things. Roads, screens, grocery stores, toilets–please, let’s not forget the toilets. How removed from the “real world” am I? How far removed from “things as they really are” am I? And why–oh why–do I love this fabricated world so much?

Well, that last one is easy to answer.

When you go camping–I mean real camping–what do you miss?

Ode to milk and cookies.

Today I ate some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Baked by my wife. She has a special talent for baking cookies. It’s something else.

As I stood there, leaning against the counter, just relishing it. I thought, “What is it that makes milk and cookies so fantastic?”

Well, I’ll tell you.

A warm cookie, fresh out of the oven, dissolving in my mouth. Sugary. Chocolately. A little of the crunch of baked oats, and the flavor that can only be described as “oatey.” Even a single bite brings thirst.

So I get a glass of milk. And how it washes over my tongue with chilling goodness is the perfect way to eliminate that thirst, the flavor of that cookie. One swallow. Two. Three, and I’m ready  to get thirsty again.

Wow. I just love milk and cookies. It may be my new favorite food.

Discovery or outline writing?

Tonight I sat in on a conference call with Ken Scholes, author of the Psalms of Isaac series. I’ve read the first two books, and quite enjoyed them, and so wanted to hear a little bit from Ken.

He functions differently as a writer, it seems, than a lot of writers I’ve talked with. Many of them are outline writers and do extensive world building before they start writing. Ken, on the other hand, is more of an exploratory, discovery writer. He doesn’t do much, if any pre-writing. He just sits down and begins to write the book.

Which is interesting, because I would have sworn he was an outline writer. Some writers I read and think, “This writer does not outline.” Or, “This one outlines.” It seems like I can just feel it from how the story progresses. To me, it seems that the stories of outline writers are more direct. They progress towards the “surprising yet inevitable” conclusion, whereas the discovery writers seem to meander toward a surprising conclusion.

I’d be willing to bet that Jay Lake is a discovery writer. The ending to his book, Green, was really awesome, but totally not something I saw coming. I’d also bet that Felix Gilman and Daniel Abraham are discovery writers. I’ve only read one book from each of these guys, so maybe I’m wrong.

Not that it matters. Whatever kind of process works for a writer is what the writer should do. But I do think that it affects the story and how the story unfolds.

Are you a discover writer or an outline writer?

Good place for ideas and names: your genealogy

Just browsing through some genealogy today as I listen to the video I recorded last night for John Brown and Larry Correia. I have a lot of ancestors from Switzerland. One has the name of Baltazar Yoder. Born in 1524. Here are some other fun names:

  • Hans Abersold, born 1564
  • Ulrich Frankhauser, born 1540
  • Magdalena Rufenacht Moser, born 1535
  • Ludwig Schlappach, born 1540
  • Claus (Nicklaus) Reinhard, born 1555
  • Sir Knight Henry of Greene, born 1352

That last one seems suspect. There’s a point on the family line where the last names don’t match, and where they go from England to Switzerland. So, someday I’ll have to research that one. It could be right, but I’m skeptical because I’ve found other things where a father had a birth date after his son.

But it could be interesting. Maybe ideas for stories, there. How did someone end up traveling from England to Switzerland in the 1600s? Why would you do that?

I do know of some crazy stuff on my maternal grandmother’s side that could easily be written into some amazing stories. I had some ancestors who went to India to get their husband and father, only to find that he’d died from the plague while they were traveling, and then one of the sons who got off the boat to find him had to go home to England via the land since they wouldn’t let him back on the boat.

Family history seems like a place rich for ideas.

Target marketing

I hear a lot of talk about target marketing. Seems that authors are also target marketers.

David Farland talks a lot about targeting your book to your audience, and that if you do, you’ll be more successful. Well, tonight at Life, the Universe, and Everything, John Brown made this point, again–as one of 10 lessons learned from the book.

He talked about The Hunger Games, and how a few authors didn’t like the book. Well, said he, that’s fine. They just weren’t in the target audience, and the fact that there is a sizable target audience that liked the book is pretty much okay, because no writer will ever write anything that will please everyone. Just not going to happen.

So, there you have it.

I video recorded the presentation (and two others). I’ll post the video once I have it all edited and fancied up.

Your daily dose of wonder

In recent months I’ve come to realize that I love fantasy novels for a reason: the cool factor. The sense of wonder when something unexpected and simply amazing happens. I admit it. I when there are lights, flames, and explosions involved, I’m hooked.

So, here’s something cool. Some wonder right here in our own little world.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything cooler. Part of what makes it so amazing is that it’s 100% real.

Failure is the secret to success

Yesterday I received feedback on one of my novels from an alpha reader. The input he had was basically this: it was so bad that I couldn’t bring myself to read more than the first chapter.

Now, that’s not exactly something a writer wants to hear. You certainly hope people will love it, and you expect they will point out some small problems here and there, but you never expect it will be that bad. It’s hard not to e-mail him back and say, “Well, oh yeah, how about this and this and this?!”

But I appreciate his input. As I get feedback from other alpha readers it’ll be interesting if they comment the same thing. That’s entirely the point, after all, of having alpha readers. I need them to point out the glaring things I missed simply because I was too close to my own brilliance. It’s a work in progress, after all, and one can’t expect it to be perfect out of the gate.

So, after getting that feedback, I was pleased to stumble across this little video this morning. It’s a Honda video about failure. I love it. The part I especially love is about 2:30 minutes in (with about 5:45 left), in which Danica Patrick talks about how drivers are constantly trying to push up against the fear, getting used to it, and then pushing even further. That’s exactly the kind of stuff I need to be doing. “You’re constantly on the brink of crashing.”