Wednesday, December 19, 2012

a long, meandering post about video games and poetry. At least it's not about Christmas.

Just by chance--because believe me, this was the last thing on our minds when we were planning our family--we have a kid on either side of the video game divide.  When Nell was young, there were plenty of people that had Playstations or Nintendos, but there were also plenty more people who didn't.  It was unremarkable that we didn't have a game station at our house and didn't want one.  But by the time MadMax came along (he is seven years younger than Nell), the world had changed.  (cue:  I feel it in the water.  I feel it in the earth.  Much that once was is lost.)(If you got that, you are totally my friend.)(not that you aren't anyway, if you're here reading this nonsense.)

Anyway.  We finally gave in and bought a PS2 six or seven years ago when none of MadMax's friends would come to our house anymore because there was "nothing to do."  I still remember the exact moment I gave in.  It was after two of his friends sat on our couch for nearly an hour muttering under their breath how boring it was at our house. Finally they came up to me--over an hour before their parents were due to pick them up--and politely said that they were ready to go home and could I take them, please?

Now, I am not opposed to video games in general.  In fact, I lost about six months of my life in the mid-80s to a game that I think was called MineDigger, although when I googled it just now, the current version is so far removed from that old 2-color maze game that it makes me wonder if I'm remembering the right name.  And Tetris.  Oh my word, did I play Tetris by the hour.  It made my little OCD heart happy.  Even today I'm sure if I downloaded Tetris to my iPhone I'd play it by the hour. 

So I get it-- the entertainment value of something that is both relaxing and mentally stimulating at the same time. I'm not going to preach here.  In fact, now that they can play each other online, talking away over their headsets, you can't even really accuse them of being the old sterotypical anti-social loner gamers who lose touch with other human beings.  MadMax talks to his friends way more now over that headset than he did when he would have had to pick up the phone and call.

I'm just struck by how different the world is going to be by the time these kids get to be the ones who are running things-- maybe forty or fifty years from now.  They are so used to the intense mental/visual stimulation that the online world provides.  I can see how it would be hard to unplug.  If you've been in a world of color, light, noise, action, and intense scenarios, of course reading a book is going to seem unbearably boring.  I think more and more of our world is going to take place online.  It might even be kind of fun-- imagine online banking where your avatar walks into a bank and speaks with a virtual teller.  Matrix, here we come. 

I'm not sure it's a bad thing.  Did you know that two hundred years ago, novels were seen as the downfall of civilization?  No one had the patience for poetry anymore, no one valued the slow, careful reading that poetry required.  Novels were going to be the demise of all that is good in the world.

And they were one sign of the demise of a particular kind of civilization, but there have been some pretty dang fine, sophisticated novels written since then.  Then the movies came along, and that was going to be the end of civilization, and then television, and now video games.  And yet who hasn't marveled at the artistry of a really good film, or the intelligence in a snappy, smart, funny round of dialogue in a well-written TV show?

Sure, it's not the same thing as sitting down with Hemingway or Tolstoy, but is it the demise of civilization?  Or is it just new?  I haven't played any of the current crop of video games, but I suspect that there is some true creative, artistic merit in what is being done in some of them--and I suspect that more is to come. 

Which makes me wonder about the value of having spent the last year+ of my life working on a thesis about Ulysses.  It's 600-ish pages (depending on which edition you buy) of densely written, complex prose that is brilliantly, intensely mind-blowing.  But first of all you have to read it, which is no simple task.  And I can tell you from experience that you don't really start to get it until you've read it two or three times.  I finished my third reading last summer, and I've barely begun to comprehend it.  I'd really like to read it again, but who has the time?

I made time because it was the perfect thesis project for me-- allowing me to combine my techie-side and my literary side.  But is anyone going to read Ulysses a hundred years from now?  Hardly anyone reads it now.  It's far too heavy for any but the most determined of readers.  I think that kind of complex novel writing is going the way of the dodo bird, the same way long, epic poems did.  There's Infinite Jest, I suppose, but I wonder how many people actually read the whole thing.  Probably not as many as say they did.  I confess I didn't finish it.  It just didn't hold my interest.  (although I've always thought that someday I would go back and try again.) 

Whoa.  off-track.  Anyway.  Has anyone outside of a classroom read the entirety of Milton's Paradise Lost in the past hundred years?  or Keats' Endymion?  Or even in a classroom?  I only had to read excerpts of either of them.  Is that such a bad thing?  I listened to a clip that a friend of mine posted on Facebook yesterday (the youtube link is here) about the way education has changed in the past hundred years.  It's long (11 minutes*), but interesting if you have the time.  He (Sir Kenneth Robinson) makes the point that traditionally, a large component of being an educated person was familiarity with certain literary and artistic works, the Canon of Western Civilization. 

But that no longer seems necessary or useful nowadays.  With the explosion of resources available in the twenty-first century, it's just impossible to be familiar with everything, and any attempt to create a list of what everyone "should" know will by definition be slanted toward someone's prejudice about what is worth knowing.  Works by dead white males?  Women? transgender? racial/ethnic perspectives?  The only way to be all-inclusive is to create a list that's too long to be of any use.

In a way it makes me sad.  I remember a couple of years ago, Nell and I walked into a gallery at the Seattle Art Museum.  On the wall in front of us was a contemporary painting that I had never seen before, but I immediately knew that it was Europa and the Bull, one of the more standard tropes of Greek mythology.  Which was confirmed when we walked up to it and the name of it was, sure enough, "Europa and the Bull."  Nell had no idea.  I felt a small moment of loss, because I loved mythology, and I'd like for her to have the same experience.  But did she need to know to appreciate the painting?  I think not, because clearly it was a woman with a bull, and the implications are there whether or not you know about the myth.

This is getting way too long.  Not sure that I even really have a point to make.  Just thinking.

*And even that is a sign of the times-- eleven minutes would have been considered short not too many years ago. 


  1. I think learning and thinking are valuable. How valuable? Well, how on earth would you measure that? It's like loving your kids is valuable, which it totally is, but how are you going to measure THAT value? Education has to change to keep up with society and civilization - we now need to be better able to access, process and interpret information than we need to be good at memorizing or knowing the "classics" of Western civilization. Sometimes the Wikipedia version is good enough for understanding and sometimes a thesis on Ulysses is what is needed. There was a time when reading was considered to be "bad" because people would no longer memorize those l o n g, l o n g epic poems. Keep thinking, Barb! I'll be in there thinking too. Or drinking my, what was it? Jameson's? or maybe Macallan's? and then I'll just think I'm thinking. . . :)

    1. I definitely can't regret it (which is why I changed the post title) because I can't imagine another thesis topic that I would have *finished.* This one was perfect for me.

      We will probably think better without the Jameson's. :-) (and just for the record, I've had the same bottle of jameson's for four years and it's still half-full.)

  2. p.s. I got it. But you knew that already!

  3. Wow, I love it when you do this. Super interesting! Here's my side of things:

    -never played video games, and had kids very early in their inception, so we missed most of that

    -the point of the clip was Deep Thinking in the best sense, on the other hand, all that drawing was majorly distracting

    -for Solstice, may I borrow your #2 from the previous post?

    -my suggestion for dog chew toys was shoes from Goodwill, since someone else already said KONG products

    1. yeah, I did pull out one tiny part of that clip because it was what struck me after writing my thesis--should have said that. I think the drawing was supposed to help us figure out what he was saying, but I agree-- it was distracting. Interesting, but there were several points where I was watching the drawing instead of listening. :-)

      You may absolutely borrow that second point. Funny, I almost took it out because although it was prompted by someone's post on FB, I thought it was one of those issues that had died down-- oh, that is SO last year. :-) Since I posted it, though, I've seen at least half a dozen more of them on FB so I guess it still is a big deal. Weird. it's such a non-issue to me. Isn't freedom of religion what this country is all about? Why would we want to force our religious holiday down someone else's throat?

  4. I am always reading quotes I like from Dante. So I attempted to read his Inferno. And I gave up fairly quickly. There is so much written by people alive today that I want to read. I know there is value in the other stuff but I'm content to let other people read them. I have read Jane Austin and I do love her.

    1. I know what you mean, J3-- there's just too much to read. Which isn't exactly a PROBLEM. ha. :-)

  5. I basically agree with what you've written.

    As for the quiz, my guess was LOTR but I had to google to confirm... :-)