One of my earliest memories is of playing “Crystal Quest” on our Apple computer when I was 3 or 4 years old (my dad was a programmer, so we had a computer earlier than most people). As I grew up, video games were constant features of my childhood, and if it weren’t for my wife’s disapproving (but always correct!) comments, this would probably still be the case to this day.
I’ll admit it, I’ve always had a mild addiction to computer games (though never as bad as my youngest brother; at age 14 he was already webmaster for a fan-site devoted to WarCraft 2, which averaged 16,000 hits a day. At one point he held the first and third highest ranked usernames in the world, simultaneously). Needless to say, such games can eat up a tremendous amount of time if you let them, which is why I finally decided to give them up when I started working on my thesis a few months ago. To be honest, I really don’t miss them as much as I expected. Occasionally I’ll feel a little nostalgia for World of Warcraft, but generally I’m just glad not to be bogged down by them anymore.
If I needed any encouragement that I had made the right decision, though, I’ve just found it. There is an interesting article in The New Atlantis (an excellent journal on technology and culture, by the way) which discusses the video game addiction of one of my favorite science fiction writers, Orson Scott Card. According to the article, Card (author of the Hugo Award winning Ender’s Game among other works) has long been obsessed with video games. This should perhaps surprise no one who has read his books, most of which include such games in one form or another, but the article offers an intriguing glimpse into the wider impact of this addiction on Card’s career and works:
Neither a scientist nor a futurist, Card is a humanist, a surveyor of man’s potential for great reason as well as devastating violence, a defender of both faith and skepticism, a believer in the permanence of human nature and traditional social institutions, an imaginative writer who looks to the future and wonders not how society will be different, but how its inhabitants will be the same. To the extent that he has indulged in the elements that characterize so much of the genre—the geeky gadgetry and the theories of social development, the space suits, attacking aliens, and oppressive governments—it has been in the service of a deeper exploration of man’s motivations. His interest has been less in the minutiae of technology’s operations—the hows and whats—than in their moral aftershocks and in the tiny ways they shape the day-to-day existence of families and individuals, the life of the mind, and, occasionally, the tumult of the heart. That is, until recently….
Ender’s Game provides a soulful and complex portrait of both man’s primal drive for violence and his revulsion toward it, and, along with its first two sequels, Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide, it represents the high point of Card’s thirty-year career. In these novels, the often adolescent science fiction conceits he employs—they all revolve around violence, technology, and games—were a means by which to approach larger ideas about human failings and struggles. But in his recent work, Card seems happy to deploy the same devices purely in their own service. The juvenilia has persisted, and it has overtaken all else.
If you’re a fan of Card’s books, or of video games more generally, the whole thing is worth reading. As for me, I need to go bury myself in my studies again. A thesis, it turns out, takes up an amazing amount of one’s time as well!