Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Boy's Life...

November 19, 2009

Some folks might recall a novel by that name. My son, Sam, read it in high-school and loved it. But, this is about the life of a different boy: Nolan. And, it is a tale of misery and woe. I first met him when he was about six. He was a bright-eyed laddie with a zest for all kinds of stuff. We spent several days painting Godzilla on the wall under the upper bunk of his bunk-bed. When we stepped outside, he would toss me a ball and invite me to play catch, if only for a few seconds on our way to the car. It was obvious how bright he was; he positively scintillated with intelligence and curiosity.

I saw him a number of times over the next few years, and then he came to visit us in Maine the summer he was fourteen. From the moment we met him and his sister at the airport, it was completely apparent that things had changed for Nolan. He had bullied his three year younger sister during the cross-country flight, telling her that if she told on him, he would hack into and destroy her sim-project that she’d been working on for months, on the web. As the visit unfolded it became clear that the Nolan was not the kid I had previously known. He was surly, wanted to stay in bed ‘til noon, and when up all he wanted to do was use our laptop to instant message with his friends in California, or play online computer games. When he was asked to do chores, he was downright ugly about it, wanted to know why he should have to do anything at all. It wasn’t his house, after all. He continued some subtle threatening of his sister, and one evening we were out on a pristine Maine lake in the boat, hearing loons calling and even getting right beside one of the ruby-eyed wonders as it surfaced from a dive. And, dear Nolan looked at all of this with a bored expression, then said, “So…..we’re out here why?” It was a remarkable moment. And it was about the longest two weeks of my life. When he finally got on the plane back to California, I told his mother that he could not come back without a contract that stipulated exactly what was expected of him. He hasn’t been back.

He is now nineteen. and things have gotten progressively worse in the interim. A year ago last May, Nolan tried to kill himself by taking an overdose of Tylenol. He was in a coma, and in ICU for several days. It isn’t clear if there was some residual damage from this incident. He graduated from a big-city school system by diverting to an ‘alternative’ program, which was an alternative to the regular alternative. He had to show up ONE HOUR per week. It was simply a way for the school system to pass him on and get rid of him and his ilk. And, apparently, there are lots of them these days.

He has been unable to find and hold a job….well, that’s kind of a ‘duh’, isn’t it? And, he is now holding his mother and father hostage, after a fashion, by telling them that if they don’t support him….he’ll kill himself. And, really, what choice do they have? It’s much easier to say—as a third party—“…just tell him to go ahead and do it.” But, put yourself in his parents’ position: what if he really does? Nothing would ever make that okay. Nothing. And, the nihilistic jerk has already demonstrated his willingness to inflict pain on anybody who gets in his way...even at the cost of his own life, which he apparently holds in very low regard anyway.

So, this boy, who is actively avoiding what it means to be a man….or just a decent human being….now has a gen-u-ine hum-dinger, crapper of a life, and he’s inflicting his own unwillingness to step-up on all those around him. It truly sucks. Although he did get busted for pot possession twice, I don’t actually think drugs are his problem. Pot is ubiquitous in California…and just about anywhere else in this country. The war against drugs has been even less successful than the war against terrorism. He's just an opportunistic kid who likes to get high, and does it when a cop is sitting across the park in a squad car. Remember how smart he was? It evaporated somewhere between here and there.

It may not be a chemical substace that you put in your body, but, it sure as hell is an artificial 'presence' that can take over your life. Nolan’s attitudinal maladjustment, and consequent unwillingness to participate in his own life, has had a whole lot to do with an ongoing addiction to World of Warcraft. That’s right, a computer game. He’s been at it for years. It never held him back when his parents tried to limit access. You can buy a card in electronics stores that allows you to play it anywhere. I had no understanding of what a ‘game’ like this was capable of, either in terms of entertainment, or in terms of completely taking over a participant’s reality. You create your own character and then begin working your way through the levels of the game, acquiring assets along the way, until you are a level such and such master of the game. It is referred to as an MMORPG, i.e., a “massively multi-player online role-playing game”, and WoW—as it is widely known, has an estimated 62% of the worldwide audience for such games. It makes its creators, Blizzard Entertainment, hundreds of millions of dollars, and does it off the backs of kids like Nolan. When you go to un-subscribe, they want to know why, of course. And, one of the categories for leaving is ‘addiction’. So, let's be clear, they KNOW that their game is addicitive. A couple of years ago, it was given the proud status of being defined by the American Psychiatric Assoc. as being officially an addiction. Wow! I mean, WoW!!!!

Do you suppose the people who invented this ‘game’ and are profiting immensely from it have the slightest twinge of conscience around the impact it has on some of the players’ lives? It has actually become an ‘industry’ of sorts. Do you think the people who provide all the other products that can cause addiction have any qualms about it? I'll bet there is some serious back-slapping and cheering when the quarterly results are posted in the company's headquarters. "Yay! We did it, we beat our own record!! And, our most sincere thanks to all the g-d little idiots out there who play 'til they puke and have sacrificed their brains and their lives for us. Hoooo-f**king-ray!!!!

“Senator, I believe tobacco is not addictive.” Sound familiar?

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