The Walls that Divide Us Don’t Have To

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I spent yesterday with a friend who I haven’t seen in over ten years. We spent a lot of time together when we were teenagers watching Dr. Who, dreaming up one creative project after another, most which never came to fruition, but they laid the foundation for the work we do today. And our friendship.

He had never been to DC so I showed him around, driving and splashing through puddles in the pouring rain. We talked about our lives, our families, our opinions. I was surprised to learn that we are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. We touched on several issues, didn’t agree on everything, but still were able to dialog with the respect born of our early years together.

Being geeks and sci-fi buffs, we went to the Air and Space Museum and decided to watch the IMAX movie Space Station 3D. VERY cool and informative too. We both thoroughly enjoyed it. Sitting there in the darkness with our yellow 3D glasses on, ducking the variety of zero-g objects floating our way, I thought about our friendship in the midst of our differences and was struck by the words of one of the astronauts in the film:

From space there are no borders. You cannot see where one country ends and another begins.

This applies as well to the diverse “nations” of individuals,
like two men whose lives have traced very different trajectories
floating in the space of memory
discovering they can still be friends.

Reprinted from Slowmover from October 27, 2007

Information Overlord – In Search of Good News

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At times I have felt the need to take a break from the news which is rather difficult as I am a consummate news junkie. I believe in being informed.

Then inevitably a day comes when the information interferes with the being.

It is not that there is no good news happening in the world. I would submit that there is more good than bad happening on any given day. It simply is not broadcast.

Or one must look a little harder to find the good news broadcasters.

So I have stopped reading the newspaper. I also deleted several news apps on my phone and canceled a variety of notifications. To say I was obsessing over the news was an understatement.

But it isn’t enough to simply refrain from something. So I did some research to find a replacement.

Here is what I found:

Outlets for good, positive news do exist. I am especially impressed with the Good News Network and Positive News.

So here is what I did:
I downloaded the News Republic app. I turned off all of the notifications from its news sources. Then I customized it by adding the RSS feeds for the Good News Network, Positive News, Yes! magazine, my blogs, MWR, etc.

So now when I click on the News Republic app I have a nice screen of good news. I also get notifications during the day. News Republic also learns my preferences and creates a personal profile.

Benefits so far?
I am happier. I am less depressed. I have a better perspective on what is happening. I am not as angry.

And my creative muse has returned.

Now that is good news!

War Is No Game

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Polygon.com is reporting that ISIS has released a trailer for a video game based on Grand Theft Auto for “the training of children and young teenagers to fight the West.”

Such video games have been in existence in the West for years. Call of Duty and similar militaristic First Person Shooters are based upon a game design and engine developed by the US military specifically for recruitment.

The original video game America’s Army was first released in 2002. Forty-one versions have been released as of January 2014. It has been used at amusement parks, schools, and other events to provide “virtual soldiering experiences” to participants. It has been expanded to include Xbox, Xbox 360, and other platforms. The game is available as a free download and is paid for by the US Government, aka the American people through our tax dollars.

I have written extensively on this blog about video games as educational tools and the need for alternatives to be developed that train children in the way of peace.

When we are as fanatical about peace as ISIS is about terror and are willing to commit as many resources as the US government does to war, then perhaps we will reach the day that the prophet Isaiah describes:

And God shall judge among the nations, and shall reprove many peoples; and they shall forge their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-knives: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Dog Star

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The three-legged dog who sits beside me was abandoned at an airport, left alone, traumatized. She is fearful of loud noises, and strangers, though now I am a friend. She gently nuzzles me for another head scratch.

Her name is Buffy and she indeed is slaying vampires. Every day she limps outside to bask in the sun and in the love of this home, the roar of fanged jets fades from her mind.

A society’s health is judged by its care of the little ones. More forever homes for creatures great and small goes a long way towards the healing of us all.

Did video games kill Robin Williams?

Robin-Williams-GamerA recent article on Yahoo! about Robin Williams being an avid gamer got me pondering the question:

Did video games contribute to the award-winning actor’s depression and eventual death by suicide?

On this blog I have written extensively about violence in video games and other media. My purpose here is not to get into a discussion about whether playing violent video games causes one to do violence to oneself or others. Or to point the finger at specific games that may be cause for concern.

Rather the question I ask is related to what game designers refer to as “immersion.”

A good game is one that draws the player into its world so much so that he will spend countless hours immersed in that world. This power of video games has been greatly enhanced by new advances in technology such as 3D and HD graphics. Successful games and their franchises rival movies in the cost, staff, and years poured into their development in an attempt to attain this goal of immersion.

A self-described game addict, Robin Williams spent the many hours between filming immersed in these virtual worlds. As a creative soul who struggles with depression I understand the power of fantasy and its blissful escape from the constant buzzing of the low intensity conflict of life. It is not easy to return to reality which can often seem rather dull and gray in comparison.

Sleep deprivation. Poor diet. Confined space. Distance/separation from close relations (ie family). Sound familiar? Such are some of the primary methods used by interrogators to “break down” detainees. These are also the characteristics of avid gamers, who willingly endure such in order to remain immersed. Did such a lifestyle eventually lead to Robin Williams “breakdown?”

There has been some discussion and research regarding how technology is rewiring our brains. More research needs to occur if we are to have a firmer grasp on exactly what is occurring within us as we spend more time within the virtual realm. The impact of such media is not simply on the outward characteristics described above. Something is happening in our brains as well. Did the virtual world become more real than reality for Robin Williams? Did real life lose out to the increasing “otherworldliness” of a good game?

My purpose here is not to judge Robin Williams. I have been profoundly affected by his work and will continue to be indebted to him for his impact on my life. But I found the article that blissfully described his gaming “addiction” as rather naive without any sense of the impact such may have had on the actor/comedian’s depression and eventual death.

World of Warcraft is planning on creating a character based on Robin Williams to commemorate his love of video games after an online petition amassed almost 11,000 signatures. The character will not be controlled by players, aimlessly wandering through the world I assume, interacting with players perhaps, cracking a joke or two.

It’s a nice idea I guess. Some would say even a fitting commemoration. But like most I would prefer having the real Robin Williams still alive, making me laugh out loud or shedding tears so real they fall off my cheeks and bounce on my keyboard while I type.

More info on video game addiction here.