Posted by: Ken Brown | March 31, 2008

Card’s Game

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!

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Responses

  1. ken, even though i’m a girl, i’m right there with you re video games, heh. and interesting article, thanks for the point. while i can buy the guys arguement about card’s writing (the ender saga still is one of my favs), i’m not sure i would be so dismissive of video games. i think they have a larger and more complex interaction/significance than what the author gives ’em. but don’t quote me on that 🙂

  2. Hey Carmen,
    I agree that he might be a bit too harsh on video games, but they certainly do seem to be open (indeed, designed to facilitate) a kind of obsessive abuse that surpasses that of most other leisure activities. I mean, no matter how much a person likes a TV show like LOST or playing basketball, or whatever, there is only so much time they can spend on those things – only a limited number of episodes are produced a year, you need other people close by willing to play ball with you, etc. But with the internet, many video games are now expressly designed to allow nearly constant play. I mean, to really succeed at something like World of Warcraft, you almost have no choice but to devote as much time to it as you would a full time job – and many people do so.

    In short, I don’t disagree that (some) video games can be good (or at least harmless) when part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle, but they do hold a certain danger, at least for people like me. On that note, I thought the most startling point in the whole article was when Card claimed that he probably could have written twenty novels in the time he has spent on such games.

    All that said, I think I have mentioned the article I wrote on Second Life to you, but in there I try to provide a more balanced perspective on both the dangers and potential of video games (at least, the RPGs) and virtual worlds.

    Hmmm, it occurs to me that I’ve also got an unpublished review of Stephen Johnson’s interesting book Everything Bad is Good for You lying around that considers the issue you raise. Maybe I’ll have to try and turn it into a blog-post….

    Anyway, God bless, and thanks for commenting!

  3. heh, you won’t get any arguments from me on the obsessive aspect to video games.

    regarding television shows, there is an obsessive quality out there, too. have you been following the whole ‘jericho’ thing? i put up a post on the final episodes of the season and that post got more hits than any other post i’ve ever written. EVER. there’s a slew of folks out there writing about and campaigning for the series return. i can’t help but wonder if the story aspect of gaming (what i think gets folks–including me–on television shows) is part of the obsession factor . . .

    i’ll go read your other post right now 😉

  4. I think you are probably on to something about the power of story to fuel obsession. After all, it does seem to be the shows which develop long term story-lines that draw the most enthusiastic fans. Now, if only they would also draw the largest audiences, they wouldn’t keep getting cancelled…

    As for Jericho, it’s a funny thing. I mentioned that I gave up TV for Lent. At the time, this felt like a big sacrifice (I was watching at least 2 or 3 hours of TV a night), but by the time Easter came and went, I had lost interest. I’ve only watched one hour of TV since then (the first episode of Jericho), and even though I enjoyed it, I just haven’t found any time nor overwhelming desire to watch anything else.

    I’m sure all that will change, however, when Battlestar restarts! 😉 3 days…..


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