Friday, April 1, 2011

American Values

I've spent way too much of my life playing video games.

Not that there's anything wrong with video games, per se. In fact, I rather like them, or I wouldn't be having this problem.

I've probably even learned from them. After all, if I hadn't played Conquest of the New World growing up, I might not know the difference between a commonwealth and a liberated state today. If I hadn't played Civilization, only the Boss knows how little I would know about world history (I still remember ushering in the year 2000 with Civ 2 and a tiny glass of Arbor Mist.. good times). Sub Battle, Command and Conquer, and Age of Empires only built my fascination with historic figures. Frankly, I'm not sure where I'd be without video games.

Even now, Call of Duty still holds a hypnotic allure that is hard to stay away from indefinitely. Starcraft 2 is a game I intent to enjoy profusely upon my return to the states. I still intend to keep playing them, but I just think I've spent too much time on them; video games, that is.

And that is the real subject of this post: time. How do we spend our time as Americans.

I recently read an article detailing 13 characteristics that are very specifically American, and use of time was included in the list. The fact is, Americans are only pawns to those little digital dials that now line our cell phone edges... clocks. If we're not being productive, active, and progressive while that dial changes from one number to the next, we find ourselves feeling the weight of an immense amount of guilt.

It's odd, really. I do feel guilty when I'm not working toward something. Even if it's something digital, like a nice crop of corn on Harvest Moon, or that perfect college town, or an epic Angry Birds score. The very act of organizing and ordering itself gives me gratification as long as I'm working toward something that feels like a reward. Only, now, I'm starting to feel guilty, like some of my work has been all "smoke and mirrors"...

I think that's where video game makers have me figured out. They know that if every time I succeed in their game I get a reward, I'll automatically prefer that to succeeding in real life. Because in real life you don't get a reward every time you succeed. In fact, most of the time your reward is internal. Sometimes, that's just not good enough for me.

But we are trained to earn our rewards. From the ground up, through self-control, self-sacrifice, and having a good "work ethic," we are built to earn the rewards of our labors as individuals. And if we're not working, we're lazy. And this work ethic has enabled us to achieve some amazing things.

But some cultures value personal relationships over material rewards. In fact, many do. It's not just the reward system that has value. In the last few weeks, I've seen people work devilishly hard toward very good things, but, in the end, if you don't value people, the rewards (even self-less ones) become meaningless.

So I go back to video games--how far have these games actually advanced me in the realm of real life? How have they taught me to act in the scope of reality? How have they expanded my relationships? Have they taught me true skills that I will use in my every day? Or have they taught me that when I don't earn a play-by-play reward for every good action I take in the real world, that it's best to retreat to the digital one? When all human relationships are messy, complicated, and outside of my control, have I been running to something I can control? Consider this a coming out moment for me... not for being a nerd, but for retreating to an alternate universe.

And the worst crime of all is to retreat from loving people. Some things are harder than others.

I don't know why I chose to post this now, except that I've been thinking about my values. It's really hard to get a grip on your own culture. Sometimes it helps to get an outside opinion. That's what I've been doing. More on that to come.

Until next time...

Michael out.

1 comment:

  1. It has often struck me how people use the phrase "I don't have time" or any such variations. We have surrounded ourselves with digital knicknacks and modern conveniences designed to save time, but people seem to have less and less of it rather than the opposite. Want to do something this weekend? "No man, I don't have time." How about walking across the street to grab a soda? "Sorry, I'm so busy!" And the weeds out back that need pulling? "If only I could find the time..."

    The thing is, each of us is given (freely given!) 24 whole hours every single day to do whatever we please. It's all in how we choose to use the time we have been given that matters. And it's amazing how we find ways of filling that time with meaningless activities instead of working to build relationships and strengthen ties that, ultimately, are the only thing that really matters in the long run.