Don walked into the living room with a basketball in his hands. His son Greg was playing Assassin’s Creed.
“Let’s go shoot some hoops,” Don said.
Greg just kept staring at the screen. “Dad, I’m in the middle of something.”
“There’s no remote control button to life, son. C’mon, let’s go. Daylight’s burning. You need some exercise.”
“I’m fine right where I am.”
Don sat down on the sofa, yanked the video out of Greg’s hands, and said, “No you’re not. Time to get a life.”
“Hey! What are you doing?”
Spinning the ball in his hands, Don said, “Greg, my son, you’re turning into a garden variety vegetable. These games are total bullshit.”
“Actually, what you just said is total bullshit,” Greg replied. “What about Portal? It makes you rethink space and time. Stepping through a hole into another reality can help you understand physics and math in ways the real world can’t. It takes a lot of brain power to play Portal.”
“Portal is a sad, painful waste of time.”
“No it’s not! It’s a great game!”
“I don’t think so. Games like that are decent tools, I guess, but that’s it. They do more harm than good. And to make matters worse, we’re about to move into a world where most of a person’s reality can be virtual. Face-to-face, skin-to-skin human contact won’t even be necessary. Think of the new breed of virtual love relationships just around the corner. Online contact will be hyper-realistic, 3-dimensional, and totally immersive. So here’s the question. When your fantasy reality seems better than the actual reality of that girl two houses down the block, what will you do? Opt out of the hard reality and live in the fantasy? That worries me.”
“Dad,” Greg said, “technology is good. We need it. I wish I could plant a nanochip dead square in the middle of my brain right now to make myself smarter. I want an IQ of 200. Or a cool 3D printer to make body parts when I need ’em. Or maybe genetically modified kids someday. It’ll all be normal. Gaming is just a survival tool. People who can’t handle it should calm the hell down. You know, it’s sad watching older people fumble around with technology and then whine about it like the old days were better. At least my generation is here to explain everything. Someone has to.”
Don wondered what his son would miss in the coming years. He said, “Look, we’re at cross purposes, here. I’m talking about a toxic form of obsession. It’s what our entertainment culture expects from you. They want you to be a passive recipient who accepts the parameters a consumer-driven industry has defined for you. They want you to be distracted and titillated to the point where thinking for yourself proves to be too much effort. You see it in your gaming community. Some of your friends spend hours online every day gaming their sorry little lives away. It’s all they do. Is that who you want to be?
“I know it’s a fun world for you to be in now. But on a broader level, it’s a complete waste of your time, and I think you know that. It’s not an actual life. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself lying on your deathbed looking back and asking yourself, ‘Holy shit. Did I just waste the best part of my life?’ And the answer will be, ‘Yes, I have just wasted the best part of my life.’
“You need to take this incredible jewel called the Earth and make something of it. The most important thing people can do is spend time with their own thoughts and reflect on their lives and the world around them. But then they need to actually do something in a physical, concrete way. I just want you to stay active. Don’t miss out on the here and now.”
Greg stood up stiffly, stretched a little, and said, “OK, one-on-one. Best of three to 21. Win by 2. Prepare to suffer.”
“Let’s get it on,” said Don, and they strolled outside to shoot hoops.