Tag Archives: video games

Boredom: The Epidemic Of The Future?

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Back in August of 2013, a very heinous, very unusual crime made headlines around the world. In Dunkan, Oklahoma, a group of three teenagers allegedly murdered Christopher Lane, an Australian exchange student just out for a jog, in cold blood just because they were bored.

Think about that for a moment. A bunch of teenagers got so bored and were so desperate form stimulation that they resorted to cold-blooded murder just to get their adrenaline flowing. We, as a society, are so used to crimes of passion and desperation. They’re basically the premise of every episode of “CSI” and “Law and Order.”

The fact those shows keep getting renewed show that we have a certain concept of what inspires and propagates crime and deviance. People who commit these crimes usually have some sort of overpowering motivation that overshadows any sense of decency they have. They’re desperate for money, they’re hopelessly in love, or in some cases, they’re pathological psychopaths with fatal flaws in their biology.

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What makes the murder of Christopher Lane so horrifying is that it completely upends that narrative. The killers, in this case, weren’t motivated by revenge, money, or personality disorders. They were just bored.

That is extremely disconcerting because we’ve all felt bored at some point in our lives. There was this one time the power got knocked out at my house for nearly two days and I couldn’t do damn near anything. When it got dark and I had no more light with which to read comics, it got to be damn near agonizing. I never did anything stupid because of it, but this crime should give everyone pause.

The fact that we’re all capable of being exceedingly bored reveals a disturbing possibility. If three bored teenagers are capable of such a heinous act, then are others just as capable? Are we, personally, capable of such horror? Depending on how bored you’ve been in the past, that’s a disturbing question to even think about.

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However, it may become an increasingly relevant question in the future. Usually, when I talk about the future on this blog, I explore the more positive ramifications of our advances in technology. I talk about how this technology will cure infectious disease, enhance our cognitive abilities beyond our caveman limits, and improve our sex lives to amazingly kinky heights.

I know, at times, it sound downright utopian in my vision of the future. By our current standards, wherein we live in a world where 3.7 million children die before their fifth birthday, it certainly seems rosy by comparison. However, I stick my fingers in my ears and start singing John Lennon songs when I contemplate potential problems in that vision. This is one issue that’s easy to overlook, but has major implications.

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At this moment in history, society has a great many distractions in terms of entertainment and productivity. Most people have jobs, of some sort, to keep them busy. The three teenagers who killed Christopher Lee were on summer vacation and had nothing productive to do. It’s hard to know whether a part-time job at a fast food joint would’ve averted a murder, but they would’ve had to find a different excuse.

Whether you’re toiling in the fields of a small farm or running around an office like an episode of “The Office,” we’ve always had some kind of work to keep us, as a species, occupied. For most of human history, we had to work. If we didn’t, then we starved to death. It was that simple.

It’s another rare instance where caveman logic seems to apply equally across time and history. It doesn’t matter whether we’re hunter/gatherers or sweatshop workers putting together barbie dolls. We’re a species that’s wired to work. It may not always be the work we prefer, but we know why it’s necessary on some levels. We need to gather and manage our resources to survive.

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That, however, is where the chink in our boredom-busting armor might start. For most of human history, we’ve always had to work ourselves to the bone to keep our species and our civilization moving. That’s rapidly changing due to trends in automation. Add in the growth of artificial intelligencethe rise of 3D printing, and the possibility of lab-grown food, and suddenly we don’t need millions of people toiling anymore.

Now by most measures, it’s a good thing that we don’t need people to endure back-breaking labor just to get the bare minimum of sustenance. Most people would rather not work in fields of cow shit or work 12-hour shifts in a factory. They’d rather work a reasonable number of hours that provides them abundant leisure and family time. That’s wholly possible in a modern economy.

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However, at some point, technology will make even that reasonable set of hours won’t be necessary. Our ability to make our food, purify our water, and generate power might become so efficient that the amount of work needed is minimal. Given our tendency to screw up on the job, it may get to a point where having human workers is a liability.

It could lead to a huge mass of unemployment or under-employment. However, that wouldn’t mean everyone would have to live in poverty. On the contrary, it may eliminate poverty altogether because we could allocate the basic necessities of life so efficiently. Policies like the universal basic income, which I’ve talked about before, may effectively decouple the link between work and survival.

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This is all well and good for people who hate doing menial jobs for low pay, but it creates a situation that we, as a species, have never dealt with before. What happens to our bodies, minds, and biology when we don’t have to work at all and are subject to the constant threat of boredom?

That’s not entirely a rhetorical question. It’s also one of those questions that’s impossible to answer now, but might be possible to address in the future. We’ve never had a functioning society where nobody has to work and everybody has access to the basics of life, free of charge. It’s so unprecedented that it’s hard to know whether we’re even wired for it.

The ghastly murder of Christopher Lane implies that our minds and bodies don’t react well to boredom. It makes us think crazy thoughts, do crazy things, and act on crazy impulses. What else other than boredom can explain people dedicating so much time and energy into making paperclip chains?

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It doesn’t just reflect to our basic caveman settings. These are essential survival instincts that every species that has ever lived have built into their biology. Every creature, be it a lion or a dung beetle, dedicates a significant amount of its existence simply securing food, avoiding predators, and finding a mate. Given the never-ending competition of nature and evolution, there’s literally no time to be bored.

Humans are in an unprecedented situation compared to other species. We’re basically like players in a massive multi-player video game armed with cheat codes. We are so dominate, so powerful, and so adaptable that no other species has a prayer. Sure, a deer may kill an unlucky human every now and then, but deer are just not able to dominate the way humans dominate.

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The problem is that this undermines the very mechanics of evolution and survival instinct. What happens to a species where it doesn’t need those instincts to survive and reproduce anymore? With our tools and technology, humans can kill any predator and beat any disease.

That means our only concern would be reproduction. That might already be playing out to some extent. There have been some links, albeit weak ones, between adolescent boredom and teen pregnancy. When you think about it from a survival standpoint, it makes sense. If there’s no food to gather or predators to avoid, your next instinct is to mate. At the very least, having kids gives you something to do.

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However, technology may make that unnecessary as well. Between advances in contraception and artificial wombs, even that most basic instinct won’t be necessary for the propagation of our species. In that scenario, sex would have no reproductive purposes. It would just be another thing we do with our bodies when we’re bored. While that might mean more people get laid, it also means risking even more boredom.

Can we, as a species and as individuals, function with that kind of boredom? In a future where we have so few concerns to our survival, safety, and propagation, can we actually tolerate life? Again, it’s not entirely a rhetorical question.

Just imagine yourself in that situation. You wake up in a nice, comfortable dwelling every day. You don’t have to work. Anything you want to eat is readily available. If you want to have sex, there are apps to connect you with people or sex robots that make that as easy as ordering a pizza. You have all the time you want for hobbies, sports, and what not.

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It might be fun at first, but what happens when you get bored? How do you fill every hour of every day? What happens when you’ve read all your books, beat every video game, and collected every stamp? What will you do to entertain yourself?

That’s not to say some people will resort to the lengths that those teenagers in Oklahoma went to when they murdered an innocent man. However, the fact that this happened today when we’re still a long way from that rosy future is telling. It might even be a warning that we’re not prepared for the boredom pandemic to come.

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We’re ALL Perverts (According To Cracked)

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In the interest of science, sex, and having an excuse to talk about subjects that get our blood flowing in all the right ways, I’d like to do a quick survey. Don’t worry. This isn’t a pop quiz. It’s not another one of my sexy thought experiments either. It’s just my way of making a point, one that may very well be important to our collective understanding of sexuality.

It’s just four questions. Anyone can take it. They’re simple yes/no answers. If it takes you more than 20 seconds, then you’re just overthinking.

Question 1: Are you a man?

Question 2: Are you heterosexual?

Question 3: Do you enjoy the sight of female breasts?

Question 4: Do art forms that depict female breasts appeal to you?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, then congratulations. You’re a pervert. That’s right. According to a growing sentiment within our culture, any straight man who dares to admire female breasts in any form of media, be it video games, movies, or TV, is somehow a pervert.

That’s the message that a recent article of Cracked.com gave. Usually, I’m very fond of Cracked.com’s work on discussing matters of sexuality. However, every now and then, they write an article that reeks of politically correct horse shit. This particular article talked about how video game developers put a lot of effort into the physics of breasts on female characters. For some reason, that makes them and those who play these games perverts.

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Let’s step back for a moment and try to make sense of that without hitting ourselves in the head with a baseball bat. This is apparently an issue now. Men admiring women’s breasts is controversial. Granted, women’s breasts have been subject to controversy in the past and I’m not just talking about Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl performance either.

We’re still a culture that gets exceedingly queasy when we talk about sex in any form. We all remember how awkward it was in health class when we learned about the inner workings of a penis and vagina. Boobs have a sexual component to them. So unless you’re on a nude beach, at Mardi Gras, or in a Super Bowl halftime show, it’s going to be awkward.

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Now there’s nothing inherently wrong about feeling awkward about sex or certain body parts. Who doesn’t feel a little awkward when they find out their best friend’s mom got a boob job? That doesn’t mean it qualifies as an outright perversion, does it?

Thankfully, we’ve advanced our society to a point where we have these things called dictionaries and this amazing achievement allows us to actually check the definition of a word to see if it fits a certain context. The definition of pervert in a sexual is actually fairly concise. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition is as follows:

An aberrant sexual practice or interest especially when habitual.

The keyword in that definition is “aberrant.” That means unnatural, improper, or abnormal. Now I know people don’t agree on what’s natural, proper, or normal. In fact, I would argue that most people can’t agree on that. They can’t even agree on pizza toppings. However, when it comes to our biological wiring that helps us survive and reproduce, I think we can find some common ground.

With few exceptions, straight men like breasts. They like the sight of breasts, the feel of breasts, and the depictions of breasts. I know this, both as a straight man and as someone whose readers regularly demand more vivid depictions of breasts in my novels. It’s as natural as enjoying a cold beer on a hot summer day.

So why is this wholly natural, hard-wired predilection being classified as a perversion? Why would the brilliant writers at Cracked.com see the efforts of video game creators to make more appealing breasts as a catalyst for perversion? Do they think men even need a catalyst to admire breasts or want to see them?

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Well, a lot of it is our fault. By our fault, I mean both men and women alike. The media, and video games in particular, has been subject to much greater scrutiny lately in matters of sexism. If something can even be slightly misconstrued as sexist or objectifying, then that’s the end of the conversation. It’s sexist. It’s wrong. It’s immoral. Anyone who enjoys or appreciates it is a monster.

That last part was sarcasm, but I worry that sarcasm can’t do justice to the sheer absurdity of that notion. I don’t want to say it’s entirely a product of feminism, political correctness, or prudishness. However, it is a bad sign.

I don’t doubt that those at Cracked.com and those who complain about breast physics in video games have good intentions. They see beautiful, big-breasted women in media and think that’s objectifying and degrading. That’s an understandable sentiment. They completely lose my sympathy, however, when they try to conflate objectification with basic biological wiring.

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The science is fairly conclusive. Humans are visual creatures, as evidenced by the significant amount of brain matter we dedicate to processing visual images. Art, media, and everything in between seeks every possible way to generate attention and garner interest.

Female breasts naturally and understandably create powerful imagery and not just for straight men either. They are a distinct feature within a sexually dimorphic species. As such, we’re going to respond to that imagery. It’s not a perversion in that it’s unnatural. Hell, you could make the case that it’s one of the most natural reactions human could possibly have.

I don’t deny that there are many facets of sex, nudity, and breasts are still taboo. However, it does our culture and our species a disservice when we start identifying natural reactions to natural sights as perverse. That conflicts with our own sexual nature and, as any Puritan will tell you, that nature is hard to suppress.

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So in this case, Cracked.com is dead wrong. We are not perverts for enjoying the sight of female breasts. Game developers who put a lot of time and effort into the physics behind breasts should not be shamed or shunned. If anything, they should be celebrated. They’re putting that much effort into one of nature’s most beautiful creations. On behalf of all straight men who appreciate the sight of breasts, I thank them.

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Sex Vs. Violence: An Unfair Fight

It’s horrible! It’s corrupting an entire generation of children! It’s turning good, decent people into snarling beasts! We must do something about it! We must call the authorities, hold rallies, and widely condemn all those who dare introduce something like this into our society!

What I just wrote is a basic summation of everything that angry, terrified, deeply offended advocacy groups feel towards everything from rock music to violent video games to MTV to the Simpsons to Game of Thrones. Pick out any piece of media from any period in history. Chances are you’ll hear these arguments from crowds of angry parents/priests/politicians.

It’s a battle that’s as old as the first cave-painting of an erect penis. Parents, priests, and politicians work tirelessly to guard impressionable children and adults from that which they consider obscene. How do they know it’s obscene? How do they even measure it? Ask 100 people and you’ll get 1,000 different answers.

They’ll claim they have to protect us from that which is obscene. They’ll say that if we spend too much time looking at or pursuing obscenity, it’ll distract us from our social responsibilities like working the fields, paying taxes, pumping babies so that we have more workers, and fighting the wars that powerful political types want us to fight.

Granted, they probably won’t say that overtly, but it is sort of implied. More often than not, there are all sorts of strange and poorly-defined layers towards what some consider obscene. The end result is usually the same. Those who fight it inevitably try to censor it, which can either backfire horribly or inspire a whole host of unintended consequences.

By and large, obscenity often involves two common themes: sex and violence. That’s not surprising. Sex and violence are basically the peanut butter and jelly in the sandwich that is human history. If we’re not obsessing over sex, then we’re violently fighting one another for control of resources, land, and the ability to hump who we want to hump.

While understandable, the debate today tends to be ridiculously skewed. There’s a lot of violence in the world. Nobody denies that. There’s also a lot of sex in the world. The mere fact there are over 7 billion humans on this planet is proof enough of that. However, when it comes to priorities, for some reason sex has gained a more obscene reputation than violence.

The best proof of that occurred a long time ago in a forgotten period known as 2005. It was a strange time. For some reason, America elected George W. Bush to a second term, flip phones were in style, and Yahoo was still relevant. It was a strange time indeed.

It was also a time when we lost our collective shit over the idea that there was a poorly rendered sex mini-game hidden inside a best-selling video game. Yes, it actually happened. Apparently, poorly rendered sex is considered obscene. Try saying that with a straight face for a moment and then get back to me.

It was called the “Hot Coffee” scandal. It emerged from a game called Grand Theft Auto: San Andres, the best-selling game of its time. This game was rated mature and it was already controversial for all the gratuitous violence it had, which included the ability to murder hookers and blow up cars with a machine gun. However, that’s not what put it over the edge. What made it obscene was two characters having consensual sex. The horror!

It’s been over a decade since then and I’m still struggling to wrap my head around it. I get that the game was mature rated. The violence and the plot is not for children, the faint of heart, or anyone who voted for Rick Santorum. However, the notion that consensual sex between two people is that obscene? I need a moment to process that.

I don’t think there are enough moments in the entire history of the known universe because it still fails the basic tenants of common sense, logic, and the fundamental forces of life. Violence can be pretty damn obscene. Anyone who has any experience with war or crime understands that. With sex, however, there’s a much broader spectrum.

On one end, you have two consenting adults in love, in the heat of passion, having sex in bed surrounded by candles with Barry White music playing in the background. That’s not obscene. That’s how a good chunk of the human race is created. It involves love, passion, pleasure, and the creation of life. You can’t get less obscene than that.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, you have the kind of depraved sex acts that would make even “50 Shades of Grey” fans vomit. There are extreme, perverse sexual proclivities that do leave scars, both physical and psychological. Those kinds of acts can be pretty obscene, but for the most part, they don’t kill or mutilate someone. At worst, they just make some people wish they were dead.

With violence, the spectrum is a lot less broad. There aren’t too many forms of violence that cause pleasure, create life, or make for good Playboy centerfolds. Violence, by definition, hurts people. It can be small and petty, which isn’t all that obscene. A slap in the face is about as obscene as a kiss on the cheek.

However, this is not reflected in media. If anything, the media and the culture surrounding it is downright schizophrenic when it comes to classifying violence and sex. Since I referred to video games earlier, I’ll cite another example.

There are a lot of mature-rated games with horrific violence. It’s not just Grand Theft Auto, but games like Doom, Wolfenstein, and Call of Duty do little to censor the blood and guts. Even so, you can buy most of these games at a Wal-Mart on Black Friday.

There are also lesser-known games that basically just involve players fondling, caressing, and having sex with beautiful woman and/or men. They’re not big on story, but that’s not their core appeal. Nobody dies and nobody gets hurt. There’s just a lot of gratuitous sex.

However, those games can’t be found in Wal-Mart. Those games are rated A for Adult, which means they can’t be sold in major retailers. That’s what it takes to be considered obscene. Kill and maim whoever you want, but God help you if you show two consenting adults having sex.

This schizophrenic disconnect on sex and violent extends to novels, a medium more relevant to my profession. As an erotica/romance writer, I understand that the stories I write are considered obscene, seamy, or dirty compared to your basic Stephen King novel. Even when nobody dies in my novels, they still have that reputation.

It’s a confusing and frustrating dynamic. It also becomes even more frustration when sex and violence become mixed. We see that all the time in slasher movies, which go out of their way to punish any character that dares have sex in a way the Catholic Church doesn’t approve of. We’re seeing it manifest in other ways, especially with the success of Game of Thrones.

If ever there was a perfect storm that embodied this twisted dynamic of sex and violence in media, it’s Game of Thrones. Whether you read the books or watch the hit HBO series, you see plenty of both. There’s a lot of killing, murder, and war. There’s also a lot of sex, nudity, and general depravity. It appeals to both of these primal forces, but one still takes precedent over the other.

This is not lost on author George R. R. Martin. He gets a lot of fan male and, presumably, a lot of pictures of naked women. He doesn’t gloss over the violence and sex in his story. He understands they’re both part of the themes he’s exploring. However, even he sees the distinct difference when people choose to get more upset over the sex and not the violence.

Now this is not to say that society’s concerns about sex aren’t warranted to some degree. As I’ve pointed out before, there were legitimate reasons to be weary of sexual promiscuity throughout history.

Human civilization, particularly the one we crafted when we entered the agricultural revolution, developed around a system where there were strong economic and survival pressures to discourage people form doing too much humping for fun. The system required that we know our kids are biologically ours. The system required that we have lots of babies to work the fields and fight the wars.

Even as we moved away from farms and fields, we still needed to be anxious about sex because too much of it would spread disease. It really wasn’t until the 20th century with the advent of antibiotics and modern contraception that many of these concerns became less dire.

Today, there are still consequences for rampant and unrestrained promiscuity, as various PSAs and sitcoms have shown. However, these consequences aren’t nearly as bad as the rampant violence and crime that still plagues this world. These days, two consenting adults having sex, regardless of their marital status or intentions, does little to no harm to anyone or society in general, but it’s still considered obscene.

I try to be more optimistic about the future of this twisted culture of ours. I try to be optimistic about the future in general. I do hope I live to see the day where erotica/romance novels like mine aren’t considered obscene by a sizable chunk of the population. At some point, even Rick Santorum supporters have acknowledge that gratuitous violence is more obscene than consensual sex.

It may take a while. We are a slow, cumbersome species that resists change when it’s not convenient. We’ve spent hundreds of years in a prudish, uptight society that still believes we need to pump out babies to work the fields and fight the wars while avoiding horrible diseases. Society isn’t going to lighten up overnight. It’s an ongoing process and one I hope my sexy, non-obscene novels will help.

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