Read: Hearts in Atlantis, Stephen King.
Thanks to The Dark Tower I’m on a total Stephen King kick, so I’ll keep things brief. Yes, good writing, yes, good evocation of character, yes, believable horror, yes, yes, yes. See, all reviewed! Well, kind of . . . .
The title story in this four-novella collection was certainly my favorite, as it explored why a group of young men would jeopardize their college careers and even their lives to play a game. King posits a terribly addictive ongoing game of Hearts among a group of young college men just after the institution of the draft in Vietnam. Instead of doing their schoolwork, they spend all their time playing cards. Even though the main character doesn’t want to, he can’t help getting his fix. The world of the game takes over and shuts out the real world. Beating his friends at Hearts becomes more important than keeping his grades good enough to stay out of Vietnam.
There’s a lot more to the story, of course, but that’s the part that really resonated with me. Some of the work that I’m doing is game advocacy stuff - arguing that games are not TEH EYVULLLL. A lot of people look at computer games and shout, “Addictive! Terrible! Life-wrecking!” But what Hearts in Atlantis said to me is that the love of games has nothing to do with the technology that the game is built with. Pasteboard and ink can take you to the same place as Liberty City or Azeroth or the Forgotten Realms. Whatever it is that drives you to play comes out of you, not out of the death rays that your computer game somehow magically emits.
Play is in itself a compelling activity - paper, ink, cardboard, graphics cards, footballs, whatever it takes. Human beings need to play, and if our culture doesn’t support healthy playfulness then it’s going to come out in very strange ways. Play’s not just for children, and if we adults don’t find ways to play then we’re missing out on a whole spectrum of human experience.