09 April 2010

Day 13: Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman. ISBN: 9780380789023.

Virus, pages 160-162.

Yesterday my fiancé and I found ourselves in lovely Elizabethtown, Kentucky. We left Alabama on Wednesday, after I had a job interview with a state university in Tennessee. I felt pretty good just getting into Kentucky, but was dreading the drive around Louisville this morning. If you ask me, Louisville is one of the worst cities to drive anywhere within a 20 mile radius of. We've several times been forced to go into the city because some joker thought it would be hilarious to feed the 265-beltway entrance ramp onto I-71 less than a mile away from the exit ramp. Ugh.

Anyway, during the drive back to Kent, Ohio to drop off the future Mr. Campbell and spend a little time with the in-laws, I was thinking about this short story. As an avid Tetris player both on the original Game Boy and on any platform I can get today, I found this particularly appealing. The gist of the story is that there's an addictive video game that acts as a virus that infects the human population: people pass it on to their friends, who end up playing it and passing it on to their friends. The more they play, the more they want to play, to the point where they are playing it even in their sleep or in their minds as they go about their daily tasks.

I've had jobs like that. I've had social interactions like that. And I've certainly played video games like that. Unfortunately with video games you don't have anything to show for it at the end of the day. As much as you advance your little digital avatar through the maze, as many little digital demons as you've killed, as many sexy princesses as you've chatted with (even if it is a real person on the other end of the thousand miles of cables), what proof do you have that you've bettered yourself in anyway? There's only so much hand-eye coordination that you can gain and use practically from video games. Okay yeah, Wii Bowling might give you a general idea about what stances work best for you, but it's not going to take into account the wax on the floors or the weight of the ball. When it comes down to it, you still only know how to throw around virtual balls, and they aren't real buddy. (That so needs to be a t-shirt, who wants one?)

I think Gaiman captures this point very clearly not only in the demise of the human race as everyone becomes addicted to the game, stops going to work, and dies in their own filth from hunger because they're so addicted to the game that's all they have the willpower to do; but also because the game itself is representative of what you have left from energy spent on this task. Nothing. The goal of the game is to have nothing left on the screen, and therefore nothing left in your life. Think about that. All that coinage you amassed on W.O.W., all those crops you harvest on Farmville. It's nothing.

What are you neglecting in favor of that? How many novels could you have finished in the time you were using? How many hours of exercise? How many rewarding and engaging conversations? Hell, you could even improve your typing so u doan al tipe liek ths. You could be reading more of my blog posts, and that would be awesome.

I'm not saying video games don't have their benefits. God knows I love me some Katamari Damacy on stressful days, but please, don't let it eat your life. You have so much more to live for. And let's face it, when the zombie apocalypse comes, you'll be glad you learned knitting needle kung fu.  Oh god, I hope that's real.

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