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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How I Won David Farland’s Writing Contest

Today my short story Forcible Powerdown is available for free as part of an Anthology published by David Farland. The story won his recent short story contest. I’d like to explain myself–how I won the contest. It wasn’t by accident.

About two weeks before the deadline for David’s writing contest, I told one of my writing group peers that I wasn’t going to enter the contest. I’d tried to write a story, and just didn’t have it in me. Anything I wrote ended up being too long.

And then, about a week prior to the deadline, I decided to give it one more shot. Forcible Powerdown resulted. When I finished, I knew I had a contender. Here’s how I knew: I know David Farland, and what kind of fiction he likes.

In fact, David had given to the entire world advice on how to win a contest, and his first piece of advice was this: write a story tailored to the judges.

From the start I set out to do exactly that. I wanted to write something that David Farland would like.

How did I know what he would like? I’ve spent a fair amount of time with David, at writing workshops, conventions, and dinners. I’ve worked with him at his seminars. I’ve read his Daily Kick since about its beginning. I think I’ve read six of his novels—which is saying something, because these days I don’t read more than one novel from any given author unless I really like the books.

For example, where some people complained about the ending of his fourth Runelords book, I found it brilliant. I understood what the role of the Earth King really was through those four books, and the equivalent in our world today. I totally got what he was doing. Dave’s books just speak to me unlike a lot of other writers’ books.

What I’ve concluded is that Dave and I have the same taste. And that made it easier to write a story he would like.

I’d most recently read Nightingale, his newest novel, and On My Way to Paradise, his very first novel. I noticed themes that resonated with each other, especially about what makes us human. And how do “special powers” and technology change us, make us less human? And how can we use those tools to make us more human?

Also, after reading Dave’s work, I knew that he likes stories with heart. That’s what he writes. His heroes almost always face challenges because they’re too nice for the situation they’ve been thrown into. (Coincidentally, that’s how Dave is. He’s a super nice guy, and I bet it’s gotten him into trouble a time or two.) Dave likes heart. My story had to have heart.

So I took that knowledge and crafted a story in which technology dehumanizes people. Then, with “magic” the people are able to become human again. Fortunately, it was easy because I’d been chewing on the themes in my own life for months, and been watching as augmented realities are beginning to be seen in our own world. I simply extended the existing technology out a hundred years, and built a simple world. I knew Dave would love it. He was messing with augmented reality in his first book.

Aside from that, I threw little details in there that I knew would speak to Dave. For example, at the opening of the story, a kid gets hit by a car. Dave once told a story about how someone got hit by a car while he was in China. I knew it would resonate with him. I tried to include as many details like that as possible—things I’d heard Dave talk about or write about. Even the name of my story “Forcible Powerdown” utilizes a word commonly found it Dave’s Runelord books: forcible.

So, there you have it. I won Dave’s contest by writing a story just for him. As a result, I’m not sure how many other people will like the story as much as he did. That’s okay. I wrote the story for an audience of one.

I’m pretty happy with the result.

Thanks, Dave, for everything you’ve taught me and done for me!

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?