I’m interested in how literature can compete with the more lucrative, more modern mediums of music, film and video games. Let’s dwell on video games a moment. It’s healthy to have a grasp of the competition in terms of obtaining the precious free hours of a target audience. My target audience is young males. I’m worried about video games. Not so much in the sense that I think video games will rot their brains and ruin society. That’s secondary.
My first concern is: Hey! if all these guys are strapped into their chairs, playing immersive, addictive, 3D video games, how are they gonna read my stuff?
I’m reminded of Heinlein’s quote about the purchase of his works competing with young men’s beer money. Today, we’re trying to entice the potential male reader to put down the Budweiser and the X-box controller—two highly addictive, enjoyable activities. How could things be more challenging? “Hey you! Yeah you! Put down the beer—put down the controller—put down the beautiful, naked woman and the cocaine and read my latest short story! READ IT!” Recently, I bumped into a stranger in a computer lab. I made myself a new acquaintance and we began discussing writing ambitions. He recommended I work for Company X, here in Austin. They hire writers to write storylines for video games and they pay well. So, why not do that? That’s easy enough; right? What important, self-righteous morals are holding me back:
Imagine two young men, Tom and Dan, go out one evening to see a stage hypnotist. The hypnotist selects both men to help him demonstrate the wonders of hypnosis. Before long, both men are deep in trance. Tom is a lifelong patron of video games, movies and all things visual—Dan, a devoted bookworm. The hypnotist says to them: “Your right hands are getting light. They are getting lighter and lighter. They are getting so light that they might begin to raise up from the power of the air beneath them.” Slowly, Tom and Dan’s hands begin to rise. Now, the hypnotist, feeling confident and eager to wow the crowd with his prowess, continues, “You’re light hands are getting even lighter now. They are so light that now they are—they are morose! and—and melancholy! and—and ambivalent. Yes, that’s it! The once simply light hands are now morose and melancholy and even ambivalent for what might lay ahead for them in this world.” Dan smiles as his hand rises while Tom’s hand falls back down to his knee.
If we could experience what Dan is experiencing, we might realize that his hand is actually becoming what the hypnotist describes. Just as it became what the hypnotist described when he told them their hands were becoming lighter and lighter. This is because hypnotists know something. Practitioners of Neuro Linguistic Programming know something. The greatest authors of our time know something. They know that language encodes our experiences on a deep, machine-language level. If we don’t have a word for an experience, we don’t have that experience. This idea seems lost in the excitement over celebrating the transition of a verbal society into a visual society. People say, “Pictures are great! A picture is worth a thousand words!”
A picture is only worth a thousand words for someone with a thousand word vocabulary. How many words would a picture of a rose be worth to Homo habilus? Probably one: ugh.