January 20, 2019

Video Games and the Meaning of Life

“When I was seven, my parents bought me and my brother an Atari 2600, the first mass game console. The game it came with was “Asteroids.” We played that game an awful lot. One night, we snuck down in the middle of the night only to discover my Dad already playing.

My brother and I loved going to local arcades and try to make a few quarters last as long as possible. It was the perfect set of incentives—you win, you keep playing. You lose, you’re forced to stand there and watch others play, hoping that someone is forced to leave their game in the middle so you can jump in. We became very good at video games. My favorite was “Street Fighter II.” I memorized the Mortal Kombat fatalities to inflict graphic harm on defeated enemies. On the PC, I was hooked the first time I played “Ancient Art of War” when I was 9. As I got older, real-time strategy games like “Warcraft” and “Starcraft” arrived to combine efficiently building armies and settlements with defeating live opponents. My friends and I would sit next to each other in a house with several networked computers taking on strangers and talking trash.

The amount of time I spent on video games dropped dramatically after I graduated from college. I wanted to go on dates, and playing video games wasn’t helping. I developed a notion that virtual world-building and real-life world-building were at odds with each other. I started reading books on investing and financial statement analysis, which seemed to me to be the real-world analogue to becoming good at video games. By the time I started dabbling in games again and asked my brother-in-law to school me in Defense of the Ancients (“Dota”) over the holidays, they had leapt forward to a point where I felt old and slow. Memorizing key commands seemed beyond me.”

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